Tag Archives: Browser

How to Distro Hop With a Web Browser | Software

By Jack M. Germain

Aug 14, 2019 11:54 AM PT

Getting familiar with Linux up close and personal is easy to do with a free service provided by
DistroTest.net, a website that allows testing without ISO downloads or local installations.

Are you a wandering Linux distro hopper looking for a way to streamline the selection process? Are you a Windows or macOS user who wants to try Linux?

Linux has countless distributions and dozens of desktop environments. How can you choose?

Now you can find the perfect combination of distro and desktop without leaving the Web browser running on your current operating system. Just point that browser to DistroTest.net.

The DistroTest website is a relatively new online Linux distro-vetting system. It even includes some BSD offerings if you have a hankering to venture into an operating system that is similar to Linux.

Unique Testing Approach

DistroTest is the first online operating system tester that uses a live system similar to running a Linux bootable DVD or USB drive to bypass your installed OS. It has nearly the same look and feel as testing a Linux distro in live session without fully installing it in a sandboxed virtual environment like VirtualBox.

The experience can be easier and better. It runs directly within your Web browser. You do not have to leave your current computing activities behind to reboot the computer and take your chances with an unfamiliar process.

Nor do you have to download ISO files and burn them to a DVD or USB device. You also do not have to fiddle with arcane VirtualBox settings to get the live session to run or fully install properly.

Perhaps the best benefit from using DistroTest.net is the ability to check out Linux without disturbing a single thing about your current computer configuration. It is not a perfect solution — but it beats the alternatives.

Cloud-Like Service for Free

Using DistroTest is much like logging onto a cloud service with your home computer. You select the distros you want to try, and run them as if they were on your local hard drive.

The Linux and BSD distros available on DistroTest are fully functional. You can run all of the installed applications within each distro you test. You can change the default settings. When you close the live session and reload it, everything resorts to the default settings.

You pay nothing to test any number of distros. You can run them whenever you want. No restrictions are imposed.

I have become sort of a DistroTest nerd. I open several browser windows to the DistroTest website and run a variety of distros. I switch among browser tabs to compare features in a variety of distros running different desktops.

The goal behind DistroTest.net is to help you find the most suitable operating system for your purposes. This process lets you answer three critical questions about adopting and using the Linux (or BSD) operating systems:

  • Which distribution is the best one for me?
  • Which graphical interface do I want to use?
  • Which configuration options do I have with a particular distro choice?

Founder Andy Klemann and his administrative partner, Tobias Forster, want to help you answer those and a few other questions with their website. They built the website and the free distro testing tool to give server administrators, programmers and computing end-users a convenient way to find the best operating system for their specific needs.

DistroTest Overview

When you go to the DistroTest.net website, you see a black and gray page with an alphabetical listing of installed Linux and BSD distributions. The banner heading at the top of the landing page includes a motto that explains it all: “Test it before you hate it…”

alphabetical listing of every installed Linux and BSD distro available for testing on DistroTest.net.

The Home screen shows an alphabetical listing of every installed Linux and BSD distro available for testing on DistroTest.net. Click on a distro’s name to go to its detail page to start loading the distro.

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You do not have to register. You do not have to provide your email address. You do not have to log onto the system. All you have to do is pick your distro and start testing it.

DistroTest currently hosts 743 versions of 233 operating systems. Those numbers increase regularly.

Navigating the website is fairly simple. On the top left of the page is the Main Menu. Under it are several links.

The Home link brings you to the landing page where the plain text alphabetical listing of all distros resides. Under that is the System link which takes you to a page with a more detailed alphabetical listing of installed distros. This list includes a small screenshot of the desktop and basic distro information.

Another link takes you to the New Systems page. It shows the latest additions to the installed testing inventory. It displays the same types of screenshots and basic details as the System link pages.

DistroTest.net, distro details page

The details page for each distroshows basic requirements, a thumbnail view of the desktop and a button to click to launch the selected distro.

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How It Works

From any of the lists, click the name of the distro and look for a button that says “START.” Click it to load the desired operating system. The distro loads into a new window that opens on top of the Web browser window. You can resize it by dragging the corners.

The distro runs in a
QEMU-hosted window. QEMU is a generic open source machine emulator and virtualizer.

DistroTest.net, VNC-powered display window that overlays the Web browser

The distro selected for testing loads into a separate VNC-powered display window that overlays the Web browser. You can drag the window edges to resize the running distro.

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In other words, within your browser, it enables a new connection to a hosted virtual machine (VM) that emulates a physical computer’s processor. This process enables the virtual machine to run a variety of guest operating systems using your Web browser as the display monitor.

