I probably should have thrown this in the other Home Networking thread, but I thought the Linux issue different enough to warrant a new topic.
I have a 486 (upgraded to act like a P90) with 600 MB disk space (and ??? RAM) that is sitting in my corner doing nothing right now. I'd like to install Linux on it to start playing with it, although given the specs, I'm not sure which distro would be best for me. I've been sifting through the linux.org list, but I'm wondering if anyone's had experience with minimalist distros. (that preferably are easy and free!)
Also, I'm also planning on starting a home network between that machine and my Compaq Pentium MMX. While it would just be those two machines for now, I'm going to be moving in with my girlfriend soon, and she has a PII, and I know we'll get a new WinXP box asap. I had thought about getting a router to connect everything together and allow us to connect to the internet, but my girlfriend and I are too cheap to get anything beyond dial-up. So now I'm thinking of just converting the old 486 to a firewall/gateway, and getting a hub to network everything. My only problem with that is that all traffic would be going through the slowest/oldest machine. Granted that it would be dial-up anyway, but does that make sense, or does anyone know a better way to do all this? (Bear in mind that I don't want to get any new hardware for the 486, so I'd rather just suck up and deal with what I have and save my money for moving and the new XP box and other hardware and the like...)
Given that you don't know a Unix already (I'm assuming this from your post, feel free to correct me), that you're using "legacy hardware" (i.e. slow as balls gear), and that you're possibly just looking to build a gateway/firewall box, I'd have to recommend OpenBSD.
It's free, it's secure by default, and there's more and better on-line documentation for it than for any other Unix I can think of (this includes commercial unices like Solaris, AIX, HP-UX).
Not that I'm against Linux or anything, I run Slackware on my "main" machine at home. But my firewall is OpenBSD and I wouldn't have it any other way.
I'd personally run Linux on a beefier/newer box where you can take advantage of fun stuff from the 2.4.5 series kernel as well as X and GNOME/KDE, etc. Linux is highly tweakable, but I assure you, you don't want to find out how long it takes to compile the kernel on that "upgraded" 486 OpenBSD will go right on there, you won't have to rebuild anything, it supports most of the PC hardware you might possibly have, and (I can't stress this enough) the docs are *solidlikearock*. Plus, vulnerabilities are dealt with ASAP and with a (generally) easy-to-use patch process.
I'll bear that in mind. My initial inclination is that I'd rather play with a general linux distribution first and I was only looking to make the box useful as an afterthought, but your idea is growing on me. Even if it did take forever to compile the kernel, I would have the other three machines to keep me busy, it'd be all good. Regardless, I'm having a problem with the video card right now, so its all moot for the time being.
I have played around in Linux/Unix environments before. I've just never had admin priveleges, and never been responsible for running my own network, so I'm looking at getting my feet wet with all this.