how do I set up password protected sections on my webpages and allow authorized people to upload and download files to that portion of the website
You can create a folder, put the items in there, and htaccess the folder in the goodies part of your web admin panel.
I'm a newbie trying to catch up. Haven't decided to join dreamhost yet. IS the web admin folder part of dreamhost or should I know how to do that with html, ftp or some other jargon I don't yet understand?
The web panel is the "home base" for Dreamhost users.
It allows you to manage your domains, databases, billing options, etc.
You can find out more about it here.
I recommend Dreamhost... I've been with them for four years and have been quite happy.