The VM display is provided by a direct virtual network computing (VNC) connection. VNC is a graphical desktop-sharing system using the remote frame buffer protocol (RFB) to allow remote control of another computer. Multiple users may connect to the VNC server at the same time.

A button sits in the center of the left window edge of the running distro. Click it to slide out a menu with several options for controlling the VNC display window.

DistroTest.net display settings and other controls for the virtual environment.

A hidden panel slides out from the left edge of the VNC window to provide display settings and a few other controls for the virtual environment.

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Developer Discussion

Andy Klemann had the idea of building a website to let anyone test other operating systems. He finally broached the topic with Tobias Forster, a fellow worker.

Once each workday, Klemann told him of the idea. Klemann is a computer guy with programming skills. Forster admits to being clueless about all things related to programming and operating systems. Still, the constant reminders of his coworker’s website idea intrigued him.

Forster finally gave in many months after first hearing about the idea. He agreed to help Klemann develop the unique project.

The pair faced numerous obstacles. The most challenging was the programming. Klemann had no recourse but to resolve those obstacles himself, Forster told LinuxInsider. His role was to provide system management, as well as advertising and support operations.

“The first big step was to create a functioning website. Then my part began, to add different operating systems to our system,” he said.

When they started in February 2017, the two partners had only an online server with limited capabilities. It allowed just a few systems to start at the same time.

The monthly hosted server fees were too expensive, with inadequate financial resources from their own bankroll and limited advertising revenue. Eventually, they got their own server and continued to upgrade it to meet increasing visitor attention.

“Now 100 systems can start at the same time,” said Forster.

Limited Resources

Klemann and Forster plan to keep DistroTest.net free to use. Since starting out, the two have financed everything themselves, according to Forster.

They do have some advertising on the website, but that generates enough money to support only one server. Recurring monthly bills include energy costs, website development and Internet connection fees for their server.

That leaves little money left over to expand the website’s functionality, noted Forster, so the distro experience is limited to what it is capable of doing in the live session environment.

“If a user would like to save some settings or personal files, then we have to add a login area for users. That would need a lot of space to save all the settings and personal files from every single user,” explained Forster. “We don’t have enough resources for that.”

For testing purposes, however, configuration settings and personal files remain enabled as long as the OS being tested is active. The data is deleted only after a system shutdown.

A Work in Progress

Using DistroTest is a fairly fluid experience that produces good results for its intended purpose of testing and comparing various operating systems. Much like trying out a distro running in live session from a DVD on your own hardware, you do not get an accurate feel for the speed of the distro’s performance if it actually were installed on your hard drive.

I have a very fast Internet connection speed through a hardwired network connection from my Internet Service Provider. Still, a slight latency exists with the VNC delivery through the Web browser.

The response delay is most noticeable when moving the mouse and clicking on an object within the virtual display. The result is a sluggishness while the mouse pointer takes a few fractions of seconds to catch up with the position the mouse already reached with my hand movement. Obviously, that hesitation does not exist elsewhere in the Web browser or with installed applications on my computer.

Another feature disconnect is the ability to add or remove applications in the distro being tested. DistroTest’s description makes it seem that you can install applications or remove already-installed programs within the virtual environment. That ability does not exist. No doubt, the limited virtual hard drive size of the QEMU session prevents that functionality.

When operating systems are fully installed in a VM setting, you can add/remove applications the same as you do with a bare-metal installation. However, that feature typically is missing when you run a live session of a distro from a DVD.

I tried that process with several distro choices on DistroTest.net with the same unsuccessful results. One possible reason for that failure is the lack of an Internet connection to the distros running in the VNC connection.

When I run live sessions from a DVD or from an ISO file directly loaded into a VirtualBox session, Internet connections are not an issue. Still, those live sessions do not support installing new software. Some of the same distros running through DistroTest’s VNC connection did establish an Internet connection when I tested them on my own hardware.

DistroTest.net VNC restart screen

Sometimes the connection to the VNC window or some other glitch prevents the distro from loading. Usually, closing the VNC window and restarting the loading process solves the problem.

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Final Thoughts

Those minor issues aside, DistroTest.net is a very handy way to get a feel for different Linux and BSD offerings. It is convenient with few hassles.

The biggest advantage is being able to run any of the available operating systems within a browser session on your existing computer set up. Distro testing occurs in a browser-driven delivery. So it does not matter if your computer is running Microsoft Windows, macOS, another installed Linux OS or even a BSD distro.

DistroTest.net is a clever approach to making other operating system choices easily accessible to potential new users. Check it out.

