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I posted a question on June 9 regarding an old laptop with 512 mb ram and running a version of Linux on it. I got several suggestions (thank you). Just was curious..nobody mentioned older versions of Linux..such as RH 7.2, 7.3 etc...looking at specs, they are fairly low, and wondering why nobody thinks that those are viable options? To be honest...there are soooo many different Linux distros, that I am fairly confused as to what might be a good option. I have heard of RH thru the years so I know its been around a long time.. I could try all the suggestions...but really dont want to install/reinstall several diff Linux. I am not going to use it for my day to day stuff..I just want to learn some...as well as give a shot at installing a MUD on it..again, not for public use..just my own use to play with coding...scripts etc...I am guessing I dont really need a GUI ...unless configuring wireless network card needs GUI to make setting it understandable etc...but wireless is not the only option..I can run a cable to it as needed if wireless not supported in older distros. Sorry for such a long post. Thank you for any/all information.
Older versions of the distributions are not an option because they lack support. This means that you don't get bugfixes and no security updates. You also get no new software for it, which means that it nowadays is very difficult, especially for a Linux beginner, to install software on those. There is only one reason to run an older version: If you have a system that is not connected to the Internet and runs a proprietary software. This often happens on systems that are used in industrial machines, for example.
Distribution: OpenSUSE 13.2 64bit-Gnome on ASUS U52F
Latest software has been optimazed to perform better and utilize newest technologies and the latest patches for security reason, so people here assume you would like to have a current and updated system.
You really don't need a fast computer to run a modern Linux system. I have 1 GB RAM in one machine, 512 MB in another. 1.8 GHz Intel Atom and 900 MHz Loongson 2F, and Debian 7.0 runs fine. It just depends how you set up the system. You might have a problem with Mozilla Firefox (the Loongson can't run that), flashplayer, 3D screensavers etc with a very old computer but there's no reason to run an old Linux system just because of performance. There are desktop environments/window managers for those as well such as LXDE, XFCE, WindowMaker, Blackbox, etc. On top of that, if all you want to do is a little programming then you don't even strictly speaking need X Windows. For the sake of just getting started you might try Debian. It has plenty of easily accessible software and it's very well tested.
If you want to try out what different flavour of distribution you want, you can use Live CD's. You download the iso's, burn them and run them on boot. After running several of them, you can make up your own mind.
Adding my 2 cents here. I also have a laptop with 512 MB RAM, 60 GB hard drive, and Sempron 1.2 GHz CPU. I've installed all sorts of distros on it - but none has worked so much to my satisfaction as Crunchbang. It is very minimalistic distro with several tools for coding and sysadmin tasks & learning. I'd highly recommend you take a look at it, and as someone else suggested here, you can use a LiveCD and try it out before installing it. Good luck.
Linux, as usual, supports fairly old hardware, much unlike Windows which requires pretty recent machines. Linux, for example, has just recently abandoned support for i386 CPUs on part of the kernel, but 486 CPUs are still supported. Those chips are more than 100 times slower than modern CPUs..