I have a confession to make: I don't actually play 3E. Yet.
My last practical experience with D&D was with 2nd Edition; for that reason, I still understand the basics, and I've mostly come to understand the core changes in the system. Combat, however, confuses the hell out of me. The main reason I stopped playing D&D was because of the move to miniature-based combat; I was always a fan of abstracted combat.
Every time I pick up the Core Books for v3.5 that I've got at home, the combat section is what makes me put it back down. It seems like everything revolves so tightly around positioning now that no one's been able to come up with a workable abstract combat system; I know I can't.
So, fast forward to now. I still love to game, and run games - I'm the GM more than half the time - but time has gotten scarce for me, and it's become much harder to prepare in only a week's time for my next session.
Part of the problem is that the other games systems I've favoured all stink when it comes to encounter generation - there's no massive list of monsters to pick and choose from (every stat I do from scratch), there's no guidelines for telling if the encounter is balanced, and even goons (cannon fodder) are a pain to make. The swath of pre-made monsters in D&D is, therefore, quite appealing.
The length of combat is also a pain; I play exclusively online (chat-room style), and generally in the evening, so things are slow enough as it is without having combat drag on endlessly (another reason I prefer abstract combat - less to think about and slow the fights down).
I've recently had a few game ideas that might be easier to do in D&D than any of my other options... but combat continues to stymie me. The fact that I haven't actually played, let alone run, a v3.5 game doesn't give me much confidence either. As before, though, time is the problem - ideally I should find a D&D game online to play, but I don't know that I have the time to spare.
Thus... I come to you.
In a nutshell - is there any way to make v3.5 combat "simple"? Fast, punchy, without the need for miniatures? There are times when I want the fights to be a big production (boss fights, mostly), but at other times I just want a quick bash, something that I can resolve in five or ten minutes flat (bearing in mind that online, everything takes two to ten times longer to do).