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January 6, 2011 10:58 PM   Subscribe

Linuxfilter: I need to run a linux distro -- any one -- via vmware player on an ancient laptop running XP. Please recommend!

System specs: 512mb of RAM; 40gb HDD, about 5gb free.

I'm worried about RAM, because WinXP already eats at least 128mb. What distro could I install with vmware that needs minimal memory?

I need to do this for a class that requires me to have root access on a Linux OS to install and run a certain program. I don't know what that program is yet but it's probably not large. Other than that, I won't be doing much with it.

I've used Linux before, but only on campus cluster machines where everything's already set up. When it comes to installing OSes I am currently a complete noob and might as well be wandering around blindfolded in a dark room that has walls made of knives.

Not considering dual-booting, for a variety of reasons.

Thanks in advance!
posted by swimmingly to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
damn small linux
posted by iamabot at 11:09 PM on January 6, 2011


I tried various lightweight distros for my underpowered netbook before settling on Crunchbang. It's a stripped-down Ubuntu derivative, with OpenBox as the default window manager. It also makes a great USB live system. I haven't looked back.
posted by chmmr at 11:22 PM on January 6, 2011


In fact, I think a good option for you might be to make a bootable live Linux USB and perform your class activities with that. That would allow you to avoid either dual-booting or running under vmware.
posted by chmmr at 11:28 PM on January 6, 2011


I need to do this for a class that requires me to have root access on a Linux OS to install and run a certain program.

Could you get away with using Cygwin?
posted by rancidchickn at 11:31 PM on January 6, 2011


Unetbootin is a tool for trying out Linux distributions: it runs in Windows and can install pretty much any distro onto a USB drive, but it can also install to a local hard drive without repartitioning, and then cleanly uninstall it later. It makes dual-booting almost painless.
My personal preference is for Vector Linux on older hardware. I'd recommend going with whichever distribution seems closest to what you're familiar with, though. They should all run okay, even in VMWare.
Lastly, you could always ask if someone could install the program on the campus machines on behalf of your class. It seems strange that they'd make all of you install Linux just for this.
posted by marakesh at 12:01 AM on January 7, 2011


That's not much RAM for a VM. You might try Damn Small Linux or Puppy Linux, which are popular small distributions. I've got a friend who swears by RIPLinux, which is also tiny, but I doubt it's terribly user-friendly.

If the application in question does not require X (i.e. a graphical interface) then a minimal installation of a distribution like Debian or Ubuntu Server could work as a VM. I'd personally use Arch Linux but it's probably not a great place to start if you don't have any Linux experience.

I know you said you can't dual-boot, but a Live CD (e.g. Knoppix or Ubuntu) would probably run comfortably in those specs, and doesn't require you to install anything to your hard drive, if that's the issue.
posted by lydgate at 12:13 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I personally use a debian VM with 256MB of ram for my everyday light use, and it's plenty enough, even with apache+postgres. I don't think a X desktop would be usable though.
But be aware that vm player will use a small overhead of memory, so if you configure it to use 256MB you will probably end up using a bit more than 300.
If you don't need X, I would suggest to start with 128MB and 256MB of swap, and increase if/when needed.
posted by anto1ne at 1:57 AM on January 7, 2011


Any Ubuntu Live CD will give you the option to install with Wubi, which will install Linux under Windows. It's sort of like dual booting. You'll have full system resources for Linux, but don't have to worry about partitioning your hard drive.
posted by COD at 6:01 AM on January 7, 2011


You can also download damn small linux (and other pre-configured, ready-to-roll VMware images) directly from VMWare's Virtual Appliance Marketplace.
posted by jquinby at 6:37 AM on January 7, 2011


What make and model laptop is it? Most should be upgradeable for very small money; less than a hundred bucks should get you to a gig or more- it'll really help you out on the XP side of things, too....
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:59 AM on January 7, 2011


by the way, if you absolutely need to run it under vmware on win, the distro you should use is either damnsmalllinux or a "jeos" variant of ubuntu (youll find ready made VMs that use it, as it is optimized for virtualization)

However since you're low on ram i second running a live distro, possibly with a persistent home if you need it
posted by 3mendo at 9:35 AM on January 7, 2011


Have you considered an EC2 micro instance through Amazon Web Services? Nearly free.
posted by bastionofsanity at 1:27 PM on January 7, 2011


Ive run linux VMs with 256 megs of RAM, even with X running. Puppylinux should work, or at least an older version of it will work. XP should run fine with 256megs if its just running your VM.

As far as VMs go, I'm pretty fond of VMware. I've found some real showstopper bugs in Virtualbox while VM is typically rock-solid. They both have easy to use GUIs. Just mount your ISO image and do the install. There's not much else to configure. The free VMware player can now create VMs.

It does sound like you can get away with a live disc. You would save your work to either the windows disk or to a USB drive. I'd try this first as its much less of a hassle and will let you use all your RAM.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:48 AM on January 8, 2011


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