I am looking a distro of either Linux or Unix, that is so very limited that I don't even need a desktop or any applications, it's only use would be to run wine.

I actually would prefer it didn't have a desktop but I am not sure if it would be possible to run windows applications in wine without it?

I am looking for as light weight as possible, and small as possible but has the ability to run Wine and the windows applications that Wine runs.

I know it seems like a weird request but I am a hobbyist building a gadget that runs windows applications. I have seen some small distros but I havent found official wine releases for them so I am not sure if they would run it properly.

Is it possible to run windows apps from wine without a desktop and just a command line Distro? I spent hours lastnight trying to find something suitable to no avail, I am very unfamiliar with the *nix world though.

5 Answers 5


You will need X and a window manager if you want Wine. I would recommend Fluxbox as the WM, as for the distribution, since you are not well versed in the Linux world, go with something like Ubuntu server or a minimal install of Fedora or OpenSUSE. Since they have big communities, you will find answers more easy and they are beginner-oriented.


Damn Small Linux is named for being only 50MB. It's probably the smallest you can find, but some people have had issues trying to install Wine on it. There is a discussion recommending a fix here: http://www.damnsmalllinux.org/f/topic-3-37-18581-0.html

If you don't want to try that, just stick with a normal distro (Debian, Arch, CentOS) and remove as much default cruft as you can. There's a point where using a super-small distro isn't helping you as much as you think.

  • Thanks for the recommendation I am looking into that as well. I definitely understand about the super small distro not helping. This is why I am going to have try everything out first hand. I am very restricted since this is a part of a larger project, it has to be very small and limited. Mar 3, 2013 at 19:26

Dam Small Linux is a possible option if you can get wine working, also looking at Arch or Gentoo may be suitable. They might not have the user-base/support that the larger distros have, but they are highly customizable, and you can achieve a very light install with everything you need. One drawback of this is how much work they are to get right.

I've always wanted to install Gentoo on a gaming desktop since it would be one of the best ways to save resources for games rather than pretty desktop effects, but I simply don't have the time.

It all depends how small/light you need to go, and which applications you need to run. Wine is great, but I've spent as much time on getting one application going under wine as it would have taken me to install a gentoo gaming box. Some applications install and work well, some will simply not do either, and most sit somewhere in between. I have been able to find alternatives (native linux) for all of my requirements, and there's more native alternatives than you might think.

But for some there simply isn't an alternative. Are you able to disclose what applications you might need to run? If you can, someone might be able to give you a better option perhaps.

  • Yes it will only run games. More modern ones. No specific ones yet. I am starting to wonder if there is a better approach to this. Mar 4, 2013 at 3:44

Look around for your local Linux user group, or friendly local Linux guru. You will need their help to get over the first (and next, and following) hurdles you are sure to encounter, and it is wise to install whatever they are most confortable with.

Isn't it easier to just install Windows? Linux + wine do a lousy Windows...

  • 1
    It would seem that way but for the first reason it needs to be very very small and limited. It's only use is to run windows applications, I would never be able to get a windows version small enough and it would be too memory intensive. I have looked into ReactOS but it isn't as stable as wine from what I have read and does not run as many applications, my second reason is I would not be able to redistribute it due to the licensing restriction in windows. Mar 3, 2013 at 19:21

I'm running WINE on Linux Mint. Functionality is reasonable but not 100% reliable. I managed to get all the way through Mass Effect 1 without any issues at all, ditto Grand Ages Rome and Men of War.

Thus far I have been able to get the following games to install and work.

Mass Effect 1
Mass Effect 2 (crashes on some visual fx, though that might be my pc not WINE)
GTA Vice City
GTA San Andreas
Imperium Romanum
Grand Ages Rome: Gold
Brothers In Arms - Earned in Blood
Portal 1 & 2
Homeworld 2
Men of War: Assault Squad
Men of War: Red Tide
Various Call of Duties
Civilisation 3 & 4
Rome: Total War - the campaign part works and battles can be resolved automatically but the game crashes when you try to manually resolve battles.
Unreal Tournament
Sins of a Solar Empire

There are issues: performance is below Windows on the same box, audio can crash - requiring a restart sometimes. Some games can be backed up by having their folders burned to disc and can be "installed" merely by copying the folder back (GTA:VC and Unreal Tournament to name 2). Many games get quite upset over this and seem to require an actual install. Be warned - some games use absurd DRM systems that mean that if you go through a period of multiple installs, due to technical difficulties, you're likely to get a "you have exceeded the maximum number of installs, please contact..." messages. Utterly hateful. I have 2 games that this has happened to - both are games I bought legit copies of after discovering them via torrent sites. And they wonder why people steal.

It's so sweet not to have to reboot to play and WINE has come on hugely over the last few years, but, as much as it pains me to say it, for a dedicated gaming platform you'd likely be better off installing Windows and then stripping out all the unnecessary services and crud.

For the record, I've tried the same setup on Manjaro - many mouse and keyboard issues under WINE. On Slackware I've had mixed success. Sometimes, installing Slackware, plus extras (you have to convert Slackware64 to multilib yourself to get WINE to install and run) leads to a perfectly working WINE and games. Other times, installing from the same media, using the same method seems to lead to WINE refusing to work on anything. I'm simply not technical enough to be able to know how to circumvent such oddities.

Hope that helps.

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