Testing Linux Distros in Your Browser

One of the great elements of Linux is the way in which anyone can create their own unique spin; with a different desktop environment, included packages, wallpapers, and even custom apps. It’s one of the things that keeps us distro hopping, and now we can do it online.

Let’s face it, most of us who use Linux are guilty of distro hopping from one to the other every once in a while. A new distro is released, with something alluring that piques our interest, and we download the ISO, stick it in a virtual environment and test it until we either install it for real or revert to an old favourite.

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The problem is though, this takes time. Time to download the ISO, time to setup the VM, time to install it in the VM – or just play around with the live image. Thankfully, we now have a solution that could change all that: DistroTest.net.

Test it before you hate it…

DistroTest.net’s slogan, ‘Test it before you hate it…’ is painfully true in regards to the junkie distro hopper. How many times have installed a Linux distro only to hop back to something else within a few hours, or less?

With DistroTest.net, however, we can test a distro through a browser. Currently the project has 815 distros across 247 operating systems available to test, from 4mLinux to Zorin OS. You’ll find the usual favourites in there: Ubuntu, Arch, DSL, Fedora, Mint and so on, but also some distros that don’t often feature regularly, like Dragora, CommodoreOS, or FatDog64.

How it Works

DistroTest.net hosts its systems on a range of servers, offering the user the chance to test each distro by attaching to a live instance on a server via VNC. To begin, open a browser to https://distrotest.net/, then from the list in the main panel scroll down until you find the distro you want to load up – alternatively you can pick from the Top Systems to the right of the main panel.

Once you’ve picked a distro – we’ve opted for ArchBang in this example – click the name and you’ll be taken to a brief detail page, listing the distro’s particulars. Click on the System Start box and you’ll be placed in a queue. When your time slot is ready you’ll be given the option to open the live system from the server either in the site’s built-in VNC viewer or you can open it in an external VNC client.

Depending on your choice, the system will connect and boot into the chosen distro. From there you can do most of the usual tasks you’d expect if you installed the distro in a VM. The only caveat is that there’s no internet connection available on any of the distros, due to, quoting the developers, “Because some people did forbidden things with it.” Otherwise, you’re able to happily test scripts, see how the system runs, and perform most other Linux-based tasks.

DistroTest.net

Developed by Andy Kelmann and administrated by Tobias Forster, DistroTest.net is a work in progress, and one that’s really worth taking the time to check out. The wait times can be well into four or five minutes, depending on the load, and you will need a good internet connection to make the most of the connected distros; but with more funding the team will be able to upgrade to better servers and offer more bandwidth.

If you’re interested in helping out, contact the team or leave a donation.

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David Hayward

David has spent most of his life tinkering with technology, from the ZX Spectrum, getting his hands on a Fujitsu VPP5000/100 supercomputer, and coding on an overheating Raspberry Pi. He's written for the likes of Micro Mart, Den of Geek, and countless retro sites and publications, covering reviews, creating code and bench testing the latest tech. He also has a huge collection of cables.

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