Is Official Ubuntu Mini ISO Truly Minimal? A Test Drive

3 min

How minimal is the new Ubuntu minimal installer for its Ubuntu 23.04 “Lunar Lobster” release? Let’s find out.

A few weeks back Canonical/Ubuntu developers confirmed the introduction of an official minimal installer for Ubuntu 23.04 Lunar Lobster. This was great news for those who have been waiting for an official minimal ISO image of Ubuntu Linux, as Canonical/Ubuntu never officially supported any minimal ISO images.

While there was some unofficial legacy minimal ISO images of Ubuntu during Ubuntu 18.04 days, they have all been discontinued. This unavailability of a minimal installer was a deal breaker for some, considering the popularity of Ubuntu Linux.

As announced, Canonical has now unveiled an official minimal installer (currently in Beta) for its Ubuntu 23.04 Lunar Lobster release, ending the wait for those looking to install a lightweight version of Ubuntu Linux.

I ran a test drive on this BETA iso and this is what I found.

The official Ubuntu mini ISO installer is now available to try out as per the latest Beta release. The official ISO image is of size 113 MB for the “Lunar Lonster” release. It is indeed small in size.

When you first boot up the minimal ISO, you have two main options – installation option for the server and for the desktop. The current beta minimal ISO, which I used for this test drive, shows Ubuntu 22.04 LTS and Ubuntu 22.10 Kinetic Kudu – released last year. However, ignore the label for now.

Ubuntu minimal install - first menu
Ubuntu minimal install – first menu

I tried to install the desktop version first. Surprisingly, it launched a downloader to get all the packages for the standard desktop install. The minimal desktop option would download 3GB+ packages over the internet, and it takes quite some time. The download for my test took significant time, considering my location and the status of the Ubuntu server.

Ubuntu mini installer downloads the desktop itself online
Ubuntu mini installer downloads the desktop itself online

If you compare the time and effort to use minimal Ubuntu ISO to install a desktop with regular download, it’s much slower and takes significant system resources. For example, the entire Ubuntu desktop download is stored in memory while the installer runs.

Hence, the minimum RAM size is 8GB for this minimal ISO. You can’t get the installer running without 8GB of RAM. On the other hand, if you download the Ubuntu desktop via a standard torrent, the minimum RAM requirement is 4GB to start the installation.

Mandatory requirement of 8GB RAM for Ubuntu mini ISO
Mandatory requirement of 8GB RAM for Ubuntu mini ISO

After downloading, the installer launches a LIVE Ubuntu system where you can install an Ubuntu desktop with GNOME as you do today. No difference at all.

Moving on to the server option, I chose the option Ubuntu 22.04 LTS server from the minimal installer. To my surprise, the server option also requires a minimum of 8GB of RAM for installation to start. And it downloads around ~1.8GB of packages based on the version. After that, it starts the normal Ubuntu server installation. No difference at all either from a normal server installation.

Ubuntu mini ISO - server option is just regular server installation
Ubuntu mini ISO – server option is just regular server installation
Ubuntu mini ISO - server install takes around 7GB of storage
Ubuntu mini ISO – server install takes around 7GB of storage

To conclude, the minimal desktop installer is just a CLI frontend to download the entire Desktop or server images, nothing else. The primary use cases of this installer might be network installation of Ubuntu desktops or servers. But again, you need a stable internet connection to download everything.

On a similar note, the Xubuntu team provided a minimal ISO a few weeks back with just base Ubuntu and vanilla Xfce without any additional applications.

That said, this installer is not what you think it is from the name. It would have been great if a “true” minimal ISO was provided with essential Ubuntu components without a desktop environment, Snap, etc. Just like a vanilla Arch installation without any desktop components.

You can download the mini ISO (beta) from this page.


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