I'm looking for a Linux distribution that does not install any GUI administrative tools by default, things like partition editors, task managers, or format tools.

Having the ability to install those tools later is perfectly fine, so long as they're not included by default.

The distribution should also preferably come with a desktop manager and basic programs, like a web browser, file manager, and media player, but having to install those manually is also acceptable.

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    You're probably looking for gentoo or arch linux. Both come with almost nothing by default, you need to choose basic packages during the installation process (and you can even leave these basic packages out). – grochmal Aug 7 '16 at 2:35
  • Arch Linux or you could go with Linux from scratch – Vincent Charette Aug 7 '16 at 2:42
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    This doesn't make any sense; how do you install and run a distro without partitioning tools? – jasonwryan Aug 7 '16 at 3:21
  • @jasonwryan i think he means GUI admin tools...at least, that's what I assumed he meant. – cas Aug 7 '16 at 3:22
  • @cas Ah, that would make a lot more sense... OP should clarify to avoid closure. – jasonwryan Aug 7 '16 at 3:25

Install a minimal, base-system only debian. Small, light-weight, but with tens of thousands of optional extra packages available via apt-get.

For more details:

What packages are installed by default in Debian? Is there a term for that set? Why some of those packages are `automatically installed` and some not?


Gentoo Linux offers a tarball called a stage3 archive with only a base layout and tool chain which is basically what they use to build their livecd (minimal CD not livedvd). Since Gentoo Linux is a meta distribution and it's source base you will be able to install any GUI administrative utilities that you need, it also supports every major DE/WM out there but if you want just a headless systems then the stage3 tarball will be enough and all you'll have to install to get a live system going is your bootloader and kernel.

Linux From Scratch is a bit like Gentoo in terms of software that is compiled from source but the main difference is that LFS doesn't provide a package manager and forces you to manage all dependencies on your own (great learning experience BTW), so if you just want a system that provides both the flexibility to tweak what features a package will be installed with through use of a package manager then go with Gentoo, otherwise use LFS or Arch Linux.

Arch Linux is between Gentoo and a binary distribution like Ubuntu but with less bloat.

Seems like you want a distro to that you control. I say either Gentoo or Arch Linux. GL

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