Ok, and now I have solved the other questions I had. I'm posting here just in case someone else comes across these someday.
To get the icons I was talking about, you need AddIcon directives and a copy of the apache icons folder. I copied /usr/share/apache/icons/ to a folder at the top of my apache doc root and then put in the following into my .htaccess file, which I gathered from another of my apache installs:
IndexOptions +FoldersFirst +IgnoreCase +SuppressDescription NameWidth=* +SuppressHTMLPreamble
AddIconByEncoding (CMP,/icons/compressed.gif) x-compress x-gzip
AddIconByType (TXT,/icons/text.gif) text/*
AddIconByType (IMG,/icons/image2.gif) image/*
AddIconByType (SND,/icons/sound2.gif) audio/*
AddIconByType (VID,/icons/movie.gif) video/*
AddIcon /icons/binary.gif .bin .exe
AddIcon /icons/binhex.gif .hqx
AddIcon /icons/tar.gif .tar
AddIcon /icons/world2.gif .wrl .wrl.gz .vrml .vrm .iv
AddIcon /icons/compressed.gif .Z .z .tgz .gz .zip .bz2
AddIcon /icons/a.gif .ps .ai .eps
AddIcon /icons/layout.gif .html .shtml .htm .pdf
AddIcon /icons/text.gif .txt
AddIcon /icons/c.gif .c
AddIcon /icons/p.gif .pl .py .php .php3
AddIcon /icons/f.gif .for
AddIcon /icons/dvi.gif .dvi
AddIcon /icons/uuencoded.gif .uu
AddIcon /icons/script.gif .conf .sh .shar .csh .ksh .tcl
AddIcon /icons/tex.gif .tex
AddIcon /icons/bomb.gif core
AddIcon /icons/back.gif ..
AddIcon /icons/hand.right.gif README
AddIcon /icons/folder.gif ^^DIRECTORY^^
AddIcon /icons/blank.gif ^^BLANKICON^^
That gave me the fancy icons I was thinking of in the first place.
The last issue was using php files as customized header.html and readme.html files. This is possible only if apache thinks that .php files are text/html. If you add this line to your .htaccess:
AddType text/html .php
Then you can name your header.html file to header.php and any PHP code inside will still be parsed. I was worried that this would turn off parsing of .php files, but it doesn't seem to have caused any problems.
Now all I have to do is come up with a cool php enabled design for my index pages. Too bad I enjoy solving problems and doing coding more then the design stuff. haha
Hope this thread can be a help to someone else as well.