Test drive a Linux distro online before you hate it

Check out a Linux distro online if it fits your need without even downloading the ISO.

I have been using MX-Linux as the distro on my primary laptop for over a year now.  That’s the longest I’ve ever primarily used a single distro.  I’m proud of that accomplishment. It took me years to get here!

When I first started with Linux, I was a notorious distro hopper, habitually jumping from one distro to another for the pettiest of reasons. I dare say I switched distros more than I can recall once where I had three different primary distros in a single day!

I then discovered VirtualBox, which allowed me to install and test distros without having to wipe my entire primary distro first. This was a significant and much-appreciated improvement, but installation and configuration were time-consuming and often frustrating.  Often during those turbulent early years with Linux, I would think to myself, “Someone should make it easy to test and try out new distros online even without downloading the ISO and all that jazz.”

Enter DistroTest.net, a website that allows Linux users to test various distros online, without downloading the ISO or installing the distro. With DistroTest.net, you can check a distro with no muss, no fuss.

DistroNet.net, the brainchild of founder Andy Klemman and partner Tobias Forster, allows you to test and vet (as of this writing) over 807 versions and 244 operating systems all from the comfort of your web browser without having download an ISO, install or configure anything.

The website, hosted on Debian using Qemu, acts much like a cloud service on your home computer. You merely go to DistroTest.net, select the specific distro that you want to try, and then run it as if it were on your local system. It is the first online OS testing website that I know.

DistroTest.net also provides BSD distros besides Linux distros.  All distros are fully functional, save for internet connectivity, which is, unfortunately, is no longer available because, in the past, “some people did forbidden things with it.”

According to the website, the goal behind DistroTest.net is “…to find the most suitable operating system for you.”

The DistroTest.net website is neither flashy nor aesthetically eye-popping. Nor does it need to be. It’s just a black and grey webpage with an alphabetical listing of installed Linux and BSD distributions available for testing.

Like the rest of the site, their menu options, displayed in a column on the left of the homepage, are simple: Home, System List, New Systems, Philosophy, The Team, and F.A.Q.  In the right-most column is a listing of their top systems with the option to view details or start the distro directly from the homepage. The middle column features the alphabetical list of OSs available for testing.

The DistroTest.net homepage is simple and to the point.
The DistroTest.net homepage is simple and to the point.

Testing a distro on DistroTest.net is simple.  Just find the distro you want to test in the alphabetical listing and select it.

PopOS Linux Page
Pop!_OS Linux Page

Select the desired version of the distro you wish to test and click Start.

Pop!_OS - System test page.
Pop!_OS – System test page.

After a few moments, or minutes (depending on available slots), you are presented two options to launch your distro, Open builtin VNC-Viewer, or Open external VNC-Client.  Please select the Open builtin VNC-Viewer option.

Note: I tried the Open external VNC Client option using RealVNCViewer, but so no significant performance improvement, so I highly recommend using the built-in option.

Pop!_OS - Built-In VNC Viewer
Pop!_OS – Built-In VNC Viewer.

After a few seconds, the Built-In VNC Viewer will pop up (make sure you enable pop-ups for DistroNet.net).

Pop!_OS - Navigating in the Built-In VNC Viewer.
Pop!_OS – Navigating in the Built-In VNC Viewer.

Navigation in the distro within the Built-In VNC Viewer is simple but sometimes slow as there is a bit of a lag causing you to wait for a second after moving your cursor.  The delay, although noticeable, is not debilitating and comfortable enough to work.

Pop!_OS Built-In VNC Viewer Slide-Out Options.
Pop!_OS Built-In VNC Viewer Slide-Out Options.

There is a hidden panel that slides out from the left edge of the VNC pop-up window some controls for your virtual environment.

Pop!_OS - System test page - System stop
Pop!_OS – System test page – System stop.

The website affords you a full hour for testing each distro, although you can increase this in 15-minute increments by clicking the Extend time (+15 minutes) on the System test page.

When you’re done testing your distro, close the pop-up window of the system and select System stop on the System test page, or close the DistroTest.net browser window entirely. 

DistroTest.net offers a long-overdue, much-needed service for Linux systems administrators, power-users, and newbies, alike.  The convenience and time-saved by testing a live distro within the web-browser is invaluable.  DistroTest.net is not perfect, and hopefully, updates and tweaks are on the horizon, but it is most welcome to the wonderful world of Linux.

Why not head over to DistroTest.net and test out one of the distros which have your curiosity peaked by a FOSSLinux article you’ve recently read?  You’ll be glad you did.

Travis Rose
Hi, I'm M Travis Rose, a contributor to FOSS Linux. I have over thirty years of experience in the IT arena, at least fifteen of which has been working with Linux. I enjoy converting existing Windows users to the wonderful world of Linux. I guess you could call me a Linux-evangelist. Long live Linux!

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