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I need a basic distro that will take up as little memory as possible. It needs to be relatively user-friendly, but I have a few year's experience in linux, so I know my way around a command line (for the most part).
I have, out of curiosity, installed antiX with IceWM in a VM and came up with 36MB used after a fresh boot. Pretty lean I would say. It comes in i486 and i686 versions for older hardware (besides the 64 bit version) and is based on Debian. I also would recommend to give Vector Linux a try, it is based on Slackware and well known to run good on old hardware.
And of course there are the distros that run from RAM, like Tinycore (very small, but a little bit harder to install), Slitaz and Puppy Linux.
Please don't do that, almost all distros do not support older versions, which means you will have no security updates and bugfixes. You also will have problems to install newer software.
Use a recent version of a distro aimed towards older hardware or do a minimal install of a distro and build up the system from there.
Distribution: Debian Wheezy, Jessie, Sid/Experimental, playing with LFS.
Originally Posted by jake3988
If you want minimal hard drive space, install gentoo, freebsd (not a linux, of course, but it's good), or ubuntu server edition.
I wouldn't advocate installing Ubuntu Server Edition so you could obtain a basic distro for old hardware. If you want to use Ubuntu do a mini install and add what you need not a server install. Personally I'd stay away from Ubuntu because it's becoming "heavy" and the kernel has so much in it (ureadahead for example) that will slow down an old machine and make it virtually unusable. You're much better of doing a Debian mini and installing what you want.