What’s the best lightweight OS that can share files with Windows and run a web browser?

Sean Fischer May 4, 2012
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I’m looking for a very lightweight OS that I can install on an older computer that I am currently using as a network media player. Hard drive space isn’t an issue, its the processor and ram that is out of date on this computer.

Currently I have Windows 7 installed with every bell and whistles turned off, but it is hideously slow. The reason I like Windows 7 is because the File Sharing within the Homegroup quickly updates and never seems to have trouble connecting.

-Needs to be able to play shared network files. All types of videos and audio. Currently VLC works perfectly.
-Needs to be able to run a internet browser. Ideally this would be chrome.
-Needs to be fast and lightweight.

Optionals (Would be nice to have, not needed):
-Windows IR Media Center Remote support.
-Wireless mouse / keyboard support.
-iTeleport (http://www.iteleportmobile.com/)
-Beautiful intuitive interface (I have many technically ‘slow’ friends using it)

What I’ve looked into:
– Jolicloud | http://www.jolicloud.com/ | Too social for me, this is a shared computer, don’t need it for anything but casual internet and media.
– xPUD | http://www.xpud.org/index.en.html | Looks like it just is a browser? No networked media support
– Splashtop | http://www.splashtop.com/os | I don’t see anything about shared medai support, I have a hipster hate attitude towards Bing and IE
– Damn Small Linux (DSL) | http://www.damnsmalllinux.org/ | Looks like file sharing is hard to set up, couldnt find any info about it.
– Puppy Linux | http://www.puppylinux.com/ | Again, couldnt find info about streaming from shared network source
– Chromium / Chrome OS | Couldnt find a good build.. dont even know if this should be considered?

Thanks for any help!

  1. Declan Lopez
    July 25, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Ubuntu 12.04

  2. Dwayne Eybel
    May 13, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    ReactOS. It's lightweight, only needs 256MB RAM, 400MHz processor, and it is 100% binary compatible with Windows. No need to find programs that will run on it. You can install your favorite Windows software and it won't notice the difference

  3. Barrie Thomas
    May 8, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Have you looked at Legacy OS? Designed to run very well on older hardware and supports VLC for media requirements.

    • Sean Fischer
      May 10, 2012 at 5:00 am

      Ill take a peek! Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. Bruce Epper
    May 8, 2012 at 8:23 am

    What kind of machine is hosting your media files that you want to share? Is it just sharing the files on a network share or is it a true media server? Is it running Windows? What version?

    • Sean Fischer
      May 8, 2012 at 1:02 pm

      It's just a windows 7 computer with a shared folder. I don't really know what constitutes a true media server, but I'm sure my current setup isn't one. This might be something I look into changing, as the price of hard drives are getting amazingly cheap, and I have a spare box lying around. Does anyone know I an article that could get me started building a true media server?

      • Bruce Epper
        May 10, 2012 at 4:58 am

        Set up your server using this guide http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=165681 which will allow your Win7 box to share files and folders with pre-7 compatability (SMB shares). By doing this, all you need to do with any Linux distro is make sure that it is running SAMBA so it can connect with those shared folders and access the files. You will need to set your security options appropriately with regard to what machines and users can access the files.

        As far as turning the server into a true media server instead of a simple file server, take a look at MythTV (Linux) or TVersity (Windows). TVersity is no longer free (it was several years ago). I believe the Basic edition is $4 and the pro is $20. I haven't looked at it in a while, but both should support on-the-fly transcoding so it will allow iPads and other devices to view your media as well which is one of the best features of a full-fledged media server. You could also use Windows Home Server 2011 to do the same thing but it will cost you $150 to $200 for the software.

        • Sean Fischer
          May 10, 2012 at 5:02 am

          Oh okay! I see what constitutes a media server than. Currently I have Plex installed, but I rarely run the server, as I mainly only view videos at home over the network. I used Tversity a while back too, if your looking for a new free option, this plex is pretty awesome.

        • Barrie J Thomas
          May 10, 2012 at 10:20 am

          I use TvMobili as a DLNA server on my WinXP box. It also is free to use and, I think, easier to set up than TVersity.

          I got Plex provided with my new Smart TV but the resource requirements seemed a little hefty for my liking.

  5. Matt Charman
    May 8, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Homegroup is a Windows-only thing at the moment - in fact, a Windows 7 only. Homegroup doensn't even network properly with other Windows machines unless they are Windows 7, so if you need Homegroup, you'll have to use Windows 7.

    If you stick to other file sharing methods that work with all versions of Windows however, your options are much larger. Most Linux distributions are free and include file sharing support.

    Personally I'd go for Damn Small Linux as a starting block, then add in any extras you want. I've got a web server running complete with GUI management interface, DVD burning for backups, and VLC media player (for fun) from an old 128Mb memory stick - I don't think you'll beat that personally.

