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I have been using Linux as a server for ages, but I have tried a few times to use Linux as a desktop. Each and every time I have been disappointed. I am doing some research to find the best distribution for my needs.
I think the biggest disappointment each time was how slowly graphical linux would run for me. In Windows XP I get great performance on my Athlon 2600 w/ 256mbs of ram. But if I run Linux on 256mbs of ram, well let's just say it runs slow.
I am going to be doing web development in Flash and I already do a lot in vi. If anyone could make a suggestion to me as to which distribution I should check out, I would appreciate it.
I have already used Redhat, Mandrake, Suse all of which run slowly on my machine.
It's usually not the distribution, but the services, programs, and desktop environment that dictate the speed of things. Have you tried using XFCE? Have you tried limiting some of the startup programs?
The key is in reducing "bloat". Turn off all services that you don't actually use, many of which are run by default in many distros (especially the three you mention).
Avoiding KDE or GNOME helps too, as both use a lot of resources. Use a lighter window manager like fluxbox, windowmaker, xfce, etc...
While some distros do tend to run a bit snappier, like Slackware, Arch, and Gentoo, any distro can be "tuned" with a few config tweaks and bloat reduction.
I prefer Slack because it's as light as you choose it to be, very stable, and designed around a KISS (keep it simple stupid) philosphy. No matter how many different distros I try, I always stick with Slack for a rock solid stable desktop system.