The best way to get free Linux distros

Ubuntu

There are many different versions of Linux available and the number runs into the hundreds. It can be interesting trying them and some are really good. If you want to download and try these Linux distros, what is the best way and where do you get them from?

A small distro might be around 100MB and a file this size can be directly downloaded in a browser by clicking a link on a website. Small Linux distros are unusual though and some of the most popular ones are quite large. Some distros are 4GB and a few are over 5GB, such as Debian, CentOS, openSUSE, and Slackware.

Downloading 5GB files in a browser is not recommended for several reasons. For a start, it could take a long time if your internet connection is slow and we’re talking hours here, even on broadband. There is also a possibility of a glitch at some point during this huge download and this could stall it and you might then have to restart it from the beginning.

There is also the problem of bandwidth. If you have a fixed amount of bandwidth from your ISP, you don’t want to go over the limit. You should also avoid peak times of the day too, because ISPs can penalise you for downloading too much (a penalty is often in the form of restricted bandwidth for hours or even days).

The best way to get Linux distros is with a BitTorrent client. BitTorrent is a form of peer-to-peer networking and it has features that make downloading large files easier. For example, you can stop and start a download at will, and even stop, switch off the computer, turn it on the next day and carry on exactly where you where you left off. It is fault-tolerant too.

This is useful if you have a limited amount of bandwidth each month. You could start a download at the end of one monthly cycle, stop it after a couple of gigabytes, then restart it a day or two later when the next monthly bandwidth cycle begins. The download is then split over two months and you don’t bust your bandwidth limit.

Another useful feature is that you have complete control over the bandwidth used. For example, you can choose how fast or slow you want to download. By setting a slow download speed you can carry on using the internet, browsing the web, reading email and so on, without it affecting you. On the other hand, if you want to download a file as fast as possible you can remove all speed limits.

There are other benefits too, but let’s get on with downloading a Linux distro.

You need a BitTorrent client (a program that uses the BitTorrent protocol). There are many to choose from and on Windows PCs and Apple Macs my own personal favourite is uTorrent. There are free and Plus versions and the free one is all you need.

All BitTorrent clients have the basic ability to download files, stop, start, set bandwidth limits and so on. As this is a Linux article I will use a Linux BitTorrent client called Transmission, but you can use Vuze in Linux or even uTorrent on the PC or Mac if you prefer. If you don’t have Transmission or Vuze, it should be available in your Linux Software Centre, Software Manager, or Package Manager. Search for it and install it.

We now need a .torrent file and this is a small file that tells a BitTorrent file how to download the big file you want. Some Linux distros provide a .torrent file on their websites, but I use LinuxTracker.org (http://linuxtracker.org/), a website that BitTorrent downloads for dozens and possible hundreds of Linux distros. There are latest updates and most popular lists on the home page, but you can browse and search the whole catalogue too.

LinuxTracker.org

Click a Linux distro to go to the torrent details page, then click the link in the Torrent box. Click the Download Now link.

The .torrent file may be saved to disk. If it is, you can start the BitTorrent client and load the .torrent file. Often a BitTorrent client and a browser will work together and clicking the Download Now link at LinuxTracker.org automatically opened the .torrent file in Transmission on my PC.

Transmission BitTorrent

The destination folder can be selected and it is Downloads by default. I have set the priority to low so I can continue using the computer while the Linux distro downloads in the background. There is an option to Start when added, but I cleared this option so I can configure some options before starting the download.

Transmission BitTorrent

Select the torrent download and click Properties to open this window. On the Options tab you can place limits on the download and upload speeds. (BitTorrent works by sharing downloads with others and so parts of the file you download are uploaded to others wanting the file – it’s all anonymous and secure and is perfectly normal.)

Transmission BitTorrent

It is all set up so you can now click the start button to begin downloading. Just minimise Transmission and let it run in the background while you get on with something else. You can leave it running until it is done or you can click the pause button and carry on another time or day. It’s up to you.

Transmission BitTorrent


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