Hello. I have an old computer with an ATI Rage series graphics card (I think it's Rage 128 with 16 MB memory, but does it really matter?). I want to use the machine primarily as a samba server, but it should also be able to function as a PC for web browsing and other simple stuff. The graphics card of course limits my selection of desktop environments to those that don't use 3D acceleration.
I had Ubuntu 12.04 installed on the machine up until a few days ago, when for no apparent reason I was no longer able to log onto the machine locally, only through ssh or telnet. Since Unity 2D is gone, what other choices do I have?
Already some time ago I wanted to try Linux Mint with its MATE desktop, but I had a weird bug where typing on the keyboard caused the graphics driver to crash, so I could not finish installing from the Live CD. (See here for details: http://forums.linuxmint.com/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=130517 ) I was using Mint 14 (Quantal based). On the now-defunt 12.04 installation I installed MATE and it was working OK, so MATE is not the culprit.
Next I tried Lubuntu 13.04. I used the alternate CD to install since I wanted a smaller HDD footprint (in the future I want the system to be running off a USB flash drive, so all hard drives can sleep when not used). I'm having the exact same problem as with the Mint, key strokes crash the graphics driver. It doesn't happen on a GeForce 4 Ti (that one has different bugs, menu icons are flickering on and off and highlighted items are displayed incorrectly). Anyway, I'd prefer to use the ATI, since it's low power and passively cooled.
Thinking out loud: there is a pattern here. 12.04 was OK, 12.10-based Mint and 13.04 are not. Apparently a new version of the r128 driver was shipped with 12.10. It could be the cause of these problems, or maybe there's a new version of Xorg or something else that doesn't work correctly with the driver.
Xubuntu 12.04.2 I was not able to install at all, the Alternate CD installer hung itself on entering Wi-Fi SSID and password and just didn't seem to get my (access) point. So I later just installed xubuntu-desktop on the existing Lubuntu installation (how? well, only some applications crash the desktop when typing into them, terminal wasn't one of them). I could use XFCE instead of LXDE, sure. The problem is, since this is originally Lubuntu and not Ubuntu, it has a login dialog and guess what, bingo, the graphics crash several times before I can successfully type in my seven letters of a password. Otherwise it has not crashed while in the desktop, I think.
Oh and the other stuff I tried. Fedora booted to a blank screen, courtesy of a driver bug. The bug is there in Ubuntu as well, but it only causes grub and other stuff to be invisible, I get picture as soon as the login screen or desktop environment loads. Ubuntu minimal install went well at first, I installed MATE on it, and then couldn't start it because 'startx' was a command not found. Bodhi Linux is lightweight all right, but it fails on the user friendliness side of things.
Clean Lubuntu, before the Xubuntu hijinks, only took about 1,1 GB space on the HDD, which is very nice and also a far cry from the recommended minimum 5 GB.
To recap: I want a lightweight but nice looking and user friendly system with minimal bloat that will run on this graphics card. Lubuntu crashes, Xubuntu has a broken alt-CD installer, plain Ubuntu will install a lot of stuff I don't need (Unity and its GNOME based apps). So what are my options here? (apart from carrying the machine to a place where an ethernet cable is available and installing Xubuntu from there)
Thank you if you've read this far. Please don't tell me I have to get a newer graphics card. You're not helpful. I don't need fancy 3D acceleration. The GeForce I mentioned is newer and still suffers from driver glitches. I could maybe get a Radeon 7000 or 9250, but do I have any guarantee it will work better?