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If you want to use some form of linux my advice is to revive an old desktop, download and install Debian Squeeze from the install iso. This is simple and quick. Forget about networking for the moment and install the gcc compuler suite. That should enable you to write, compile and execute your own programs. There is always the assembler (nasm) just an apt-get away for the geeks, gfortran for numerical work and hundreds of other packages in synaptic. From there the world is your oyster. Remember! Command Line rules, you don't need the GUI.