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I need a Linux Virtual machine (running on Windows with Virtual Box), and I need it run a desktop such as Gnome. Because it is running on a Virtual machine on a not particulary powerful machine I require a version of Linux which is not too memory/cpu hungry.

I readup a little on this and decided to try Arch Linux as it advertised itself as lightweight and easy, but unfortunately it was not easy enough for me.

I setup a VirtualBox machine mounted the Installation ISO okay as described at https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Installing_Arch_Linux_from_VirtualBox

But then when it came to actually installing ArchLinux I was lost as https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Official_Arch_Linux_Install_Guide concentrates or real(non-virtual) installations and had far too many steps.

Is there a Linxu Distro which I can install with just a couple of commands that will be usuable in my virtual machine ?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 1 down vote accepted

The distribution choice is likely less important than the choice of what to install on it.

I would recommend to try LXDE (or possibly XFCE) as desktop environment. Easy ways to get a OS with these, are Lubuntu and Xubuntu.

DamnSmallLinux also works well from a LiveCD if you do not need to install it. It haven't been updated for a while last time I checked.

Personally, I would probably run Debian with LXDE, but the Ubuntu installer tend to be easier to work with...

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Interesting just about to try Fedora with LXDE availabe from fedoraproject.org/en/get-fedora-options –  Paul Taylor Nov 29 '12 at 19:23
Hmm, the installtion appeared to go okay, there is an xterm directly available from the start and response is much snappier but I seem to have installed only live cd, there is Install to Drive option and I cannot mount Guest Additions , how did that happen ? –  Paul Taylor Nov 29 '12 at 21:45
Haven't really played with Lubuntu, but the Kubununtu, Xubuntu and Ubuntu boots a Live CD. From he Live CD's desktop, there is an install option (Probably your "Install to drive" shortcut). This allows you to get a basic idea of the interface before you install it. Once it is installed, you should be able to install the guest additions. (The VirtualBox guest additions might useful to install directly from the repository, sudo apt-get install virtualbox-guest-additions is the command-line way, a GUI should be included as well to install packages, haven't used one in a while...) –  Gert van den Berg Nov 30 '12 at 7:45
Ah, the problem was that on reboot it booted of the CD image still attached, remove that and Fedora starts okay, and is much nippier than ubunto even with only 768MB of memory –  Paul Taylor Nov 30 '12 at 9:43

"Which distro is best?" questions are usually very difficult to answer, unless you tell us more about what you're planning to do with the machine. It wouldn't hurt either to let us know how much prior exposure you've had with Linux desktops.

it is running on a Virtual machine on a not particulary powerful machine

Can you be more precise? We need specs of the machine. Some of the most lightweigh Linux desktops can run with a few MB of RAM. (You can actually go a lot lower if you know your hardware and hack your system accordingly).

I need it run a desktop such as Gnome.

No matter which distro you chose, GNOME will be the largest part of the system. Do you absolutely need GNOME? If you have GNOME, any attempt at reducing the requirements will be negligeable.

Arch Linux [...] advertised itself as lightweight and easy, but unfortunately it was not easy enough for me.

Arch is easy to use and maintain, but its install process is famously difficult and complex. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as it makes it highly customizable as well as providing it with a very high didactical value. But the installer of other desktop distros are shockingly easier.

My suggestions

There is a myriad of possible answers, and these ones should not be looked at as the canonical answer that gets everything right. Instead they're just a list of suggestions that first come to my head when I read your question:

  • You cannot get rid of GNOME: A generalist distro like Debian, Fedora or SuSE should do.
  • You are extremely limited with ressources, mainly RAM: Give Puppy Linux a try.
  • You just want a lightweight Linux desktop up and running easily and without too many problems at install: Crunchbang
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Okay, its a Pc Desktop that is 4 years old with Intel Core Quad CPU and 4gb of memory. Im trying to test a GUI application so yes I do need Gnome or similar. Ive no interest in creating a customized install I just want to test it out on your aeverage linux distro so its seem ArchLinux is definently the wrong thing describing itself as a 'A simple, lightweight distribution' is very misleading. I'm now just started installing Ubunto Desktop, hopefuly the desktop part means it will install Gnome. I do have some limited knowledge of Solaris and other unix variants but not much linux knowledge. –  Paul Taylor Nov 29 '12 at 11:44
4 years old Quad Core CPU + 4gb of memory is insanely powerful in the Linux world. "Lightweight distros" usually run on ~100MB of memory and can support CPUs as old as the earliest Pentium. Also Ubuntu doesn't install GNOME by default! It uses a different environment called Unity. I suggest you prepare 1GB of RAM in your machine to run this resource hogging beast. My advice would be to stick with Debian and/or Fedora. They're the most widely used distro for the desktop that ship GNOME by default. –  rahmu Nov 29 '12 at 12:34
Thx but are you contradicating yourself a bit here by first saying the machine is insanley powerful (remember I dont have full access to its resources as running as virtual machine) and then saying it will struggle to run Ubunto –  Paul Taylor Nov 29 '12 at 12:50
I think you misunderstood what I said. Linux is not Ubuntu. Ubuntu (in its default settings) is by far the most bloated distro you can find. I couldn't run it with 512MB of memory. My Crunchbang box on the other hand runs on less than 90MB. –  rahmu Nov 29 '12 at 13:44
but Ubunto is linux, okay Ive picked a bad choice then –  Paul Taylor Nov 29 '12 at 14:07

