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I'm planning on setting up a test server to experiment with some application servers (tomcat/jboss/...) and with some portals. Now the machine I've set aside for this is lightweight CPU/GPU wise(Atom D510, 4 gigabyte ram, 500 GiB hdd, onboard GPU).

But it should suffice for most things, I'm more interested in the stability of JBoss/Tomcat for my purposes than the stability.

However I'm having a bit of trouble picking an appropriate distribution size/performance/setup time wise/security wise since it seems I can't sneeze without another distribution popping up.

I've been thinking about going for Fedora since I've read that that distribution has been optimized for Atom, but I'm not really familiar with it.

My experience with Linux has mostly been limited to Ubuntu and some tinkering with puppylinux.

I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty using the command line.

I'm not planning on starting a discussion per se, mostly the pros/cons that people have encountered with some distributions

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If you are familiar with Ubuntu, then use Ubuntu. A base server install is pretty slim. –  Zoredache Dec 16 '10 at 0:59
    
+1 for Ubuntu Server. –  KayakJim Dec 17 '10 at 19:20
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3 Answers 3

Linux without a GUI is lightweight already, and you're not going to be hurting for resources with your test machine. You might be a little CPU limited, but it's a test box.

Since you have experience with Ubuntu, Ubuntu Server is the easiest route. Download the alternative text installer and install just the base system (no GUI or GUI apps). From there, SSH into the box from your normal desktop or laptop. It will save resources, desk space, and it's good practice to not work off your server.

A second option would be Debian. Ubuntu is based on Debian, so the tools are the same.

If you want to do something rpm based, the RHEL clones (CentOS/Scientific Linux) are a good place to start. Fedora is nice workstation/desktop distro, but it's designed to test out code, which means it's not going to be as stable as RHEL and clones.

If you insist on absolute minimalism and just want something to mess with, Arch Linux is nice. It's not designed to be a server, but the packages are vanilla and the default install can drop you to a command line with zero services running.

My best advice, develop on what you're going to deploy on. It will save you time and headaches.

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How is Debian easier to setup as a headless server then Ubuntu? The text-mode installers are nearly identical. The only differences tend to be related to which version of the installer comes with the particular release of Debian/Ubuntu you are using. –  Zoredache Dec 16 '10 at 1:01
    
(Research) Ah, you are right; I am mistaken about that. I knew about the text-mode installers being the same, but I thought Ubuntu automatically installed a GUI to be friendlier, which is not the case. I'm mainly a RHEL clone/Fedora guy who occasionally installs Debian and tangently knows about Ubuntu. I'll fix my statement. –  quinnr Dec 17 '10 at 18:18
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On the same cpu but lower ram (1GB), I am running ubuntu minimal which is just the ubuntu base, not the bloat (evolution,open office,etc.) loaded ubuntu desktop edition

You can find the installation tutorial at http://www.psychocats.net/ubuntu/minimal

After minimal installation, you can deploy your Jboss/Tomcat just like in Ubuntu with apt-get or synaptic.

I opted out ubuntu server because you said that your experience is limited, but if you can find some help or a tutorial, you can choose server edition or Debian distro which is very good too.

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Ubuntu Server is really light if you install only the packages you need. –  Javier Dec 16 '10 at 5:26
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Look up damn small linux if you really want a tiny footprint install. Otherwise I'd lean towards either a base install of debian (if you like apt) or a base install of a RHEL binary compatible distro (RHEL if you have support, fedora, centos, or SL). If you want to maximize your tiny footprint, get rid of the GUI, it will only slow you down (granted I use the command line every single day but still). You don't need 90% of your hardware to be supported if you're just using text. You can copy/paste and edit text files using an ssh client to ftp files to/from the box. If you want it to be a server... treat it like a server.

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