I agree with shadowsnipes - while the result could work really well, waiting for everything to compile in order to make that possible doesn't sound very appealing. Last time I tried on really old hardware, I first had to wait for ages, and then things broke (possibly my fault, but considering the time I had been waiting, it was no-go after that).
Sorry for not responding earlier (workload - funny how it piles up before X-mas); what you said about Slackware
being able to be "small" and "focussed" (or "rounded") can be applied to every major distro I know that's not purely desktop oriented(!) - but I agree that it's more likely that a system using Slackware
gets configured that way since choice is genuinely more fine-grained than it appears(!) to be with other distros (having no meta-packages makes for KISS sure enough; but it also makes for trouble if one's not careful). However, if - as most people do - one chooses to simply do a "default" X
install, you'll end up with KDE
, which is not exactly what I call resource friendly
But the same thing's true for Debian
, of course.
I run a customised Debian
install on a old Toshiba
laptop (Celeron 300 (Mendozino), 192MB RAM, 4GB HD) using Fluxbox
, and it's really usable that way, whereas when using the default desktop installation with GNOME
, it's crawling hopelessly. Generally speaking, changing the WM/DM to something less demanding normally solves most performance problems to a major degree, so it should be chosen over changing the distro! However, distros that already come with a efficient WM/DM can be good choices to see what is possible in terms of speed and usability. Of those, Zenwalk
's a very good choice for Slackware
based distros, DSL
does something comparable for Debian
(though it's quite a peculiar system for new users), and Puppy
is always worth a try on its own accord.
That said, in my experience every system can be easily optimised by using common sense and a good package manager, possibly with a GUI to make things more accessible. I really like Synaptic
since I get to see the package, its dependencies and a reasonable description of what does what... but of course, it can be done on every system with just about every tool (in spite of Synaptic
, I still use apt
quite often since I know my way around).
It all boils down to this: If you want to have a usable machine, you'll have to experiment quite a bit, especially if it's old. Having tools at hand that make this easier is very desirable, especially if your experience is limited. Those who prefer hands-on to pre-packaged are very well served by KISS distros; for others (like myself), Debian
's a good compromise since it offers quite sophisticated tools while still packing all the punch one would want from a distro on the long run, like a full set of CLI tools and various reasonable ways of doing things.