Currently I'm in doubt:
I'm getting a new Dell Vostro 2520 with 4 gigs of memory. The problem is that I'm Ruby/ ex-PHP developer and may have to work with quite big projects. Probably simultaneously. One option is upgrading a memory up, but I prefer the idea of getting to know available Linux distributions and selecting a more suitable one.
In the end there are two Linuxes on my list:

  • Linux mint Xfce
  • Xubuntu

What can you advice?

closed as not constructive by Thor, Ulrich Dangel, George M, rahmu, jasonwryan Feb 1 '13 at 2:39

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    My advice is that you don't choose a distro, but the tools you want to install... distros don't lock you down to their defaults, the only thing that happens is that some will come with less lightweight defaults. Every distro I've used so far does offer you the choice of removing packages installed by default, installing alternative packages... Definitely, don't focus on which distro, focus on which text editor, on which WYSIWYG office suite, on which web browser, on which window manager / desktop environment... – njsg Feb 1 '13 at 6:58

4GB is tons of RAM. You do not have to be contemplating "lightweight" distros at all. A large project is a large project, but I am a little bit curious as to why you believe that working on one requires a correspondingly large amount of RAM, because generally it does not. I have done R on R stuff in the past and I know that is not resource light but it does not require a bunker with a mainframe in it either.

I have 4 GB on my quad core 3.6 Ghz i5 desktop running fedora and KDE, which KDE is generally acknowledged as the fattest linux desktop going, since it relies on Qt and C++ libraries. I have that configured for 9 workspaces and reguarly work on things involving java + perl + javascript (there's a fat stack), etc, or android, which requires even more java busyness and an ARM emulator(!); doing that with gvim + eclipse(!) + firefox + this + that (and sometimes I'm editing images in gimp on the side for my own purposes and leave that open) and you know what? I still can't exhaust the RAM; the swap usage is ALWAYS 0. Occasionally it gets close, but a huge portion is cache. Of course, the more cache the better, so the more RAM the better, but honestly: get the laptop first and then rethink.

The only people who need more than 4gb on a single user linux system are people who have done something ridiculous, are playing video games, are running multiple virtual boxes plus playing video games plus doing something ridiculous -- not software developers. I'd almost love an excuse to run out and buy another 4 GB -- after all it is cheap, and I have more empty slots on the motherboard, and then I could say wow, an 8 GB system! But the truth is half of that would never get used, so there is no point.

Just pick a distro. Pick any distro. Go crazy.

  • As a software developer who has to test on my own workstation, 4GB isn't much RAM at all, I exhaust 8 on some large batch jobs. Most servers people target these days have 64GB or more. – jordanm Jan 31 '13 at 23:59
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    Even with the previous comment, I don't think the RAM difference is enough to matter when trying to choose between various DEs. – jordanm Feb 1 '13 at 0:01
  • Point taken -- if you want to simulate what's been happening on a 64GB server, you are best off doing that on a 64GB server. But +/- whatever the GUI costs while you do this is +/- nothing. – goldilocks Feb 1 '13 at 1:33
  • I dunno, VirtualBox + Netbeans + Firefox pushes me real close to 4GB – TheLQ Feb 3 '13 at 21:48
  • I did mention virtual box in the last paragraph. It certainly isn't firefox and I doubt it is netbeans -- I don't use netbeans but I do use eclipse, which is also java based, and KDE + firefox + eclipse is still < 1GB sans cache. Needing to run virtual box as a developer implies some pretty special development is going on, and the OP does not refer to such. – goldilocks Feb 4 '13 at 14:51

For a minimal distro, I'd say DSL (Damn Small Linux, Debian based) - but it doesn't really matter as you can configure all but any distro to be lightweight by tweaking and removing features. If you want to focus on development, it is more important to find a mainstream, stable project (which has an active community, for support) - probably you want a distro with a package manager - as your main concern is to not to run into "goofy" problems (with the OS) that will disturb your coding efforts.


Use Arch Linux. You only install a base system at first, so no fat. Once you pick a repository, installing virtually any software is only a pacman -S away. After about a week, you will have reached steady state, and you'll only have installed what you need.

I have an older laptop, a Compaq NC8000, with 2Gb. It runs Arch, and it never pages. I've got a full on C development environment (GCC, Clang, gdb, valgrind), I run a Postgres database, and it's got Apache with PHP, WordPress and some other junk floating around on it. Runs like a champ.

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    *Laughter* - I guess it is only a coincidence that everyone are recommending what they themselves are using ;) – Emanuel Berg Feb 1 '13 at 2:37
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    Bruce may have a point, thought, if Arch does not install anything other than the bare defaults. I was told Debian has some minimal install that does this, even if the default one does not, IIRC, offer you the choice of saying "just the X server, please". I know Gentoo won't install anything other than the basic toolchain by default (which is really the basics for a Gentoo system). But this is still more about the frustration of having to uninstall the stuff you don't want, rather than not being able to do so. – njsg Feb 1 '13 at 7:02
  • @njsg: Yes, I did that a couple of years ago with Debian - it was even possible, not to install X (although IMHO that is taking "lightweight" beyond minimalism, to the point of starvation). As to your comment to the question, I agree 100%: tools are everything. – Emanuel Berg Feb 1 '13 at 20:11

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