Is there a tiny linux distro for running in virtual box or other VM, centred about running a single app, perhaps using the X-server installed on the host?

I kind of imagine something that pretty much only has synaptic, so you can install any ubuntu gui app you want in it, and then that app auto-starts.

I've searched distrowatch and the web, but haven't yet found the right terms to search for!

  • 2
    if you really want micro, it won't have synaptic. too heavy. :) – quack quixote Dec 1 '09 at 10:36
  • if you only have synaptic, then you get to choose the app you put in the VM easily. – Will Dec 1 '09 at 10:42

What you could do to get a small install with aptitude, is get a debian netinstall cd, and install it using "Expert install". If there are steps where you're unsure of what to do, just use the pre-set values. When you reach the step where you choose which "modules" (at least that's what I recall it's named, I can't double-check right now) to install, unmark all options ("default install" and "desktop system" should be marked as default). This will exclude a lot of convenient little tools that you won't need anyway.

When everything is set up, it's time to install a graphical user interface (GUI). Login with your chosen credentials, and execute sudo apt-get install xserver-xorg-core <your favourite wm>. As hinted, this will install a minimal Xorg system and a window manager of your choice. If unsure which wm to choose, I can tip you of openbox, one that I often use and which pretty lightweight. I'm not very knowledgeable about many other options, so if anyone has other suggestions, please post them in a reply.

When the installation is completed, you can start the x-server with startx. Observe that since you installed X manually, it hasn't been made to autostart on boot. I'm actually not aware of how to make it, so someone will have to fill in on that if necessary.

Next, to making your chosen app autostart with X. In the users home directory, edit the file named .xinitrc (create it if it doesn't exist), and append:sleep 5; your-app-here to the end.

That should do it, please return here if there are any problems :).

  • to get x to start automatically, then a display manager (gdm or wdm or several others) will do that. so "#sudo apt-get gdm" followed by "sudo /etc/init.d/gdm start" replacing gdm with whatever dm you chose – geocoin Dec 1 '09 at 17:16

There are three that comes to mind - slitaz, puppylinux, and dsl (damn small linux) each of them takes up about 50Mb, slitaz is even smaller which is mind boggling...I won't say anymore because you're in a for a treat once you boot up slitaz! It's incredible, tiny, fast and lean!

Hope this helps you to enjoy the smallest distros...


Tiny Core Linux

Only 10 MB!

  1. Copy and paste the text below into a file called build.txt:

    Selected modules: 1,2,3,7,2711,1372,1328,1775,1778,830,1090,1101,1303,2681,3475;
    Selected language: en;
  2. Use the file build.txt at http://www.slax.org to build your distro.

  3. Download the ISO file, burn it to a CD or write to a flash drive.


Have you tried the ubuntu minimal install CD?
does pretty much what you want. And here is a tutorial (for 8.10 but the principle is the same)

  • its using 500MB of hard disk so far... the installer is small, but then it goes gets everything from the internet rather than from the CD. – Will Dec 1 '09 at 13:30
  • oh ok, that's not so minimal... :( maybe it's collecting repos for likely installs, which will be cleared out when it finishes. either way, that's not so great for it's advertised 64-128Mb PC i.e. an old PII with maybe a 4Gb HDD... not impressed. – geocoin Dec 1 '09 at 13:59
  • oh wait... from help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation/LowMemorySystems "Disk Space Requirements: Disk space on an absolutely minimal installation can be reduced to as little as 600 MB. A fresh and clean command-line system of Ubuntu 8.04 generally takes only 450 MB" not so useful... – geocoin Dec 1 '09 at 14:02

Here is an (older) tutorial about how doing this with KDE. There's also an old (at least it seems so Mozilla Project about this and some links.

Though, I remember someone doing such a thing with lightweight window manager (IceWM f.e.), just starting X and having the program you want to start in maximized/fullscreen mode.

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