Please share your Linux-testing experiences. Leave feedback in the Reader Comments section below.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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The Current Windows 10 vs. Linux Browser Performance For Google Chrome + Mozilla Firefox

Last week were tests looking at the Firefox/Chrome web browser performance on eight Linux distributions but how does the situation look if adding Microsoft Windows 10 to the equation? Well, this article addresses that question as we looking at how well Chrome and Firefox compare Windows 10 vs. Linux on the same system and using the latest releases of these web browsers.

Normally in our Windows vs. Linux benchmarks we are used to seeing the open-source operating systems smack the Microsoft operating systems heavily, but when it comes to web browser performance, the tables have turned. Mozilla and Google are obviously much more focused on Windows given the larger market-share while time and time again we’ve seen both browser vendors stave off Linux features around GPU/video accleeration on the basis of driver woes and other issues that have hindered better Linux browsing support. But today’s article is the first time in a while looking closely at the Chrome and Firefox performance between Windows 10 Pro x64 and various Linux x86_64 distributions in a variety of popular browser benchmarks.

The same system was used for testing throughout (obviously) and included the Intel Core i9 9900K, ASUS PRIME Z390-A, 2 x 8GB DDR4-3000 memory, Samsung 970 EVO 250GB NVMe SSD, and Radeon RX Vega 56 graphics… As always, the same hardware was used though in the system table any reported differences just come down to how the information is exposed by the operating system. The Linux tests done were the same as last week’s article with Clear Linux, Debian Buster, Fedora Workstation 29 (both under Wayland and X.Org), Manjaro Linux, Ubuntu 18.04.2, Ubuntu 18.10, Ubuntu 19.04 daily, openSUSE Tumbleweed, and then the latest Windows 10 Pro state with all available updates. Each browser was tested out-of-the-box / default settings without any extra browser plug-ins.

Firefox 66 was in use on all tested operating systems except for Debian Buster still trailing with Debian 60.5.1 and openSUSE Tumbleweed still having been on Firefox 65. On the Chrome front, every operating system testes was with Chrome 73.0. Browser benchmarks ran via the Phoronix Test Suite included ARES-6, Octane, WebXPRT, Basemark, Jetstream, CanvasMark, MotionMark, and Speedometer.

The Greenfield Wayland Compositor Can Now Run Apps Directly In Your Web Browser


Greenfield is the nearly two year old effort providing an in-browser, HTML5 Wayland compositor. This open-source project has allowed for remote Wayland applications to run in browsers while running from remote hosts. Greenfield though can now run applications directly inside a user’s web browser via Web Worker threads.

Erik De Rijcke who masterminded Greenfield announced that applications can now run directly in browsers thanks to Web Workers. But in order to do so, the application must be using JavaScript or WebAssembly. Among other hinderances, this also currently requires a custom Wayland buffer protocol to be supported by the application as well. But once working, all the work is done in the client’s web browser rather than running remotely on a web server.

So far there are two very basic apps as an example via the demo site at preview.greenfield.app. At least from my quick testing, the experience is much better in Chrome than Firefox.

More details on this latest Greenfield work via the Wayland mailing list.

Microsoft Gets an Open Source Web Browser » Linux Magazine

The “new” Microsoft under Satya Nadella is now going deeper with Open Source. The company is dropping its own technologies that power its Edge web browser, which replaced Internet Explore. But instead of reinventing the wheel and creating their browser from scratch, Microsoft will use Google’s Open Source Chromium browser as the base of its web browser.

Microsoft will cease to use the EdgeHTML rendering engine for its Chromium-based web browser and will use Google’s Blink rendering engine.

“We will move to a Chromium-compatible web platform for Microsoft Edge on the desktop. Our intent is to align the Microsoft Edge web platform simultaneously (a) with web standards and (b) with other Chromium-based browsers,” said Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President of Windows in a blog post.“

Microsoft is also planning to bring its Chromium-based web browser to competing platforms like macOS. “We also expect this work to enable us to bring Microsoft Edge to other platforms like macOS. Improving the web-platform experience for both end users and developers requires that the web platform and the browser be consistently available to as many devices as possible,” said Belfiore.

Will, it also come to Linux? Does this also mean that one day we may see Linux-powered Windows? Time will tell.

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5 Easy Tips for Linux Web Browser Security | Linux.com

If you use your Linux desktop and never open a web browser, you are a special kind of user. For most of us, however, a web browser has become one of the most-used digital tools on the planet. We work, we play, we get news, we interact, we bank… the number of things we do via a web browser far exceeds what we do in local applications. Because of that, we need to be cognizant of how we work with web browsers, and do so with a nod to security. Why? Because there will always be nefarious sites and people, attempting to steal information. Considering the sensitive nature of the information we send through our web browsers, it should be obvious why security is of utmost importance.

