I popped an AntiX LiveCD into my Compaq and it booted just fine, slow, but fine. Sound works, screen resolution is right and the touchpad works, mine doesn't have integrated ethernet, but if yours does, I would assume it would work too. I plugged in my trusty USB wifi adapter with an r8187 chipset and well...here I am.
AntiX is based on Debian, so what you learn in it could translate to Ubuntu, Mint or Debian. I believe it supports all Debian packages, so there is no shortage of software available.
I think most of the slowness I'm experiencing is due to the fact it is running from CD and the drive is older than dirt and making some horrific noises. If it was installed to HD, I would expect much better performance. Right now I am using Iceape browser, which is just Mozilla Seamonkey without branding, it is using under 100mb of RAM total, system and all.
If you decide to try AntiX, get the 486 disc, the AMD chip is a 586 and the 686 disc won't boot on one. The correct disc is antiX-M8.5-486.iso.
Once you're running from the CD, you can play around to get a feel of the OS, if you like it, the installer is in the application menu and should be pretty self explanatory.
EDIT: I had nothing of importance on the HD anyway, so I gave installing it a shot, went very smoothly and the system is quite responsive when running from the HD.
Last edited by elliott678; 03-21-2011 at 11:21 PM.