If you are having difficulty installing it, then you probably need to go for the easiest installation possible at this point. You'll find Ubuntu extremely easy to install (I'm not sure how it could really be any easier).

  1. Download the ISO (this is a disk image which you could use to create a DVD from, but if you are installing a virtual machine you can install it straight from the ISO).


    Download the i386 32-bit version unless you have a good reason to do otherwise.

  2. In VirtualBox, click the 'New' button - this will start a wizard allowing you to create your virtual machine. Select type of 'Linux' and version 'Ubuntu'. Give it a name, e.g. "Ubuntu Desktop 12.10 i386 32-bit" - this is any name you like, try to make it descriptive so you can remember what you've previously installed (and if you have multiple VMs this is especially important)

  3. Give it a healthy dose of RAM, if you have 4GB or more I would recommend 1GB of RAM, otherwise, perhaps give it 30% of whatever you have (unscientific choice by the way).

  4. Create a virtual harddisk - accept all the defaults

  5. When you have done this, you'll see your new machine appear in the management window with "powered off" underneath it. Select it and click "start"

  6. A window will appear where you'll see you VM soon - a dialogue should open in front of it allowing you to select the ISO file you downloaded earlier - click the folder icon and browse to it and click "start"

  7. Ubuntu will boot - when it has, follow the "install ubuntu" route that it provides. I wouldn't recommend the "try ubuntu" option, I've never found that to be truly representative of the system. Instead, install it and have a play.

I think that your requirements for optimum performance and small footprint etc. are premature until you have actually tried it out. I run a variety of systems as VMs from Ubuntu, to FreeBSD and Windows. They're fine for everything except high performance work.

Hope this helps.

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Hi, well Ive already manged to install Ubunto, but unfortunately only chose 512MB as a result its ubearingly slow to use as I suspected, myabe if I redo with 1GB it will be usuable. –  Paul Taylor Nov 29 '12 at 12:19
Just increase the memory size while the VM is shutdown - you don't need to reinstall. Don't be afraid to try these things out: the beauty of virtual machines is that as long as you don't do any important work in it, you can try pretty much anything and at worst you'll have to delete it and reinstall. –  pogul Nov 29 '12 at 12:29
Thx, now increased memory to 1.5gb and is now just extremely slow rather than unbearingly slow ;) –  Paul Taylor Nov 29 '12 at 12:56

Have you tried the Arch Beginners' guide? I have never installed Linux in a Windows based VirtualBox, but the beginners' guide works for installing Arch on a Linux based Virtual Box.

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I found it difficult to understand , for example there was alot about formatting and mounting a disk, well I already have a disk created within virtualbox but its totaly unclear how I mount that. –  Paul Taylor Nov 29 '12 at 11:39
@PaulTaylor the beginners guide is different from the installation guide. It has a lot of steps but it tells you exactly what to type and when. –  StrongBad Nov 29 '12 at 11:45
No it doesnt, it shows you lots of things you can do but its totally unclear what you should do regarding a drive because it makes no reference to virtual machine satr this point, Ive just installed Ubunto which was much easier –  Paul Taylor Nov 29 '12 at 12:10

There is lots of choices. For example Fedora uses Gnome as their default desktop.

You can also install Ubuntu or Linux Mint, which are very user friendly. They use other desktops than Gnome, but after installation you can install Gnome by yourself I you need.

For lightweight distribution and window manager I can recommend you ArchBang, which is a live distro using Openbox as the window manager.

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Okay, I dont need Gnome specifically just a windowing environment. So ive installed Ubunto Desktop successfully but I cannot find out where to open an xterm window ? –  Paul Taylor Nov 29 '12 at 12:12
For a good description of running applications and working in Ubuntu look into the documentation. –  corion Nov 30 '12 at 9:32

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