What easy to use Linux distribution to use for old computers?

I got mail from Rodk some weeks ago. He asked me a question that, I guess, many people have when they want to give new life to an old computer. Here is what he asked me:



Though I am basically a newb, I have been fooling around with Ubuntu and Linux for a while on some old, old computers — P3’s, P4’s and even a P2 in my basement — that I can’t make myself throw away but don’t have Windows for either.

These are presumably functioning computers I either got from relatives after they moved up because Windows gave out, picked up at tag sales for a few dollars or out of the garbage with no hard drives, or had Windows crap out on me personally. I want them to do something for me rather than send them to the landfill while they still work at all.

What I’m looking for is good advice on what Linux distros and versions will give me a good and complete experience with these computers such as they are.

I’m not really to into Linux — it is not nearly as useful or simple for a non-IT guy as Windows and most of the end user apps are distinctly third rate — but free is free and Windows is a tough and problematic to reinstall without manufacturer disks specific to the model.

But until now, I have also had tremendous difficulty getting Linux to work in them.

Despite statements at Distrowatch and on distro-maker homepages that their versions will install and work beautifully on whatever chip, RAM and ROM specs you have, many many of the popular versions I tried hung on the install or failed after the install, such as by failing to find the network card, failing to have generic audio drivers, lacking a sufficient VGA driver, and so on. I recall one version that booted the computer from the
install CD, but then the computer couldn’t find the same CD to live load from, and another that hung on install in about six different computers all with different specs.

I don’t like the concept of super stripped low end versions like Puppy with no GUI, just 70’s style type in code for everything.

So on the end, it has usually come down to Mint, Ubuntu or Mandriva just to get something installed. But recent versions of these won’t run smoothly on what I have. There were hangs, situations where I felt overpowered, crashes, and lots of very, very slow processing even on mundane tasks like moving data around.

Legacy versions, if they install, aren’t supported and I can’t get recent versions apps for them from non-supported repositories either. (I’m not willing to learn the 50 or 100
steps needed to figure out how to install new apps from source at terminal using the bizarre code of programming languages.)

So in the end, the questions is whether there’s a good, stable and supported version for a vintage computer that’s only so so with Windows XP?

Any ideas about that? Thanks.

I have two recommendations for using linux on old computers. But I want the community to be active in the comments section as well :)

I would recommend Lubuntu or Puppylinux. The latter being more for experts.

So what would you recommend to Rodk? Let us know in the comment section :)

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