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If I install a local copy of debian on a virtual machine, what limitations will I have as oppose to getting a real server at a hosting company? (say at slicehost or whatever).

which version should I get? does it have a GUI interface like ubuntu also?

On the download page:

Which one should I download? I am on windows7, 64 bit. I will install using virtualbox. Is there an iso in there somewhere? (single download file?)

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I'm not sure if that sentence is poorly formed or not, but you know silcehost sell VPS's right? – Philip Reynolds Dec 16 '09 at 14:43
yes, I just mean a live server sitting at a datacenter. I figured getting one would be better for testing/learning as its on the internet and I can map a domain to it etc. – user2659 Dec 16 '09 at 15:03
up vote 3 down vote accepted

No limitations really, except for accessing the hardware. As for the version, the current stable version is Lenny, and yes it has a GUI like Ubuntu. You can use GNOME, KDE, XFCE, openbox, fluxbox, and all others just like on about any Linux distribution.

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The only limitations it would have would be due to it being local (may be difficult to get at from the internet, etc).

You can install GNOME, KDE, or whatever you want. Debian offers lots of choice, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Get the latest stable version.

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To add to what Raphink said, the limitations will depend on what virtualization system you use. For example, if you were to use Xen, you won't gain access (not easily anyway) to the 3D video hardware you may have. Also, some systems like VMware ESX/ESXi don't virtualize the USB controller, so you can't plug in USB devices in the host and have them show up in the Debian guest. However, VirtualBox does allow access the underlying USB and 3D hardware. So, depending on what virtualization system you use and what underlying hardware you have verses your hypothetical hosting company, you may have more or fewer limitations.

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VMware Server and Workstation both have USB support. – Roy Dec 16 '09 at 15:12
Correct. However, ESX and ESXi do not. I Should have been more specific. – Swoogan Dec 16 '09 at 15:34

For learning purposes you may find that running in a local virtualized environment allows for greater flexibility, thus accellerating your learning. Where networking and internet technologies are concerned, you can easily configure multiple machines and work directly on their interaction, without having to worry about hardware expenses.

Depending on what you are working on, you may find that the virtual infrastructure presents you with some unique limitations or challenges, but as you overcome them they will only add to your experience and expertise.

By using snapshots you can easily revert any changes you commit, giving you additional freedom as you want to try out new configurations.

The bottom line is that virtulization is a very good tool for learning, development and testing.

Unless you have a reason to use the 64-bit release, you may as well start with the i386. It can be downloaded from most sunsites, such as the one at University of Oslo, or any other Debian mirror.

If you are in Europe, this is a good place to get the latest ISO files for i386:

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