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you have to determine your cost factor of speed vs. functionality/user-friendliness.
As was stated, RAM is more of an issue than it being a Pentium III (and what speed PIII??). Arch Linux is i686 optimized and I have found it to be extremely fast on anything I've run it on.. however, it's not aimed at totaly newbies either..
Slackware might be your best option with something like the XFCE4 desktop.. Debian may also be a good choice because of their massive collection of packages.
You may also have no problem at all running KDE or GNOME... please let us know how much RAM you have in the system...
Tried Mandriva 2006 on spare hard drive, found it slower than Win XP.
I was hoping to get a performance improvement over XP, which is why I raised the question.
Downloading Mepis at present, thought it might be worth a try! Like the sound of Slackware, but everyone says you need to use the command line on occasion. Frightens me somewhat as I do not understand command lines at all!
slackware is excellent.. yes, you do need to use command line for some things.. but it's much better to jump in and give it a try...
Finding it slower than XP is not surprising.. KDE and Gnome desktops are larger than the explorer.exe desktop.. but with a lot more functionality..
You would probably find XFCE4 very fast with enough functionality for your needs.
Back to slackware.. it's an easy install... just read the instructions on the screen.. and choose "everything" on the install.. at the end it will give you an option for the default desktop environment you want... KDE, XFCE, Fluxbox, Blackbox, FVWM, etc.. as I said, I suggest giving XFCE a shot..
By default, it won't boot right up to a graphical login.. but it's as easy as "username" "password" "startx" and it will jump into the graphical environment for you.
I just set up a pc for my daughter who is 7. I used debian with gnome. It's great, although depending on your hardware debian can be a little hard to set up. You may want to look at edubuntu. Its more oriented toward children and is simple to install. I went for debian because of the huge package selection.
I am running an AMD Duron 950MHz, with 512MB Ram, and MX200 Nvidia graphics card. All of this is pretty ancient stuff.
I run Fedora Core 3 with KDE, with an extensive list of images for randomly changing wallpapers, and translucent effects on menus and window title bars.
All of this works at an acceptably fast pace.
The only slow downs I notice is initial boot time is longer than Win2K, some programs (Firefox, Evolution, etc) take longer to start up than equivalents in Windows. Mind you Firefox start up is about the same in both.
FC3 (and FC4) is an easy install, with just about everything being graphical. My kids 4 & 8 have no trouble playing several Linux games, and indeed booting into Windows for other games. My 4 year old only needs someone to type in the passwords.
I agree with the others if you want to spend only a little bit of money, and upgrade of your ram to 512MB would provide you with a huge performance improvement in both Linux and Windows. An extra 256MB stick would only cost you about $40 or less.
You can use all the same apps with a light window manager like XFCE. It is faster than KDE and Gnome because it doesn't have all of the bells and whistles that they have. If you are new to linux, you may want to stick with KDE or Gnome to start off with because things will be easier to configure. I haven't used XFCE, but I know that much of the configuration with fluxbox (similar to XFCE) is by hand which can be frustrating for newbies.