Verdict: Snappy Debian-based distro that works well on older machines, and can be easily fleshed out for relatively newer ones.
If you thought Puppy was esoteric, wait till you try DSL. This is another popular distro that's recently woken from slumber. It uses the JWM window manager, and upon booting launches a Getting Started guide to orient users.
Although the 50MB distro has most daily-use apps, some like Firefox are so old that sites like YouTube will refuse to load. You can add more apps using the distro's MyDSL system.
While it's meant to be a nomadic distro, it does have an installation wizard based on knxhdinstall that'll copy the contents on to a 300MB partition.
Verdict: Because of its steep learning curve it's only recommended for people who need to fuse life into old hardware.
The goal of this lightweight distro is to provide a fully functional user friendly desktop. It's based on Debian's Testing repo, and has a relatively newer kernel compared to other distros with a similar purpose.
The distro comes with the Fluxbox window manager and can play all sorts of media. Major desktop functions are managed by custom tools like the antiX Control Center. It also has a custom package manager and a custom installer which is fairly straightforward and well-documented. There's also a tool to create a live installable snapshot of the system.
Verdict: Good zippy distro for old machines and users who find Puppy Linux too esoteric.
Tiny Core Linux
Weighing in at just 12MB, this ships with only a terminal, a text editor and an app launcher on top of the lightweight FLWM window manager. It has a control panel to manage bootup services and configure the launcher, but everything else needs to be pulled in from its package manager, including the installer if you want to install Tiny Core on your hard disk.
The distro also has a CorePlus variant, which includes additional drivers for wireless cards, a remastering tool and internationalisation support. Finally, there's the 8MB Core edition, which is pretty much just the base system with a command-line interface to enable more experienced users to build their own system from the ground up.
Verdict: Will perform on the oldest of hardware, but setting it up requires time.
Designed to reduce the cultural shock of moving to another OS
Another Ubuntu and Xfce-based distro aimed at inexperienced Linux desktop users. The one thing that sets OS4 apart from others with a similar purpose is its unique desktop layout. The OS4 developers also claim to support devices that aren't yet supported by the Ubuntu distro itself, such as WebOS-based devices and Nook-based devices… and even the Kindle Fire.
The distro includes support for popular browser plugins, lots of apps for playing and producing multimedia, and even tools for software development. The distro's website has no forum boards and negligible documentation, but you can buy support from the online Store, which also retails desktops and laptops pre-installed with OS4.
Verdict: An out-of-the-box distro with an unique interface, but little documentation.
The distro is based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS edition and features a nicely dressed up Xfce desktop. LinuxLite has the regular apps such as LibreOffice, Firefox, GIMP, and VLC, but being based on the LTS release, most of the apps are outdated. Desktop users will appreciate the inclusion of Flash plugin and codecs, and that the latest release also bundles the Steam client.
Verdict: Another dressed up Ubuntu-based distro that offers little else.
Developed by the same developer who worked on the Debian edition of Linux Mint, SolusOS is built on Debian Stable, but with some newer software. It features a polished and tweaked Gnome desktop with window decorations, a bottom panel and a Windows 7 style app launcher. It also includes desktop productivity apps, plus Wine, PlayOnLinux and Minitube to watch Youtube videos.