Trials with an Old Computer
I tried all three plus Dyne:bolic, a Linux variant specialized for music and video production on under-powered computers. Here's how I fared....
Dyne:bolic was easy to try out, and I didn't have to reformat the Window NT drive to do it. So I tried it first. After downloading version 2, I burned the ISO image to a CD. It booted up just fine and I ran it from the CD. It performed well, but it was set up for a single root-level user, and it wouldn't "play" Flash content.
Next was XP. The first problem I had was that I couldn't activate the OS, even though I had a valid key. But I played around with it anyway during the evaluation period. Just twenty minutes was enough to know it would be way too slow.
Then I installed Windows 2000. This involved a lot of tedious business with multiple CDs for the OS itself, then Service Pack 6 and then more CDs with security software and utilities. Everything went well until I installed the antivirus program and updated it. After that, the OS would not start.
Finally I decided to give Linux a try. Rather than download images files, I decided to search the local public library system for Linux books that had accompanying CDs. And I limited my search to old books, too, since I really needed the installer to be on CD-ROMs and not a DVD. There were some Red Hat Linux books, so I got one and tried it. It installed and ran really well except for the web browser, Mozilla, which had me pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del and longing for Task Manager to come up so I could kill it.
Of these four options, Dyne:bolic was clearly the best. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to realizing it, Jaromil released version 3.0.0, whose 1.6GB image now must be burned onto DVD, not CD. (I can't find the CD that had version 2 on it. And booting from USB is not an option in this computer's BIOS.) This latest Dyne:bolic is totally awesome -- I tried the Live CD on my main home desktop (a P4), and I created a small virtual machine on my work computer, which boots the image file.
In order to run D:B3 on my PIII, I need a DVD drive. Since I had two on my main desktop, I removed one and installed it on the PIII. But, alas, it didn't work. The computer detected the drive, but it won't boot from it, and Linux won't mount it. So I think the laser is shot. I've encountered a few non-functioning DVD drives in this manufacturer's computers, so I really do think the drive is defective. In fact I wasn't able to boot from the drive recently when it was in the P4 that I took it out of.
So this is where I am now. I need a working IDE DVD drive, which are expensive and/or refurbished. There are adapters that can convert a SATA drive to IDE, but that's an extra expense I didn't want to pay. Plus, I'm not sure this small form factor case will have any room for it, although I can put the new SATA drive with IDE adapter into the main desktop and move the working IDE DVD drive from the main desktop to the PIII if I really had to.
If / when I clear this hurdle I'll check in again. Hopefully D:B3 will still be available!