Verdict: Ubuntu for fans of BeOS.
Slim packages that are ideal for powering old hardware
The Slackware-based mini-distro is available in many flavours. The standard edition has Xfce, but others offer Gnome and Openbox desktops too. It aims to deliver modern apps on older machines.
Although compatible with Slackware's binary packages, it uses its own Netpkg package manager, which adds dependency resolution capabilities to TGZ packages. Surprisingly, it has fully-fledged apps like Firefox and LibreOffice. Advanced users will appreciate Zenwalk's capability to easily convert a stock distro into a finely tuned LAMP or file sharing server.
Verdict: Fast distro with some modern apps and an old school appeal.
Uses a mixture of the LXDE and OpenBox window manager, and is designed to perform on hardware with only 256 MB of RAM. It also has a bunch of custom tools like the SlitazPanel. It's a useful all-in-one control panel which lets you administer all aspects of the distro.
The distro weighs less than 30MB and takes just 80MB of hard disk space. It lacks an office suite and codecs, but these can be installed from its repos. The distro includes some user documentation that you'll need to refer to it before using the system.
Verdict: Requires learning some new skills, but a good lightweight distro for experienced users.
Originally designed to churn desktop friendly versions of a stock Fedora release, Fuduntu earns its name by its ambition to fit somewhere in-between Fedora and Ubuntu. It includes features of modern distros while maintaining the look and feel of a traditional desktop. This explains why it's one of the few distros that still ship with the Gnome 2 desktop.
True to its name the distro includes Ubuntu's Jockey hardware detection tool that will also download proprietary drivers to maximise performance. Fuduntu isn't shy of proprietary software and bundles both the Steam client and the Netflix client, which it runs via Wine.
The distro features easy to use custom package management and configuration tools, while installation is handled by Fedora's older Anaconda installer, which is a good thing.
Verdict: A strange mix of the traditional and the new, which works well on underpowered machines.
The popular distro has recently woken from its four-year slumber. It is based on Slackware and offers the KDE desktop. This distro takes a modular approach to software.
To add software you need to fetch modules from the Slax Software Center, which offers only a few modules such as AbiWord, Gnumeric, and Google Chrome. Despite its size, it offers all the codecs, plugins and apps you'd need daily, sans an office suite.
The distro has no installer because it's meant for running from a removable medium like USB or CD. If it detects a writeable device, it will automatically save changes there.
Verdict: Similar in design to Porteus, but currently lacks apps.
If you wish to run the same distro on a new machine as well as an older one, then SparkyLinux is for you. The distro is designed for both old and new computers and ships with two customised desktops (Enlightenment and LXDE) in the main edition and Openbox in the Ultra edition.
It uses a custom installer that calls on a number of other tools to setup different aspects of the installation, such as Debian's debconf utility to configure the keyboard and Gparted to partition the disk. It includes both feature-rich software like VLC and lightweight ones such as AbiWord.
Verdict: Lightweight distro that'll perform well even on semiretired computers.
This Slackware-based distro out of Ireland is designed for installation on removable mediums like USB disks and CDs, but can also be installed on to a hard disk. It's unique feature is that it exists in a compressed state and creates its file system on the fly.