Does anyone maintain a list of Light Weight *nix distributions, ideally just a VM that can be downloaded.
Small/Lightweight Unix Distibutions
These are lists of small/minimal distributions:
Virtual Appliance Marketplace has VMWare images. Here are some minimal installs and lightweight distributions.
CentOS minimal install: http://www.vmware.com/appliances/directory/1029
Fedora Core 4, minimal install: http://www.vmware.com/appliances/directory/17
Fedora 10 Appliance Operating System (AOS): http://www.vmware.com/appliances/directory/63205
FreeBSD 6.0 minimal install: http://www.vmware.com/appliances/directory/63
Damn Small Linux: http://www.vmware.com/appliances/directory/54320
Debian 3.1 minimal install: http://www.vmware.com/appliances/directory/13
OpenBSD 3.9 minimal install: http://www.vmware.com/appliances/directory/145
Puppy Linux: http://www.vmware.com/appliances/directory/61124
Ubuntu JeOS: http://www.vmware.com/appliances/directory/1363
Note that some of those are 2-3 years old.
Here are a number of VirtualBox images that might be of interest: http://virtualbox.wordpress.com/
Most of those were created with default paramaters rather than minimial install, however. It does include Damn Small Linux.
Ubuntu has JeOS (Just enough OS) version designed specifically for VMs and appliances.
Tiny Core Linux is an excellent minimal distro, very modular. I've been using it for 2 years, and I'm very happy with it.
From the homepage:
Tiny Core Linux is a very small (10 MB) minimal Linux GUI Desktop. It is based on Linux 2.6 kernel, Busybox, Tiny X, and Fltk. The core runs entirely in ram and boots very quickly. Also offered is Micro Core a 6 MB image that is the console based engine of Tiny Core. CLI versions of Tiny Core's program allows the same functionality of Tiny Core's extensions only starting with a console based system.
It is not a complete desktop nor is all hardware completely supported. It represents only the core needed to boot into a very minimal X desktop typically with wired internet access.
The user has complete control over which applications and/or additional hardware to have supported, be it for a desktop, a netbook, an appliance, or server, selectable by the user by installing additional applications from online repositories, or easily compiling most anything you desire using tools provided.
The latest version: 2.11.4
DSL is the smallest most lightweight linux out there, keep in mind that its also has very basic functions, and of course you should consider the linuxes that can be deeply customized like Slackware, Debian, Gentoo and Linux From Scratch.
For a workstation the window manager is what impacts performance most so if you are looking for GUI any distro that uses XFCE or a *box(openbox,blackbox,fluxbox) window manager should be very light, stay away from gnome and KDE for they are huge.
IMHO you should give Debian + Openbox a try, it's very hard to outperform that setup.
The Linux LiveCD list has a complete enumeration of livecd distros that you can run in VMs.
EDIT: The list is sortable, and includes the "footprint" of each CD.
OpenSUSE now has the SUSE Studio:
With both VMWare and Xen virtual-disk download formats supported. You build the system you want online through package selection and other setup screens, and download what you need. I believe it also contains a market-place of previously configured appliances other people made and published.
Turnkey Linux is a virtual appliance library that integrates and polishes the very best open source software into ready to use solutions. Each virtual appliance is optimized for ease of use and can be deployed in just a few minutes on bare metal, a virtual machine and in the cloud.
BitNami Virtual Machine Images contain a minimal Linux operating system and a fully configured BitNami Stack.