Everyone has old hardware. It's that laptop you've stuffed onto a bookshelf in the back of the closet, that ipod you replaced with a newer ipod, that PC card you dismissed when PCI-e came around, that cardbud wifi card that you neglect due to the invent of the expresscard interface.
I know you've got something, everyone does, and though it seems like our universe will soon be filled with old macbook laptops and disposeable ipod nano's, FEAR NOT my faithful techies....There's hope afoot.
I happened to stumble across a pristine piece of machinery - and by pristine, I mean a proprietary piece of crap built by dell known as the inspiron 4000:
This bad boy bleeds cutting edge....um...in '98. A dvd-rom drive (that reads dvd's!!), a single nickel metal hydryde battery (switched this out with a newer li-ion battery), an RS-232 serial port (may be functional), parallel port, proprietary power port, 40gb Hard drive and .... are you ready? A single USB 1.1 port. OH YEAH! Because no one would ever need more than one of these universal serial ports and hell, 12mb/s is BLAZING speed. Oh, and the processor is a sturdy single core Pentium III 650Mhz WITH a badass 256MB of RAM.
...Yeah, but back in 1998 this shit was the best of the best. At a whopping $1199 introductory price Dell was just GIVING these away. Nowadays you can probably get one of these for free from the bottom of you local abandoned trash can.
And so, with the given specs, you wonder - What can it run?
Hell....It'll run XP, slowly. And by slowly I mean you'll want to be returning it to that abandoned trashcan with FORCE before it even boots to the coloured XP logo.
So you there - ditch the bloat. You want something free. Something liberating. Something you can dev on without the hassle of slow overpriced software.
Despite the cutesy name and the obligatory "bark bark" when you boot into it, puppy linux is a powerful distro built from the ground up. And it's better than debian for old hardware! (With the latest update, puppy supports i686 a little bit more smoothly, so newer systems will work great too, but that's not what this is about)
Puppy has everything you need right off the bat, and it'll fit quite snugly onto a mini-cdR at about 131mb for the entire system.
Which is precisely what I did. A single Mini-CDR (which I bought online in a pack of 100 for under $10) burns the entire liveCD, which is fantastic for even older hardware without a CD drive....this shit'll run right out of your RAM, a USB drive, disc, or any other media you can slap it on.
LiveCD meaning, of course, no installation necessary. Just pop in the puppy media and boot - it'll do everything you'd expect an OS to do, including asking if you'd like to save your settings when you shut down the computer - this allows you to boot right back up on a liveCD and continue where you left off - just as if you'd installed it locally.
Installation is simple: run the liveCD, when puppy boots into the X windowing system simply click on the "install" icon. This will run you through an extremely simple installation process. You can choose from here to install to your local hard drive, a cd, etc etc. I chose to go with the local Hard drive. Bam. installed.
The next step is making your installation bootable. This SHOULD come up after the installation completes, but it doesn't happen a lot of the time, so you'll need to find and run the bootloader installation. It's under the main MENU somewhere, just find it an click, it will install either GRUB or a text based grub4dos. You can choose either, but GRUB is graphical and nicer.
You have several options for GUI, as well, though the default is JWM, you can choose IceWM, Fluxbox, and Enlightenment. I've seen some KDE variants but they tend to be for newer hardware. Stick with JWM for the older hardware, it's functional and super awesome.
Once you set up your networking (click the "connect" icon) you can install a browser (click "browse" on the desktop). You have a choice of firefox, opera, etc etc.
As you can see everything is labelled out real easy and nice, and there's all sorts of power under the hood. You've got several terminals for command line *nix stuffs, and all sorts of goodies.
And now you've breathed new life into a really crappy computer! WHOO!