I want to setup some VMs running as small a Linux as I can.

The criteria:

  1. Package system based on Apt.

  2. Runs some GUI ( can be very small ).

  3. Runs in as little ram as possible: in this context 64M is good and 256M is bordering on too much.

  4. Install on a hd, not ram resident.

  5. As little HD space as possible. Ideal would be 1G.

  6. Fast boot and shutdown times.



7 Answers 7



According to them 64 mb of RAM are enough to run it with a GUI and they are the original Apt distribution. You should bear in mind that 256 mb is recommended even without a GUI, though.

They do list a 5 GB HD for a "desktop" but you should be able to install many window managers/web browsers/etc within the 1 GB limit if you start from the minimal install. 2 GB per virtual disk would probably be best though, or you risk running out of swap memory.

If you are familiar enough with apt(itude), it shouldn't be hard to add just the software you need. Any minimalist distro will be biased to the authors' goals and stop getting updates when you need them.

  • Not that I actually recommend GNU/Linux. Configuring the above minimalist system from the command line was so much of an undocumented mess that I gave up on aptitude and the endless Debian repositories and moved to OpenBSD which just works.
    – user483
    Jan 16, 2011 at 6:49
  • 1
    repositories-- @jbcreix I recommend distro's that don't really recognize the repository concept, or where there's only one set and it doesn't step on other repo's toes. gentoo and arch linux are both designed not to need external repos. In arch you might have to enable non core repos but I think they're all in the conf to start. Jan 16, 2011 at 7:40
  • @xenoterracide: hum, Debian is like that; I mean, they have one repo per version, but mixing them is strongly discouraged. Jan 17, 2011 at 2:27
  • @andre pretty sure to get full desktop functionality you have to add repo's to debian. but I could be wrong. Sure it has one core set, but I do remember adding repo's in ubuntu to get everything I needed, I know debian is not ubuntu. Jan 17, 2011 at 4:42
  • 1
    @xenoterracide: Nope, Debian's main repo has everything; KDE, Gnome, XFCE, etc: packages.debian.org/stable Jan 17, 2011 at 19:37

Damn Small Linux will make Debian look huge. If HD is only 50MB, you can believe memory footprint is small too. It's based on knoppix, which is based on debian, so AFAIK, it uses apt

Damn Small Linux is a very versatile 50MB mini desktop oriented Linux distribution.
DSL was originally developed as an experiment to see how many usable desktop applications can fit inside a 50MB live CD. It was at first just a personal tool/toy. But over time Damn Small Linux grew into a community project with hundreds of development hours put into refinements including a fully automated remote and local application installation system and a very versatile backup and restore system which may be used with any writable media including a hard drive, a floppy drive, or a USB device.

Important note: Apparently Damn Small Linux is no longer maintained

  • Tiny Core Linux can be considered the continuation of DSL. Neither are based on Apt which is a strange requirement anyway.
    – jonescb
    Jan 17, 2011 at 14:22
  • @jones, mebbe I'm wrong, but I thought for sure you could use apt in dsl. It's obviously been some years since I've used it. Jan 17, 2011 at 14:24

I am not aware of any apt-based Linux that is actually small. However, if you remove that one requirement (apt-based), I can recommend Slitaz.

The ISO file is 30MB, it comes with a GUI and a functional Web browser. It is actually still maintained as opposed to DSL which seems to have been abandoned for a while.

Slitaz uses tazpkg for management, which from my opinion is as easy as apt:

tazpkg list
tazpkg get-install gparted
tazpkg upgrade
  • when was DSL deprecated? Jan 16, 2011 at 11:29
  • 2
    @xenoterracide: Sorry for the wrong use of language. I was trying to mean "abandoned." According to Wikipedia page it says the last stable release was well over 2 years ago. IIRC there was a reason why the initial packager moved on to (I believe) Tiny Core Linux, but I do not remember the exact details (and am lazy to dig it out :P)
    – kizzx2
    Jan 16, 2011 at 11:32

Crunchbang Linux

It used to be based on Ubuntu, but now it's based on Debian. It comes with Openbox as the default window manager. The default Debian install uses Gnome which is quite a bit heaver than Openbox.

Edit: Crunchbang has been discontinued. There is a community continuation of the project called BunsenLabs Linux. The above Crunchbang link will take you to it.


Debian can be quite small. During the install when you get to tasksel, unselect everything. You'll get a very minimal system taking up only 512M. Even then, you can still remove packages that you won't use.



  • has apt-get
  • can use LXDE

"Trisquel Mini" download is 456 MB


Just use the net-install of Debian as base.

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