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One of the advantages with virtual machines is that you can be very flexible with their sizes. If the host system permits it, you can have a very large virtual machine with a lot of virtual RAM and disk. Also, you can decide to go the other way around, to give the virtual machine a very modest amount of RAM and disk and then choose and configure the OS appropriately.

The question is, how small virtual machines have people managed to setup (and get to both boot up and to run)? Virtual machines doing something usuful is preferable, even if I know "useful" in this context is awfully subjective, but laboratory-cases with a configuration stripped beyond common sense could be intresting as well, just to see what people manage to boot and run.

Quite open ended question and quite academic, but think of it: an extremely small VM (which still does something useful) takes very little memory and disk and can be quite quickly saved to and restored from disk. If it's also gentle on CPU resources, one might consider having a huge number of such VMs up and running on a host.

(Imagine a VM running just an old Commodore 64 or Commodore Amiga in it. Ok, way wrong CPU architecture for modern Virtualization software running on a x86-based PC but still an interesting thought. You could have quite a few such small VMs running on a modern PC.)

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I'd start trying to get a very minimal Linux to run, such as fli4l. An older version (from 2004) required just a 386 with 25 MHz. Don't know how it likes being on virtual hardware though. –  Daniel Beck Mar 11 '11 at 23:06
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I have a freedos image in VirtualBox with a 256MB (MB, not GB) hard drive and 32MB of RAM. I could easily cut both in 4th and still be just fine.

We use this image in a few places to run a program on an old netware server that still to this day handles all of our AR/AP/GL/Purchasing needs, as well as our student information system, grades, transcripts, and students accounts billing. Most users connect to the share directly via a netware client for XP, but for maybe 3 users this doesn't always work well and so we have the virtual machine option also. We're currently in the middle of a project to replace this software entirely, so by this time next year these VMs will be no more.

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Thanks for the answer. I suspected that one of the primary real-world uses for such minimalistic VMs were to run old legacy software on old legacy OSes. Intresting way to "preserve" those old OSes, not by creating emulators or by just mentioning them in Wikipedia but by keep them running in some corner of the memory of a (far) bigger host system. Of course, such preservation comes to a price, still one need to maintain those VMs. –  IllvilJa Mar 12 '11 at 12:45
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