I am soon going to be getting a perfectly functional laptop from my older brother that has a broken screen. I want to use this laptop strictly as an easy-to-use home server computer, and so I will mostly be using it by logging into it from other computers (hence why I don't care that the screen is broken). After the laptop was promised to me, I began looking for a debian-based distribution that would perhaps be a bit lighter on resources (and still easy to use) than Ubuntu. I've so far tried out SimplyMEPIS 8.5 and Xubuntu 10.04 RC. In both cases I downloaded the ISO archive containing the setup files and mounted each on my USB stick as a live usb using the wonderful UNetbootin.
SimplyMEPIS was pretty easy/harmless to install. Once installed, I set about the task of learning the basics of getting around in its KDE 4.3.4 interface. Having used Ubuntu for almost a year now, I am very familiar with where things are when GNOME is the main graphical interface. Needless to say, KDE was very different for me. One thing that really impressed me was how very easy it was to set up samba network shares between my computer and my wife's computer. This was a difficult issue for me to get around in the past using Ubuntu, which I wrote about earlier.
A few things that bothered me about SimplyMEPIS: 1) I don't know why but try as I might I could not get my HP Laserjet P1505 printer to work properly!! Whenever I tried to print something from any application, my printer would feed the paper through and not print anything on it. It was very weird; almost like my computer had established a connection to the printer but was not sending any print data to it. 2) The distro repositories that I was using weren't so fast. I looked for faster repos to use, but didn't find anything that impressed me like what I get in Ubuntu. In Ubuntu you always have the option in the Software Sources menu applet to select the best repository so that you get maximum download speed. Couple with the fact that there are many repositories that offer Ubuntu updates and you get a powerful combination. 3) Okay this is a very superficial reason, but KDE makes linux too Windows-y! No more comments on this point, hehe.
Like SimplyMEPIS, Xubuntu was pretty easy/harmless to install. Once installed, I noticed that the Xfce interface is laid out very similarly to the GNOME interface. It's definitely a biasing factor, as it means there is less to learn. Once I set up my /etc/fstab and my /etc/samba/smb.conf files to be the equivalent of the same file on my Ubuntu installation, I learned that all I had to do to set up shares from my wife's computer on my own is a quick terminal command, smbmount //servername/sharename /mountdirectory. When using Ubuntu, this would normally be done through GNOME's Nautilus file browser.
In Xfce, there doesn't seem to be native network share browsing, necessitating a move to the command line for setting up your desired network share mounts. According to a post in Ubuntu Forums, you can modify your /etc/fstab file so that the network share you want access to is automatically initialized when your computer starts up. Just type in the following line (making the appropriate replacements for your situation): //servername/sharename /mountdirectory smbfs username=windowsuserename,password=windowspassword 0 0.
Finding out that Xubuntu doesn't allow easy GUI driven network browsing was a bit of a disappointment, but there are still a few things that make me believe it's the best choice of the two: 1) The Xfce interface is really nice, clean, and simple looking. Navigating through GUI elements was remarkably simple. 2) It comes with the ease of updating using the fast, expansive Ubuntu repositories. 3) Functionality in general using Xubuntu was indeed pretty fast and lightweight.
So, it looks like I'll be installing Xubuntu on my brother's laptop with the broken screen. It will be a good use of his laptop, which will as a consequence see more years than my brother ever thought.
If you think I should try out any other (light-weight and easy-to-use) operating system before I get this new-old laptop, tell me your opinion!