EXCELLENT post. I came to this site after wondering what “hinting” was and I had also noticed that there wasn’t nearly enough variation between the available font choices, so THANK YOU very much for clearing that up! After using Windows and Macs for so long, I, too, was very disappointed with the “Kindergarten” feel of the default Ubuntu font rendering.
I agree with BATH that it’s much easier (and safer) to make most of these changes in the Appearance item in the Control Center (Ubuntu 11.04). After swapping back and forth, I found DejaVu Sans Condensed to be a great choice and it gave me slightly more screen real estate than Trebuchet MS (suggested in another blog regarding installation of the MS True Type fonts). For me, I needed the Subpixel smoothing as opposed to the Grayscale, which doesn’t work well against certain background colors.