Puppy Linux – I've been a Puppy fan for years now. Puppy Linux has been a goto distribution for anyone looking to breathe new life into an older computer. Even computers dating back tens years old can be made like new again thanks to the power of the Puppy.
For slightly newer PCs that support it, Puppy runs great off of a reasonably sized USB flash drive. This is an awesome tool if there is still data on the hard disk that you would like to access, without overwriting it. While it's certainly not mandatory for running Puppy Linux, going with a flash drive installation is my preferred method. Especially considering the fact that you can still save the system state information on the same flash drive that Puppy is running on. This means you can maintain an active installation of Puppy without ever needing to write to your hard disk.
Additional advantages include a handy method for software installation, network setup, plus other goodies such as CUPS support and ensuring that you're able to pick out the browser you want.
Overall, Puppy goes out of its way to make it as painless to use as possible. Even though some may say that Puppy isn't really as pretty as the desktop distributions listed above, I happen to have a soft spot in my heart for this lightweight Linux distro. Fact is, Puppy Linux will run on practically anything.
I've even found that troublesome video and sound hardware work out of the box when I try Puppy Linux. Speaking for myself, this is my "goto distro" when I simply need stuff to work without any additional hassles.
Additional considerations – Steam and Lightworks
As you can see from the distribution choices above, there are indeed some viable Ubuntu alternatives to choose from. And so long as you are planning on sticking to the software found within the repositories for each distribution, you'll be quite happy with the experience.
For those of you excited about the potential that will come from such events as Valve's Steam and the Hollywood-quality video editor Lightworks coming to Linux, there is something you need to be aware of. Both of these releases are specifically targeting Ubuntu.
This means if you're not running Ubuntu or at least an Ubuntu derivative, then you may be faced with some challenges if source packages aren't provided. Now it's possible that Valve may eventually provide a tarball for the rest of the Linux community, but I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon. More so, I know it's not happening with Lightworks as it's Ubuntu only.
So, how can users who want to use Ubuntu alternatives stick to their choice in distributions while still enjoying what Steam and Lightworks have to offer? While it's a bit far reaching, one could potentially convert the Ubuntu deb packages into something usable using the Alien conversion tool. This tutorial explains how you can take a Deb package and convert it into a RPM or even a tgz package. Clearly, this isn't a super-clean solution, but for intermediate to advanced Linux enthusiasts, it's an option.
For newbies however, my best advice is to stick to what works. This means running Linux native games and working with native-to-Linux video editors such as OpenShot or Kdenlive. Unless you're willing to lend yourself out to a *buntu base using an alternative desktop, you're going to find it's a hard road to enjoy Steam or Lightworks on a non-ubuntu environment. I realize this may sound absolutist, but as I explained above, this article is primarily aimed at folks who simply want a "working out of the box" Linux experience.