    • Sean Fischer
      May 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      Well Hot Damn!! That IS impressive! I would love to be able to take the time to figure out how to create my own interface for a project like this, but I get the feeling that it's pretty extensive work if you haven't done much work in Linux. Maybe someday I could get something like that working. :)

  6. Reý Aetar
    May 6, 2012 at 7:07 am

    use lubuntu (ubuntu with lxde) really simple fast and clear
    As far as I know, homegroup is only for Windows 7 machines. so you need to go for alternatives (ask the ubuntu community forum it will be surely helpful)
    rest you will get all those you wanted

    • Sean Fischer
      May 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm

      Any suggestions where to ask Linux specific questions? Any forum posts people have seen about this specific issue?

  7. Kyem Ghosh
    May 6, 2012 at 12:16 am

    I don't think so cz the homegroup is a new feature for win 7. But I was googling some results for it.... You may not use the homegroup but you can use some classical sharing networks. Plz chk out the link given below. I couldn't download it. But you should read it. You may get some good help...


    • Sean Fischer
      May 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      This link seems to be broken

  8. Sean Fischer
    May 5, 2012 at 10:34 pm


    I decided to give Jolicloud 1.2 a try, as I hadn't looked into any of the new features for a while. It's actually working surprisingly well. I am still dealing with the issue of networking the computers to see the Windows 7 machine, but I think I am close, and I can update this question if I end up getting it working.

    Whats nice about jolicloud is that it works very similarly to a smartphone homescreen, which is really intuitive for anyone sitting down at the computer for the first time.

    I've found that although the system is locked down, you can still access the entire linux system with a little console work.

    Also, another question -- Does anyone have any experience with the "lite" versions of xp?

    I've seen some windows xp installs that people have used nLite to "slipstream" (I think thats what they call it) a lighter version of windows xp.

    • Bruce Epper
      May 8, 2012 at 7:40 am

      It's not a lighter version of XP. nLite allows you to take a Windows XP CD, incorporate the service packs and other updates as well as additional drivers into the packaging that will be converted to an ISO image and burned to a new CD. It will allow you to have a version of an XP CD that will have all of the updates to that point on a single disc so you don't need to install off of the original CD, apply the latest service pack, run Windows Update and apply those fixes until it reports that there aren't any more to install.

      • Sean Fischer
        May 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm

        I see, I thought I had read that it also allowed you to remove unwanted features from xp adms well, making it faster if you tried?

        • Bruce Epper
          May 10, 2012 at 4:28 am

          You are supposed to be able to "remove" some elements. It basically amounts to just not having them installed in the first place, but I have frequently seen it cause problems versus allowing them to go with the default install, then removing them afterwards. In some cases, if removed elements were not initially installed, some later security updates have failed to install.

  9. Richard Carpenter
    May 5, 2012 at 9:04 am

    I really like Ubuntu Ultimate Edition, I have had rather good luck with it. I prefer UE 3,0 myself, but the lite version is very nice,

    One problem you will run into, is on any linux/unix based OSes can be a pain to network sharing on a windows network. I use FreeBSD as a file server and have a php gui setup where I can access it anywhere, but it was a pain to setup correctly, and is a pain to maintain.... Linux is not very user friendly, if you like a gui, steer clear of anything unix based OSes.

    • Sean Fischer
      May 5, 2012 at 10:26 pm

      I'll take a look at the lite version (http://ultimateedition.info/ultimate-edition/ultimate-edition-lite/), thanks for the heads up!

      When you say you use FreeBSD / php setup, is this something that comes as a ready to use thing? Or did you just have to work this out yourself? Also -- Can you access the system outside of your network?

      • Reý Aetar
        May 6, 2012 at 7:10 am

        community support for linux is strong but with unix if you run into problem it will be a mess (but yes freebsd is great)

      • Richard Carpenter
        May 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm

        FreeBSD is fun to use, but the PHP was not setup out of the box... nowhere near. I had a time getting setup to my standard, which was probably to high to start with :)

        Yes, I can access it out side my network, I bought a public IP from my ISP to do it, It is basically hosting a website interface I can log into.

        Sorry for the late response, lost internets this weekend :)

  10. Kyem Ghosh
    May 5, 2012 at 5:56 am

    if your hardware is outdated, you should go for windows xp as it is the best... You get almost all features and applications as windows 7. And if you are looking something on linux, I would suggest you to use some older versions of Open Suse or Ubuntu such as the 9.10. As they are some old versions of Open source Os, there might be some minor bugs. But they may go if you udate the Kernel You can also try Ubuntu 11.10. But as I see your requirements, I'll strongly suggest you to use Windows XP Professional SP2. I use it in my Celeron (R) 2.80Ghz desktop which is merely outdated and I use 2GB of RAM... I runs good and pretty fast... chk it out!!!

    • Sean Fischer
      May 5, 2012 at 10:28 pm

      Does Windows XP work with Windows 7 "Homegroups" ?

      • Bruce Epper
        May 8, 2012 at 7:53 am

        XP does not work with Homegroups, but Microsoft has a document that details what you need to do to allow XP/Vista/7 to all be able to share files/folders and printers on the network here: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=165681

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