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Slitaz would work well on that system. One word of warning though the newest version has a couple fairly minor config issues but if you have even basic knowledge of Linux you wont have any problem sorting them out.
Debian or Slackware, or something derived from one of them. Ubuntu Server would also work for a minimal system. Xfce should be slow but usable, Openbox or such should be a bit faster; WMII or such would be even better. OTOH Fluxbox versions prior to 1.3.5 should be avoided due to performance bugs. I've run Salix (13.37, with Xfce) on a Pentium II Thinkpad with 192 MB of RAM; it's sluggish, but but works fine for text editing and light browsing (using Opera).
If possible I'd recommend using CLI programs as much as you can, since they're lighter on memory and CPU. Midnight Commander in particular is a great console file manager. Decline GTK2 and Qt4 applications when possible, and avoid GTK3 ones. Qt4 applications should be usable, if you set the theme to something sensible in QtConfig (e.g. Plastique or Win9x, as opposed to the default Oxygen gunk.)
If package management processes, etc. hog CPU and I/O, try using nice and/or ionice to make them more friendly. This is useful even on newer computers. Unlike Windows, Linux attempts to give all processes of a given nice level a more or less equal share of CPUs, which results in worse desktop performance under some loads, especially on single core machines. So, if some background process is not time-critical and can be relegated to lower priority, it's a good idea to explicitly tell the OS that by nicing it. If a program is frequently invoked at high niceness, you could create a wrapper script for it in /usr/local/bin or /usr/local/sbin, so that it gets invoked at that level automatically.
(Don't go overboard with nice levels though. Niceness on Linux is purely relative, and too much niceness can cause priority inversion; it's better to nice things only one or two levels up, AFAIK.)
On recentish distros you could look into using zram, to create a compressed swap device in RAM. This may or may not be helpful; the faster swap space allows your RAM to be used more effectively, but the CPU overhead may be significant on very slow machines. I found it to be quite useful on the Pentium II though.
Also, if the video card is weak, I'd strongly recommend disabling opaque window resizing. Continuous widget redraws are tough on old CPUs; disabling opaque resize was the single biggest performance improvement on the Pentium II.