And the winner is:
HandyLinux is protrayed by its designers as being especially suitable for Linux neophytes. That's no doubt true, but once past the simplified graphical menu system, the underlying Linux system is as powerful and versatile as any of the more traditional Linux distributions. In terms of speed of loading, responsiveness and adaptability to a wide range of hardware capabilities, HandyLinux blows everything else out of the water. As I write this, HandyLinux has arrived a its 2.1 version after several years of development; it provides access to a vast array of applications, and it has an overall design characterized by supreme elegance with just a trace of arrogance, as one would expect of a product from a French design team.
My first eye-opening experience with HandyLinux came after downloading a copy of the iso file and writing the image to a 2 gig USB stick using the free Universal USB Installer. I then set my computer to boot from usb, and the program loaded itself into memory and took off like a rocket. Having just looked at around a dozen other relatively new Linux distributions it was very clear to me that the designers behind those efforts really need to use HandyLinux as their initial point of reference.
Running the live usb version of the program permits you to do a lot of useful work; a full array of applications is present, including an up-to-date version of FireFox called Iceweasel. If, however, you want to save work or install additional apps, you probably want to do a full installations of the program. That is very easily done with a completely automated routine available on the initial splash screen.
I'm not ready to give up my existing Windows system on my desktop machine and I don't particularly like dual-boot solutions. My strategy for moving forward with a more substantial installation of HandyLinux was to do a full installation within a hypervisor or virtual machine, allowing the full Linux system to run inside of Windows. For this purpose, I downloaded Oracle's VirtualBox and, thanks to its very easy graphical interface, I had a completely enabled HandyLinux system running in a matter of minutes. Windows XP and HandyLinux don't seem to mind much when I split my RAM in two to run them simultaneously, and it is very nice to be able to flip easily from one operating system to the other by just a movement of the mouse.
The one serious hitch I encountered in the whole process of running HandyLinux with VirtualBox was that I could not summon up a window for HandyLinux larger than 1024 x 768. It turns out that to get HandyLinux to occupy your PC's fullscreen capability, you need to install some VirtualBox Guest Additions which enable connections to your hardware including video management. Try as I might, however, I was initially unable to get the Guest Additions installed in spite of the seeming simplicity of the process as described in the documentation.
Poking around on the Web I could see that a lot of other users of HandyLinux and other modern distributions were encountering the same problem in getting VirtualBox and Linux to cooperate at the hardware level. There were a lot of solutions offered, but none really seemed to fit the current versions of the the two programs. What finally got me on the right track was an article entitled How to install Virtualbox Guest Additions for a Linux Guest?. In order to make that recommended procedure work, I also had to reset the HandyLinux root passward using the "passwd" command within the rescue mode which is accessible from the initial login screen in HandyLinux. So, now I've got the best of two worlds, and I'm enjoying the exploration of the extraordinary capabilities offered by the elegant and functional HandyLinux environment.