How to Use Linux Online With These Emulator Websites

While we have shown you the compelling reasons why you should learn Linux, we also know that getting into Linux can be a huge and scary step for any new user. The prospect of obtaining an ISO file, writing it to your USB disk, and installing that to your computer is a nerve-wracking experience. One way to ease this is by loading a distro on a safe environment, such as an emulated virtual machine. This article will show you some of the best online emulator services for Linux that you can use today.

1. DistroSea

DistroSea is a feature-filled online emulator website that hosts more than 50 Linux distros. From popular systems such as Ubuntu to niche ones like NixOS, DistroSea sets up a GUI that you can boot for free.

A screenshot of the DistroSea landing website.

Aside from that, DistroSea also provides a variety of versions for every distro that it serves. This makes it flexible for users who want to test features across different versions of the same distro. For example, DistroSea provides a runnable instance of Ubuntu from version 7.04 to 23.10.

A screenshot showing Ubuntu 23.10 running on the DistroSea website.

2. Onworks

Onworks is a simple emulator website that provides an online graphical environment for some of the most popular Linux distros. At the moment, the website serves multiple versions of Ubuntu, Fedora, Mageia Linux, elementary OS, and Manjaro.

A screenshot showing the landing page for Onworks.

One of the selling points of Onworks is that it can also serve application-specific Linux distros. For instance, you can load up ParrotOS, which is a lightweight alternative to Kali Linux, as well as the popular Windows alternative: ReactOS. These features make Onworks ideal if you’re looking for a service that can run both Linux and Windows-like operating systems.

A screenshot showing the ParrotOS distro running under Onworks.

3. JsLinux

JsLinux is a lightweight emulator website that can run Linux, Windows, and FreeDOS. Unlike Distrosea and Onworks, JsLinux is a native “virtual machine” that lives in your local browser. This means that any program and data you pass to the virtual OS will only stay in your local machine.

A screenshot showing the landing page for JsLinux.

Another advantage of JsLinux being local is that you can upload arbitrary files to it. Combined with a built-in GUI, UNIX tools, and a text editor, JsLinux is a great lightweight emulator that can give you a feel of what a basic workflow in Linux is like.

A screenshot showing a basic online X11 session running under a Linux emulator.

Good to know: extract the most out of your laptop by looking at the best lightweight desktop environments for Linux.

4. Copy.sh’s v86 Emulator

Copy.sh’s v86 is a powerful x86 emulator that runs inside your browser. Just like JsLinux, it uses WebAssembly to emulate an entire virtual processor and components on which you can run Linux. By default, the website offers images for Arch Linux, Damn Small Linux, and even a basic version of Android Open Source.

A screenshot showing the Android Open Source x86 image running under v86.

Since v86 is a general x86 emulator, you can also run and install custom Linux images through it. For that, the website has a simple web form where you can upload and customize your own x86 virtual machine. For example, I was able to run Puppy Linux running Ubuntu Bionic which is complete with a GUI and basic utilities.

A screenshot showing a custom Puppy Linux Bionic image running under v86.

Note: v86 only emulates a Pentium 4 CPU with no 64-bit support. This means that you can only run 32-bit Linux distros with a maximum of 4GB of RAM.

5. CoCalc

CoCalc is a collaborative computing platform that aims to provide a complete set of tools for mathematical modeling and producing documents using LaTeX. Its collaborative focus means that you can share your Linux shells with other users and they can directly edit and run commands for you. This is helpful if you have someone who knows Linux and can mentor you through the basics.

A screenshot showing the collaborative Linux terminal in CoCalc.

Apart from that, CoCalc has a basic X11 GUI that you can load right out of the box. This also comes with a powerful text editor in GNU Emacs, and a full office suite in Libreoffice. As such, CoCalc is a good option if you’re looking for an online Linux emulator that you can use with other people.

6. WebVM

WebVM is a native virtual machine emulator that runs a custom version of Linux entirely in your browser. Unlike JsLinux, it provides a console-only environment with an entire development toolchain that you can use to create and compile programs.

The biggest selling point of WebVM over other emulated Linux services is that it comes with Tailscale support by default. This means that you can easily plug this system on a tailnet and use SSH to send files directly to it. That can be useful if you’re looking for a toy system that you can quickly spin up, experiment with, and destroy by just clicking the “Close Tab” button.

A screenshot showing the WebVM Linux emulator running online.

Using virtual emulators on the browser can be a slow and frustrating way to learn and use Linux even on good computers. Take the next step in your Linux journey by installing some of the best Linux distros in 2024 on your machine today.

Image credit: Compare Fibre via Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons. All alterations and screenshots by Ramces Red.

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Ramces Red

Ramces is a technology writer that lived with computers all his life. A prolific reader and a student of Anthropology, he is an eccentric character that writes articles about Linux and anything *nix.

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