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[OS:N:] Linux on low-end hardware?

What linux distro and setup do people here recommend for low-end hardware?

I'm helping out a local non-profit group "refurbish" machines that they get as donations. This group then uses the machines to teach young kids about computing and sells the machines to raise a bit of cash. Most of these machines are low-end x86 machines, e.g. <400 MHZ, <128 MB RAM, <6 GB HDD, usually a WinModem. Currently, their standard operating procedure is to triage the machine (if the machine is not working as a whole, remove parts and assemble a working machine from parts), wipe the drive, install Windows 98 and some application software, and configure the modem for dial-up. Because of licensing restrictions on Windows98, they'd like to move to Linux. The question is, what distro given the older hardware?

To date I've tried the following: FeatherLinux, DamnSmallLinux, VectorLinux, Knoppix (using PDI, no install), Ubuntu (server install followed by install of xfce4), CentOS (base install followed by install of xfce4). Each distro has its pluses and minuses but nothing stood out at the clear choice so far. VectorLinux using xfce4 +ROX has come the closest to ideal.

The requirements for a distro, in addition to being able to run on older hardware, are:

1) look/feel similar enough to MS Windows so learning curve is not too steep. E.g. start-menu, manipulating windows, configuring system. xfce4 with some tweaks seems to work fairly well, but I'm curious to know of other's experiences.

2) simple to install application software. Installing synaptic on most debian-based systems addresses this.

3) simple to clone or script an install. I'm most familiar with kickstart, but perhaps there are other solutions.

4) provide an obvious upgrade path. Ubuntu looks nicest for this: on low-end hardware use xfce and on more powerful hardware use KDE/Gnome.

Of course, the hardest requirement is that it has to be "palatable" to the other volunteers who are doing the work. In my experience, if the software is too different (steep learning curve) or gives them too much headache (too inconsistent, buggy), they walk away. And no non-profit wants to lose volunteers.

If anyone wants to share experiences or recommendations, I'd love to hear them. Or if people know of blogs that already discuss some or all of what I'm looking for, please do post links.

- Robert
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