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I bought a netbook (Asus EEE PC 1000H, specs here and here) back when it came out in 2008, and installed Debian 4.0 Etch with Gnome.

It worked wonderfully well, and served me appropriately for most of my grad studies. I eventually upgraded to a full-fledged laptop for work, gave the netbook to my mom, and changed the HD, installed Windows XP, and that was that.

Flash forward to 2015: Microsoft stops maintenance of Windows XP. As time goes by, it becomes increasingly less secure; and also, every software update is liable to mess things up permanently. That's what happened with the latest Skype 9.5 update, which forced DirectX Video Acceleration which does not work on a lightweight netbook. We would avoid updates, but they are mandatory.

I have thus been looking to change the OS on the netbook to Linux, so it'll continue to receive support.

I found out to my surprise that meanwhile, it seems any distributions nowadays - whether Ubuntu or Debian, and even when advertised as "lightweight" - uses compositors requiring GPU acceleration that is hard to remove. We tried a variety of Ubuntu variations, including Cinnamon and MATE, but all run sluggishly/prohibitively slow on the computer. Although I have spent time to try to uncheck the settings that might cause everything to slow down, it seems like these distros are just not meant for older computers anymore (which, in a way, is understandable).

Our current top choice is Puppy Linux. But while it seems to be a throwback to yesteryear when Linux+desktop was extremely efficient; it seems to also bring with it the stability issues we had back then. Indeed it repeatedly freezes mid-action, no matter what it is we are doing. While it is true that this may be in part because we are running the distribution from a USB key, such instability does not inspire the confidence for us to install it permanently on the HD.

Does anybody have a recommendation as to what to do with this netbook? Or a reliable distro to install?

My mom only needs two apps: Chrome and Skype. (But she needs those apps exactly.)

Any help immensely appreciated as we've been spending a couple weeks trying to find our way out of this...

EDIT: I am not sure I understand why this question was put on hold. Indeed there is not ONE single answer, but I was hoping to get a variety of recommendations to try from (and indeed thanks to the posters who replied/commented before the embargo).

As the help center notes, I am not asking for anybody's favorite distribution, but for a set of distributions which fit a specific set of (hardware) constraints. While there may be several options, and a given poster will subjectively give one rather than another, I fail to see how the question itself is objectionable.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Braiam, Stephen Kitt, Anthon, cuonglm, jimmij Aug 8 '15 at 17:50

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Almost any distro would work, just choose light desktop environment, disable unnecessary services (webservices,apache etc) and should be fine. – jimmij Aug 8 '15 at 15:28
  • But how do you pick a light desktop environment? Cinnamon, MATE, both were supposed to be light desktop environments, but that didn't work well. – Jérémie Aug 8 '15 at 15:30
  • @Jérémie I would try lubuntu. – MichalH Aug 8 '15 at 15:54
  • probably, increasing the RAM to 2Gbytes (by adding a cheap DDR2 RAM) might make the laptop much more usable. – Basile Starynkevitch Aug 8 '15 at 16:53
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    @FaheemMitha: The OP most probably meant compositing window managers. They use windows content as 3D tiles to produce graphical effects and fallback to CPU if no GPU acceleration is available, which indeed cause disastrous performance on older machines. Initially a separate project (Compiz/Beryl), with the time going on they become an unremovable part of most desktop environments (best example being KDE, Gnome and Unity). – WhiteWinterWolf Aug 8 '15 at 19:31
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When I encountered for the same requirement times ago I went for a distribution relying on XFCE as desktop manager.

At that time (a dozen of years ago) I chose Xubuntu (it is Ubuntu with Gnome replaced by XFCE), but it is possible that it grew fat since then I don't know. You may give it a try, or opt to Mint which is also an Ubuntu derivative proposing XFCE (it adds supplementary packages installed by default, mostly non-free applications for multimedia purposes like DVD).

Distrowatch website allows you to get an ordered list of distribution offering a specific desktop environment. While in theory every desktop environment could be installed in any distribution, you might lack some integration features so it is safer to select your distribution depending on the desktop environment you are planning to use.

There are other desktop environments targeting low-end systems, but most of them were too "oldish" for me (this list may help you to know what to pay attention for in desktop screenshoots and test reports for instance, I stayed with some Enlightenment based distro's for some time (particularly eLive which was visually impressive) but they finally left in favor to XFCE due to some of the point below):

  • No icons in the menus and submenus (it is where you discover that you usually locate your options quicker by just looking for their icons than by actually reading the labels),
  • No files or shortcuts can be placed on the desktop (personally I do not use desktop icons anyway, but I know it may be a no-go for some people),
  • No graphical configuration tool (everything should be configured by manually editing files, from desktop to peripherals configuration),
  • No plugin, at most a clock but that's all (using an external tool to handle the plugins (network status, sound level, CPU, mail, etc.) is needed but you may loose any memory consumption advantage),
  • Some desktop environment do not even offer a taskbar where you can switch opened windows or minimize them, you rely mainly on keyboard shortcuts to list and manage your windows.
  • At last some of these can appear counter-intuitive in their user interface (RISC-OS inspired ones use left-click to scroll-down and right-click to scroll-up without the possibility to simply drag the scrollbar handle, Enlightenment 7 was at that time reducing the windows as desktop icons behind the other opened Windows: restoring them required either the correct keyboard shortcuts or moving the other windows around).

XFCE marked the perfect trade-off to me.

At last, you indicate using a USB key to test the distribution. Remember that old computers can still use older USB version 1 or similar which is very, very slow. At the beginning USB was mainly an evolution of the parallel port to connect a printer and there was no throughput requirement as there is now with large file transfer or, even worse, a complete OS started from USB. When your live-system seems frozen, check if your USB key has some blinking light which would indicate that this is not the fault of the OS but merely the USB which is too slow to transmit all required data.

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Almost any distribution will do the trick for both Chrome and Skype. That said, I do know that lubuntu and xubuntu, based on LXDE and xfce4 respectively, are very good choices and installing those apps is a very simple task.

I run xubuntu on my desktop machines, however lubuntu has been useful for a few high-end ARM devices I own and while it isn't the lightest, it should not be too demanding.

If lubuntu is too 'heavy' graphically you might want to have a search around Distrowatch to find a suitable distribution that is based on Debian, Fedora or even Arch (like Manjaro).

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If your mother needs just these two applications and you know how to to go about installing a bare-bones linux distribution, to achieve maximum speed do the following:

Install Gentoo GNU/Linux. Your laptop is supported. Then you can install Fluxbox, the window manager. It's extremely lightweight. Along with fluxbox, install FbDesk to make click-able icons.

Then you can install just the software you need. Like, an office suite (Open Office probably) and Chrome along with Skype and you're all set.

You can use OpenVPN to manage upgrades automatically remotely via SSH.

NOTE: The following procedure requires a fair amount of expertise with the GNU/Linux command line and a fair amount of reading tutorials and guides :-)

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