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I have few years of experience on Linux, mainly Ubuntu (dual-boot). Now I am shifting to Windows, and installing Linux in VirtualBox, Personal Use and Evaluation License (PUEL). I am looking for a light-weight distribution for a development machine setup. I thought of using debian-unstable-minimum, and installing build-essentials, openbox (or a little more feature light-WM, ps recommend), ssh-server, Ethereal, iptables, Nmap (maybe), Vim, Python 3. That is all what I can think of now mainly.

Options I can think of --

Debian-unstable minimum, and then using apt-get to do the rest. Is there also a recommended version of Ubuntu Lite? I read Ubuntu Lite is not good, some others are also not that good.

Arch Linux, reading a great deal about it. Wikipedia says it is mainly a binary-based distribution, but everywhere on the Internet/community only talk about its source-based approach. If it is binary, I think I can have a quick setup. For guest OS Arch Linux guys in VirtualBox, is your guest-additions working fine in Arch Linux?

FreeBSD 8, is it possible for a minimum install? And recommended.

Recommendations for other i686 optimized Linux, if any, or let's say i386 is also fine, as I will only use it for coding.

For system administrators: I would like to know if Arch Linux keeps the potential to penetrate companies for production systems, and replace Red Hat Linux/Debian/BSD in servers for hosting applications/portals.

Addition: Just a thought- is there any distribution which helps you to be a better programmer, developer or analyst, in terms of the way things should be done? I don't know if I am over-generalizing it :).

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'm a fan of fine tuning, so out of all of those I'd have to pick Arch. Start at a minimum and install only what you'll use. Arch also has the most up to date packages, which can be very important on a development machine. If you want to be very productive and minimalistic, check out a tiling window manager like xmonad, ratpoison, or awesome. Once you learn the keyboard shortcuts of the window managers and your editor, you're like a black hole of productivity. Your hands never really have to leave the keyboard and everything is very customizable.

FreeBSD 8, is it possible for minimum install.

Depends on what you mean by minimum. You can grab just Disc 1 and install what you need.

And recommended. Recommendations for other i686 optimized linux, if any, or lets say i386 is also fine, as will only use it for coding

Gentoo without a doubt. Heavily optimized and very popular among the programming crowd. Very small distribution with great support for programming related packages.

For system admins - I would like to know if ArchLinux keeps the potential to penetrate companies for production systems, and replace redhat/debian/bsd in servers for hosting apps/portals.

Doubtful. Those distributions have a massive community behind them and tons of support. Not to mention the commercial support behind some of those distributions, hence why they are popular with big companies. Support is always great to fall back on if you are in trouble, and with big corporations, getting back on your feet sooner than later can make thousands of dollars difference.

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My main machine (used as workstation and webserver) runs an Ubuntu 9.04, that I began to feel too "heavy": I then gave a try to Arch in VirtualBox, and I tried 64-bit and i686 versions, both running fine.

Concerning the DE: while I agree with John T, when he tolds

check out a tiling window manager like xmonad, ratpoison, or awesome

yet I feel more comfortable with GNOME. Yes, I know that it is very LAAAARGE, but it still can improve the productivity assuming that one is using a GUI (I like, for example, the way GNOME handles the systems preferences). With this T20 I'm in fact using GNOME, and it works like a charm!

Well, I guess that someone could suggest you to use Gentoo for such a project, although I'll not be with them on it: I agree with DaveParillo when he states:

pick a distribution you are familiar with first and tune it to make it efficient

That is the best choice ever (I'm not that willing to take the hassle of setting up a Gentoo machine, nor I'm that able). Yet I'll suggest to give Arch a try, and the reasons are:

  • the package manager is very easy to use: I've started with APT, thus we have a similar background, and Pacman has an easy syntax (apt-get install gnome = pacman -S gnome / apt-get remove gnome = pacman -R gnome)
  • you'll got the system up-to-date without worrying about a thousand of programs that you'll never use (a base Ubuntu installation, as I told before, it's kind of huge, compared with a base Arch installation)
  • the choice of the software you want on your OS is up to you (and I'm discovering right now how wonderful this is)

I would like to know if Arch Linux keeps the potential to penetrate companies for production systems, and replace Red Hat Linux/Debian/BSD in servers for hosting applications/portals

Of course, Arch Linux is usable for a production environment; it come from Linux From Scratch, so you can do (almost) everything you want with it. But the pros of RedHat and Ubuntu over distributions like Arch, is the support: it depends on what kind of production systems you have in mind, but if there are money involved, I would take a look at some enterprise solution (if a system bug makes me lose 1000000 € I hope to be in contact with someone in particular, not with the community!) :D .

I hope to hear from you about your final choice!

(I'm writing this using Arch Linux, running on a IBM Thinkpad T20 (Pentium III Coppermine, 256 MB RAM, 12 GB harddisk) and it is fast and stable.)

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As far as a development box goes, I crave stability and flexibility and tool compatibility above all else. If you are likely to be coding in a variety of environments and languages, then a Debian-based distribution is a good choice because it has such a large repository. You can almost always find a package waiting for you right when you need it.

Yes, some distributions are more lightweight than others, but I would pick a distribution you are familiar with first and tune it to make it efficient. Pick a lightweight window manager like xmonad or Fluxbox. Arch Linux is likely to be a choice you'll hear a lot about on this thread, which is fine. Any time you switch to a very new distribution (Debian vs BSD based for example) you will have to invest some time learning the ins - and - outs of how to administer that type of system - this is where the largest differences are between different types of GNU/Linux.

That said, I have had good experiences developing under both Debian and Fedora.

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