Best disk distro with network facility - to allow for internet install
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There's Fli4l, a distribution to be used in routers. It's very small and should support internet access right from the start. Another minidistribution would be ttyLinux, which provides all the basics for a network connection, I'm not sure how you can install it from disks though. There's also a list of other such distributions at Wikipedia.
Is your plan to install a minimalistic distribution and then add lots of software to it manually, or just use the first distribution to install another one? I'm not sure if the latter works so well, but if you want to have it simple you can install Debian (they seem to support installing with a boot floppy), that might suit your needs the best. Debian is actually pretty big compared to those mini linuxes, but you may want to give it a shot.
I would recommend debian etch netinst.. you can download it from debian.org
I agree. This would also let you install once and not
require you to download another distro.
If you have a rather fast connection, it's okay to
select everything you want during the install. If
your connection is slow, consider unselecting most
package sets. This will speed up the installation
process, then you can go back later to get the other
packages you want.
Debian base installation is 480 megabytes. If you add X plus a window manager such as Fluxbox (with apt-get install xserver-xorg fluxbox), it probably still takes less than 600 megabytes (or maybe not, but surely less than 1 gig). With 1,5 gigs you can run almost any distro except the ones installing everything on start (such as Ubuntu) or Gentoo, since compiling everything takes a lot of space. You don't need to take a distro as small as Damn Small Linux. It's a very fine distro, but a little unflexible, so installing some additional software may be more difficult than you think.
What surprised me is how S l o w the distro is - very sluggish. A bit disappointing. I managed to get win98 running briefly, despite the problems I have with it, and it was the tortoise and hare all over again.
I used puppy 3.01 which I've tried before on another machine - so I had some idea about what I was doing.
Think I'll just give up. Puppy is too slow to be really usable, and win is screwed so much as to be unusable too. Pity to junk what was a nice little machine!
Puppy Linux is quite a specific distribution, it doesn't really suit well for all computers and requires better hardware than, say, Damn Small Linux. If you want a distribution that has the desktop preconfigured, you can give DSL a shot using these (from Windows) or these (from Linux) instructions. I'd, however, seriously consider Debian if you're even slightly prepared to learn a bit Linux internals. With Debian you can control everything the system does and runs, so you can be sure it will run well on your hardware. You can get the images for Debian floppy installation here (architecture i386, seems to be 4 diskettes in total without CD drivers) and instructions for using those images here. The Debian Installation Guideexplains the whole installation process in a very detailed manner.
No, it isn't true. After a quick look I couldn't find anything on debian.org saying how much space the Debian base installation with the default desktop environment (GNOME) takes, but I seriously doubt it being more than 2 GB. This is still too much for you of course, but if you won't tick the "Desktop" box during the installation you'll end up with about 500 MB and no graphical interface. After the base installation you can manually install the X server and a window manager, e.g. Fluxbox, which will together take maybe 200 MB (probably a lot less).