Whether you’re using Windows as your main OS or you’ve seen the light and switched to Linux, there’s a good chance that you may need a virtual machine at some point in the future. This might be to get the sort of Linux evaluation experience a live disc cannot deliver or it might simply be because you need to use a different distro for a short time.
Either way, the best results will be gained from having the most efficient Linux distro available. This will reduce system overhead on the host PC, and make for a generally more satisfying experience. Five Linux operating system distributions are particularly suitable for this, so let’s take a look at them.
What Should You Use to Run Your Linux VM?
But first, how will you run your Linux virtual machine? Several VM applications are available, such as VMware and QEMU.
But getting started with virtualization is simplest with VirtualBox. After installing via your package manager (or using distribution-appropriate instructions), launch the application and click the New button to get started. After entering a name (typically the OS version you’re planning to install), select the virtual machine type, followed by the version.
The choice is large, as VirtualBox supports a wide selection of operating systems across six platforms. With the correct options selected, click Next, to see how your VM should be configured. Default options are based on the OS you’ve selected to install, but you might prefer to tweak this based on your own needs.
Right, that’s sorted. Now, which distros should you use?
1. Linux Mint
Currently up to version 18, Linux Mint has several current versions available. If you haven’t already tried it, then installing it as a VM is a good idea, as the default desktop doesn’t require 3D acceleration.
A particular benefit of this is that your virtual machine will almost certainly be running like a lower-spec version of your computer. So, with fewer resources to go around, the low-spec support of Linux Mint will prove advantageous. You’ll have even better results with a different desktop environment. Fancy swapping Cinnamon for MATE or Xfce? Performance will improve even more, while running the most popular desktop Linux operating system around!
This lightweight version of Ubuntu has been around for several years, and its modest footprint makes it ideal for running in a virtual machine. Once set up, you’ll get an idea of how it might perform on an older PC or laptop when installed as the default operating system.
And if Lubuntu itself doesn’t prove lightweight enough for you, why not try LXLE, the Lubuntu Extra Life Extension? Even lighter than Lubuntu, LXLE is ideal for running as a virtual machine on low-spec but virtualization-capable hardware.
Naturally, that means that it is also ideal for running on old hardware. We tried it on an old Compaq netbook, with great results!
Never heard of Slackware? Never mind. It’s the oldest surviving distro out there, and runs effortlessly with all virtual machine applications. Ideal for advanced Linux users — it’s very close to UNIX — Slackware is a definite step up from the standard Linux operating systems.
What this means is that a virtual machine is the ideal environment for trying out Slackware, and its straightforward command line installation. Even if you determine that this distro is not right for you, you’ll still find you’ve learned something, and got as close to “pure Linux” as it’s possible to get without being Linus Torvalds.
A popular Linux operating system, Fedora is a distro with a focus on open source software. Curiously, it has a reputation of being difficult to use, but this really isn’t warranted.
While poor performance can be resolved with a change to the desktop environment, the focus on open source is the real draw here. Despite its origins, Linux operating systems typically flip flop between open source software and a few proprietary apps and drivers. Fedora takes a stand against this, offering only FOSS apps and drivers, making this a distribution you should definitely try out.
And where better to try a new operating system than in a virtual machine?
So far, we’ve looked at desktop apps, but if your Linux interest is more server-based, then you might consider Ubuntu Server. If you haven’t used a server OS before, or you’re familiar with Windows Server, installing Ubuntu Server (or CentOS) in your virtual machine software is a great way to get the practice you need.
After all, you wouldn’t want to experiment with a genuine server, would you?
With the server’s configuration complete, you can transfer this experience — or even export the settings file — to a physical server, and ready it for production.
That’s our pick of five (plus extras) Linux operating systems that you should run on a virtual machine. Do you think otherwise? Have we missed a Linux distro that is otherwise perfect as a virtualized guest OS on your PC? Well, tell us where we went wrong!