So, what is a user to do? In this article, I’ll offer a few basic tips, for users of all sorts, to help decrease the chances that your data will end up in the hands of the wrong people. I will be demonstrating on the Firefox web browser, but many of these tips cross the application threshold and can be applied to any flavor of web browser.

1. Choose Your Browser Wisely

Although most of these tips apply to most browsers, it is imperative that you select your web browser wisely. One of the more important aspects of browser security is the frequency of updates. New issues are discovered quite frequently and you need to have a web browser that is as up to date as possible. Of major browsers, here is how they rank with updates released in 2017:

  1. Chrome released 8 updates (with Chromium following up with numerous security patches throughout the year).

  2. Firefox released 7 updates.

  3. Edge released 2 updates.

  4. Safari released 1 update (although Apple does release 5-6 security patches yearly).

But even if your browser of choice releases an update every month, if you (as a user) don’t upgrade, that update does you no good. This can be problematic with certain Linux distributions. Although many of the more popular flavors of Linux do a good job of keeping web browsers up to date, others do not. So, it’s crucial that you manually keep on top of browser updates. This might mean your distribution of choice doesn’t include the latest version of your web browser of choice in its standard repository. If that’s the case, you can always manually download the latest version of the browser from the developer’s download page and install from there.

If you like to live on the edge, you can always use a beta or daily build version of your browser. Do note, that using a daily build or beta version does come with it the possibility of unstable software. Say, however, you’re okay with using a daily build of Firefox on a Ubuntu-based distribution. To do that, add the necessary repository with the command:

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ubuntu-mozilla-daily/ppa

Update apt and install the daily Firefox with the commands:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install firefox

What’s most important here is to never allow your browser to get far out of date. You want to have the most updated version possible on your desktop. Period. If you fail this one thing, you could be using a browser that is vulnerable to numerous issues.

2. Use A Private Window

Now that you have your browser updated, how do you best make use of it? If you happen to be of the really concerned type, you should consider always using a private window. Why? Private browser windows don’t retain your data: No passwords, no cookies, no cache, no history… nothing. The one caveat to browsing through a private window is that (as you probably expect), every time you go back to a web site, or use a service, you’ll have to re-type any credentials to log in. If you’re serious about browser security, never saving credentials should be your default behavior.

This leads me to a reminder that everyone needs: Make your passwords strong! In fact, at this point in the game, everyone should be using a password manager to store very strong passwords. My password manager of choice is Universal Password Manager.

3. Protect Your Passwords

For some, having to retype those passwords every single time might be too much. So what do you do if you want to protect those passwords, while not having to type them constantly? If you use Firefox, there’s a built-in tool, called Master Password. With this enabled, none of your browser’s saved passwords are accessible, until you correctly type the master password. To set this up, do the following:

  1. Open Firefox.

  2. Click the menu button.

  3. Click Preferences.

  4. In the Preferences window, click Privacy & Security.

  5. In the resulting window, click the checkbox for Use a master password (Figure 1).

  6. When prompted, type and verify your new master password (Figure 2).

  7. Close and reopen Firefox.

4. Know your Extensions

There are plenty of privacy-focused extensions available for most browsers. What extensions you use will depend upon what you want to focus on. For myself, I choose the following extensions for Firefox:

  • Firefox Multi-Account Containers – Allows you to configure certain sites to open in a containerized tab.

  • Facebook Container – Always opens Facebook in a containerized tab (Firefox Multi-Account Containers is required for this).

  • Avast Online Security – Identifies and blocks known phishing sites and displays a website’s security rating (curated by the Avast community of over 400 million users).

  • Mining Blocker – Blocks all CPU-Crypto Miners before they are loaded.

  • PassFF – Integrates with pass (A UNIX password manager) to store credentials safely.

  • Privacy Badger – Automatically learns to block trackers.

  • uBlock Origin – Blocks trackers based on known lists.

Of course, you’ll find plenty more security-focused extensions for:

Not every web browser offers extensions. Some, such as Midoria, offer a limited about of built-in plugins, that can be enabled/disabled (Figure 3). However, you won’t find third-party plugins available for the majority of these lightweight browsers.

5. Virtualize

For those that are concerned about releasing locally stored data to prying eyes, one option would be to only use a browser on a virtual machine. To do this, install the likes of VirtualBox, install a Linux guest, and then run whatever browser you like in the virtual environment. If you then apply the above tips, you can be sure your browsing experience will be safe.

The Truth of the Matter

The truth is, if the machine you are working from is on a network, you’re never going to be 100% safe. However, if you use that web browser intelligently you’ll get more bang out of your security buck and be less prone to having data stolen. The silver lining with Linux is that the chances of getting malicious software installed on your machine is exponentially less than if you were using another platform. Just remember to always use the latest release of your browser, keep your operating system updated, and use caution with the sites you visit.