How to Test Various Linux Distros Online

Distrotest.net

Most Linux aficionados switch and test distros as often as they change their socks. However, searching and downloading your distro, creating a bootable USB drive, and installing and configuring the distro is time-consuming and oft-times an exercise in futility. DistroTest.net allows you to test drive 373 operating systems with 782 different versions, so you can “test it before you hate it.”

About DistroTest

DistroTest is hosted on a Debian-based server and launches a QEMU-hosted window to run the distros. It is the brainchild of founder Andy Klemman that launched in February 2017. Amazingly, the online Linux distro testing site is run exclusively by Klemman and his partner Tobias Forster.

Distros on Distrotest all run in a QEMU-hosted window that can be resized by the tester. For such an ambitious project, the premise of DistroTest is surprisingly simple: you navigate to DistroTest, find the distro you wish to test, start it by clicking the Start button, and a virtual machine (VM) launches in a new window using your browser as a display.

Distrotest Debian Mutliple Flavors 1

When finished with the test, the user can use the “Stop” button or close the VNC window to end their session. A distro runs for 30 minutes by default, but users can extend that time in 15-minute increments if they’d like.

Available Distros

As mentioned earlier, DistroTest hosts close to 800 different versions of almost 400 Linux distros. The available distros run the gamut from mainstream popular distros, including Debian, CentOS, Arch Linux, OpenSuse, KDE Neon, and Manjaro, just to name a few.

The site also hosts a number of little-known, obscure distros, such as Neptune, Rocky Linux, ScientificLinux, SwagArch, and a host of other arcane distros and also offers a few BSD distros, like FreeBSD, GhostBSD, HardenedBSD, and five others.

Launching a Distro from DistroTest

In this example, we are using NanoLinux (1.3).

  1. Launch your browser and navigate to DistroTest.net. Check that popups are allowed on your browser to ensure the VNC window can launch.
  2. Select the letter N from the alphabetical list at the top or scroll down to NanoLinux (1.3) and click the link.
Distrotest Main Screen 2
  1. When you reach the NanoLinux distro page, click the “System start” button.
Distrotest Nano Linux 1

Be patient while NanoLinux launches in a separate VNC window. While waiting, take note that the System test page shows both the system start time and the remaining time left for the session.

Distrotest Nanolinux System Test 2

Also, note that you can connect your own VNC client using the server IP address and port number displayed on the NanoLinux System Test page.

Additionally, take notice of the ability to upload a file to your online test distro. The maximum file size you can upload is 10MB, and you must unmount the device first.

After the NanoLinux distro loads in your browser, test it, just as you would a live distro running from a USB drive or a VirtualBox or VMWare session.

Distrotest Nanolinux Live System 1

When finished testing, simply click the “Stop system” button on the NanoLinux System Test page or close the NanoLinux VNC window.

Distrotest Minix Failure System Stopped 2

DistroTest.net Support

Should you require support for DistroTest.net, simply email support@distrotest.net. While I’ve never had to engage them, DistroTest.net users are overwhelmingly satisfied with the assistance provided and the response time.

Distrotest Facebook 1

DistroTest.net also runs a Facebook page, although there have been no new posts since April 2021.

Issues and Recommendations

Given the commendable effort put forth on DistroTest.net and its value to distro-hoppers worldwide, I almost feel guilty pointing out flaws and providing recommendations.

  • 30 minutes is not enough time to adequately test a distro. The default session time should be 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Launched distros oft times lag, and the cursor is sometimes quirky when you try to move it.
  • While I’ve never experienced it, some users complain that they enter a waiting queue when clicking System Start, and it can be frustrating for an impatient distro-hopper.

Now for the recommendations:

  • In addition to the alphabetical links, DistroTest.net should have a distro search button that takes the user directly to their distro’s system page.
  • While the site is functional, a bit more effort put into the user interface and aesthetics would be welcomed.
Distrotest Distrtowatch.org 1 1
  • The DistroTest.net admins and the Linux community at large would both benefit if they collaborated with DistroWatch.org. DistroWatch.org users would be given a link to the DistroTest.net page if they wish to test their Linux distros online.

Similar Websites

A Google search for websites like DistroTest.net proved fruitless save for a website named OnWorks.net. While OnWorks.net is much more aesthetically pleasing, its offerings, about 30 distros, pale in comparison to DistroTest.net.

Distrotest Onworks Os Menu 1

Also, its distro offerings consist of only mainstream popular Linux distros, such as Pear OS, Linux Lite, Fedora, Oracle Linux, and a few others.

Distrotest Onworks Pear Os Launched 1

Distros on Onworks.net also suffer from the same lag times that plague DistroTest.net.

Wrapping Up

To be honest, I think DistroTest.net is the cat’s meow. Allowing Linux users to test distros online is absolutely genius. Sure, there are a few bugs, but that’s to be expected with such a massive project as DistroTest.net – particularly when you consider the entire project is but a two-man effort. I’ve no doubt that in the future, not only will DistroTest.net continue to grow, but those few pesky’ nuances currently plaguing the site will be resolved.

Why not head on over to DistroTest.net, choose a distro you’re curious about, and give it a spin? We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

Michael Travis Rose
Michael Travis Rose

Travis is a United States Navy veteran and a battle-scarred IT professional from the days of paper tape, punched cards, and floppy disks. For the past four decades, he immersed himself in all things technology-related. Particularly Cloud Technologies (Azure, Google Cloud, AWS), Linux, and FOSS. He has been writing professionally on these and other topics for the past ten years.

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