I'm looking for a distribution of Linux (hopefully similar to or based upon Ubuntu) which satisfies the following criteria:

  • Installs from and runs within Windows;
  • Doesn't need to partition or dual-boot;
  • Boots to a shell within Windows.

Ideally I'd like to click a shortcut on the Windows desktop and have a Linux shell appear in a command-prompt-style window. Obviously performance is unimportant since I assume a filesystem-within-a-filesystem is going to be slow.

I've found distros like PortableUbuntu and PenDriveLinux, but they all seem to be either out-of-date, minimally-supported, or too large.

Is there anything like that out there?

  • You need to run server in a virtual box.
    – Tim
    Aug 27 '14 at 20:55

You might find that something like coLinux or andLinux might be slightly lighter but personally, I'd choose a VirtualPC/VirtualBox/VMWare virtual machine every time.

The problem with the xming-style native builds of Linux distributions is they're very non-standard. They're hacks to serve a purpose. They might fit your purpose but I prefer to have standard things available. With a VM you can port to a proper bare-metal install if the need ever arises.


If you are only looking to run some Linux commands, you may want to try Cygwin . Cygwin, it is a Unix/Linux environment for Windows that can be used to have all that tools that windows lacks: bash, sed, awk, grep, vi, tail, ps, and many more. Once installed it will provide a shortcut that opens a terminal with a bash prompt. It also has an X-server environment if you need it. I've been using it for a few years now and it makes my live easier in Windows.


Sounds to me like you should look into VMWare - as for a "minimal, command-line-only distribution", take a look at Ubuntu Server.

  • VMWare is an option certainly, and a server version is exactly what I had in mind... just wondered whether there was a hybrid system out there.
    – stusmith
    Aug 9 '11 at 14:06
  • As for interfacing with it, Ubuntu server will present a command line through VMWare/Virtualbox's interface or you can install a SSH server on Ubuntu and use Putty
    – Oli
    Aug 9 '11 at 14:07

This answer is very late, but I feel it's worth replying for anyone who stumbles across this via a web search, as I did.

Windows now has Windows Subsystem for Linux (versions 1803 and above), and Windows Terminal (1903 and above). These introduce native support for running Linux programs on Windows.

Available distros include Ubuntu 18.04, among others.


If you want a full environment, use the Ubuntu MinimalCD (which weighs in at < 40MB).

If you just want the basics of a Bash Shell without the rest of the environment, Git Bash should get you most of the way there.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.