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Im new here, but am tired of XP getting larger and larger on my old laptop. I have an NEC Versa P2/400 4Gb hard drive, 196MB mem. I just want to surf internet (on a generic USB 802.11 B/G wireless device) read my hotmail and SBCglobal.net mail using an email client, not a web based client and maybe look at some pics off my camera and Ipod support. Too much to ask on a small system? I have been running XP pro for 3 years but it has been troubled lately after finally getting SP2, like no task bar. Ubuntu(?) or linspire/freespire? Or do I regress to win98 (yikes!!) Any suggestions, I am pretty savvy on windows, but am lost when it comes to Linux. Thanks in advance. pishta68 at hotmail dot com
Xubuntu would be my preferred try-out. At least you could download Xubuntu's (= Ubuntu with Xfce desktop) disc which is both a live-cd disc you can boot from and test the OS without installing it, and an install disc you can use to put the thing on your computer - and use it first as a live-cd, seeing how it works. It's slightly "better" after installation - packages updated from web reposities, and not reading the cd all the time to do something - but you'll get an image about it before going further.
Another recommendation would be ArchLinux, or Slackware. They're not just as easy to install and set up as (X)Ubuntu is, but offer more control if you like that. Maybe you'll want to start off with Xubuntu, and see how well/badly it works. There are others, but for an older laptop it might be better to use Xfce rather than Gnome or KDE as the desktop - it's faster and smaller, but just as good-looking as either of those big two.
Oh, and search for the other "what distro for an old laptop/pc" threads - they've got loads and loads of opinions. Don't take my opinion as a Must, rather visit distrowatch website and see some reviews. All distributions should run fine on the machine, but you're interested in low installation size (if you install full Fedora, your disk is filled up before the setup ends) and possibly a light desktop environment (such as Xfce), to make it work well. Fedora could do too, but during the setup you would need to de-select most packages and then select only the needed ones, to make it fit onto the smallish disk (in nowadays' metrics).
By the way, with 196 MB RAM and an old CD drive LiveCDs can run very slowly. Times slower than installed system. Note that generic 802.11b/g device may turn out to be not so generic, so be prepared to deal with strange driver behavior until you learn to configure them.
As recommended above, have a look at www.distrowatch.com. It has information on lots of different distro's, many for older hardware like what you describe.
Zenwalk is another distro to take a look at. It ran well on an old Emachines Celeron 633 and 256 mb RAM and a 10Gb hard disk. Puppy ran well, and so did Damn Small Linux (DSL). Puppy was great because it let you set up things like modems, network (including wireless), and others one at a time after the system was up and running - which made life much easier for me.
OK, well I tried Ubuntu but it hung on a CD error even though the CD checked out OK on the first splash screen CD check tool. I then tried Xubuntu, but I could not get a download that was any faster than 4kb/sec,..whatever. Tried to get DSL but the web site was down so I tried Puppy. wow, only 96M and it installed in a snap. It had everything I needed by the looks of things and it was nice and lean. It found my sound card but didnt see my USB WiFi adapter, bummer. It would not even power it up. I looked at all the included drivers but none worked, so I looked up the chip and found an italian website that had linux drivers for another USB WiFi that had the same chip. I got it downloaded to a floppy and of course it is zipped so Ill attempt to use the puppy zip program to read a windows written floppy. This is the only issue (no plug and play) that would drive me away from Linux so with a little luck, Ill be able to get the WiFi to work. After that, it should be smooth sailing, right? Oh yeah, one more thing. How do I get the puppy distro to run off the hard drive, right now it says its running entirely off RAM and it gives me save options for my session? Ill have to look into it more I guess. Thanks for the suggestions.
Never personally used Puppy, so the last question I can't answer.
As for plug and play...Linux has plug in play. It doesn't support every device in the world...but neither does Windows. I've had plenty of devices that Windows didn't pick up. I've even had a couple that Linux found but Windows didn't!
WEll, Puppy didnt have the driver for even my Dlink PCMCIA ethernet adapter so I ran Ubuntu off the CD (worked!) and it picked up my DLink adapter so I finally got internet access through my wired router. Now I can get the driver for the wireless USB device from that Italian site. My Ubuntu runs off the disk as well as Puppy, How do I get it to my hard drive? Dumb question, but I am dumb when it comes to Linux. The Ubuntu splash screen has "Install or run Ubuntu" as its first selection, but nothing to do with installing it, I chose the first option and it seems to be running off the CD becasue I cant boot the laptop without the CD in it. (im trying to remember what it said, Im at work now and not in front of it) Thanks again.
Ha! You think I would have tried that...I did. Didnt do anything! Ill try it again and let it sit overnight, maybe it (CD-ROM) was so slow that I didnt notice any action for 10 minutes...
Sure enough, after 15 minutes of sitting there, it started to install. Now its up and running (installed overnight) and I have internet access. Puppy is faster even off the CD, but at least Ubuntu has the correct PCMCIA driver. Only complaint: It takes about 4 minutes to boot up with no splash screen to tell you its working, just the hard drive light flickering. I guess my old laptop just doesnt have the HP to run something like this as fast as I would have thought. Puppy popped right up though. Where do I put the "driver" I found for my USB WiFi in Linux so It is there when the Wifi card queries its driver? Thanks again.