I want to install an 32bit ubuntu desktop on a 64bit debian server. The host does not have any desktop environment installed and I don't want to install one but the virtual machine should be a desktop OS which will be used over VNC or similar protocols. Is this possible without a host desktop?

What software should I use? I think I can use virtualbox and vmWare server but vmWare server is about 500MB and virtualbox is very small. VmWare seems to have a webinterface to controll the virtual machines which is quite nice since I have to start a virtualbox machine using ssh. Which one would you use?

3 Answers 3


quite possible, with vboxheadless or kvm (if the host is capable) you can run the management GUI remotely if you like, using ssh -X

I personally have everything on KVM


I would go for KVM in daemon mode. Then you can write an init script to start/stop it during runlevel change (i.e. system startup).

kvm -hda <guest.img> -vnc localhost:0 -daemonize

Then, on the client machine, setup a tunnel using SSH to localhost:5900 (the VNC port KVM listens on the server machine) and connect through that tunnel using your favorite VNC client software.

ssh user@server -L 5900:localhost:5900 -T -N -f
vncviewer localhost:0

Keep in mind though that with this solution you should trust other users on the server since everyone who can log in via SSH would be able to connect to localhost:5900. I don't know of any way of setting a password in KVM's vnc server.


Use kvm with accompanying libvirt and virt-manager interfaces. This will allow you to access the VM via remote VNC, just like you were at a monitor in front of the machine. You can even install Windows in it if you want to.

This guide will tell you how to set-up kvm+libvirt on Debian.

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