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.