Libranet Worked where others have failed!
:D Libranet 2.8.1 was the only distro that has worked completely and easily on this old Dell Inspiron 3000 (233 Mhx Pentium MMX, 128 MB shared Ram, 4 GB HD). It was the only one which picked up BOTH on the legacy CS4232 sound card using the Advanced Linux Sound Architecture (ALSA) AND the pcmcia network card--some got the network card, but silence prevailed. No files tweaks/kludges, no recompilations or anything to get this soundcard to work. (although it sometimes the soundcard is "lost" and ALSA must be reinitiated--don't know why this happens.)
For a complete newbie like me, I am very pleased with this distro's installation and recommend it without reservation. Still learning, but this distro has beat out SuSE, Red Hat Shrike, Fedora, Knoppix, Slax, Mandrake, Gentoo, and others for ease of installation. All in 2.7 GB even with a full update!
The automated support from the Xadminmenu is also very easy to figure out. It is very complete and includes some automated buttons that I'd not seen in the other distros--like installing Flash or RealPlayer. Nice touches.
And the performance is reasonably good: I'm not sure if I saw this on the other distros, but (somewhere) the level of graphic effects can be selected--so useful for older machines like this one. SuSE's beautiful desktop was just crawling by. This one is reasonable for its age.
My conclusion is that this particular distro, if it can figure out this old and outdated laptop, can be terrific on more modern systems.