I’m a sucker for a Linux or BSD distro with a live CD. Even if you can’t do an install directly from the disc, at least you can figure out whether the damn thing will boot and how your hardware will react when it does.
One of my favorites, ZenWalk, just released Zenwalk 4.8 Live. Both Zenwalk and Vector — the top Xfce-based, Slackware-derived distributions — are very good, but I like the way Zenwalk looks and works just that much better. I was dismayed when Zenwalk 4.6 wouldn’t install properly on the $0 Laptop (the Gateway Solo 1450). Slackware 12 and Vector Standard 5.8 wouldn’t run once installed either (I think I need to pass some boot parameters … which means I’ll either have to figure out how to do it in LILO or try to do it in GRUB), so it’s more than likely something that begins in Slackware that the other distros don’t clear up. I have my money on PCMCIA or SCSI services, and it is worth a try.
Anyhow, whether or not an Xfce-based Slack-derived distro can really “save” really old hardware remains an open question. One thing I do know, however, is PCs that do “OK” with standard distros like Ubuntu really do fly with Zenwalk or Vector (and more so with Puppy and Damn Small Linux, but that’s another story).
Before I continue, let me remind you about Zenwalk Live’s root password (you’ll need it if you want to do any configuration in the very-well-thought-out ZenPanel app):
And yes, it is case-sensitive (as are all Linux passwords).
Right now, in the live CD environment, I expect more speed from Zenwalk, but I don’t want to make a full judgment until I’ve done a complete install.
One thing (and it’s a big one) that Zenwalk does have going for it is the Net-Pkg package manager. It makes dealing with packages that much easier. And overall, Zenwalk’s ZenPanel is better in just about every way than Vector’s VASM tool.
And if you want to run Slackware but don’t want KDE — and want easier package management, you should test both Zenwalk and Vector before making any decisions on a permanent install. For me, the relative lack of time between releases for both distros — and what looks like the abandonment of updates for the older versions — gives me pause. Nothing a separate /home partition couldn’t cure, but I prefer the ability to stay up to date as long as possible without a full reinstallation of the operating system. (This is an area in which Debian and Ubuntu excel.)
Another thing before I go: Slackware, Vector and Zenwalk all run exceptionally well with the Fluxbox window manager. It’s included in the initial installs of Slack and Vector (the latter doing it the best, I think) and is readily available in the Zenwalk repositories. With Fluxbox, you get a lot more speed, and if Xfce doesn’t give you the level of performance you seek on an older box, any of these distros just might do what you need with this lightweight window manager.