For believers in open source software development, Linux is often the operating system of choice. Linux has some great advantages like running on small configurations or is, in other words, less resource intensive. It can work on old computers where even Windows XP would be considered resource intensive. Other advantages include the flexibility to choose a desktop manager and the ability to pick up the required distribution which requires small configurations. Some of the distributions have built-in desktop managers like Feather Linux, Fluxbox and IceWM. All these flexible options make Linux a great operating system to work with.
Want to recycle your "old" i486?
Which operating system to install?
Windows XP and Vista: are too resource intensive
Windows 95/98/ME: not recommended since these versions are no longer maintained and safety risks are too great
GNU/Linux: excellent choice because you can choose not only the distribution but also the desktop manager.
Here are some screenshots:
Damn Small Linux running on a machine with 64 MB of RAM...and there is still room in the memory despite Firefox being launched:
Photos: courtesy of CCM
Choosing your desktop manager
On Windows, this is not possible, but GNU/Linux allows you to choose a desktop manager that is not too resource intensive. This is because, the GNU/Linux distributions all share the same basis, the actual difference in terms of resource consumption is the choice of desktop manager.
Desktop stands for the working interface of any user. This man-machine interface (HMI) uses a window manager, and sometimes an integrated graphical environment.
But note that desktop solutions in 3D (three dimensional) are unusable on i486 with 512 MB (at best) of memory (RAM).
No need to install the latest Mandriva (for example). If, with any luck, you manage to install it, then chances are that you will not be able to graphically start it, because of a lack of resources compared to the desktop installed. Moreover, Mandriva is compiled for i586 and x86_64 processors. So better install another desktop, that is "ready to use" based upon your configuration.
Ready to use distributions
Note that some distributions may have several desktop managers available:
Feather Linux: Fluxbox and IceWM,
VectorLinux 5.1: Fluxbox, IceWM and Xfce.
The given list considers only those having a desktop manager available by default, but it is always possible to install another thereafter.