April 19, 2003

LinuxISO.org: a valuable resource for new users

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

"Where do I get Linux?" is one of the most frequent questions we get through our editors@linux.com email address. An excellent answer I think we'll be giving in the future is, "From LinuxISO.org." Assuming the site survives, that is.LinuxISO.org is not oriented toward sophisticated Linux users, but is a great place for new users to find and download Linux distribution ISOs. While I believe a "first install" should ideally be from a "packaged" commercial distribution that comes with instruction manuals, and that the best way to get Linux going initially is with help and support from the nearest LUG (Linux User Group), I recognize that many people would like to make their first try quietly, on their own, by downloading Linux from the Internet for free.

Overcrowded servers, slow connections

I notice that LinuxISO.org "rotates" featured servers; every time I reload their "download Mandrake" link, for example, I see a different mirror. This is good. Sadly, many of these mirrors are overwhelmed because Mandrake is a popular distro and 9.1 is new enough that it is being downloaded like mad. You may need to do a little "mirror shopping" to find one that won't give you a "maximum number of connections reached" message. (Which means, "Sorry. We're too busy to help you right now. Come back later.")

And even if you manage to find a server you can get on, your problem is not necessarily solved. I am on a nice, fast cable modem, but few of the servers I found were able to shovel data at me much faster than 6 or 7 KBPS (Kilobytes per second). Since Mandrake 9.1 takes 3 CDs worth of data, and each CD can hold up to 700 MB, you can be looking at some serious download time.

Anyway, with some reloads and trials, I found a server in Eastern Europe that is now shoveling Mandrake 9.1 to me at a respectable average rate of around 32KBS, and is showing a total projected download time of only five and a half hours. Then come the other two CD ISOs... it doesn't look like I'm going to be installing Mandrake 9.1 until tomorrow, does it?

On a dialup modem things are even worse. It can take days to download a complete, full-featured Linux distribution including the latest versions of OpenOffice.org, Mozilla, and other essential applications. The advantage of a LUG is that only one person needs to go through this. Then CDs can be burned and distributed locally -- and immediately.

Note that I'm using a server in Eastern Europe at the moment. That's because, as I write this, it's early afternoon on the U.S. East Coast, so all the servers in the U.S. are jammed, as are most of the servers in Western Europe. It is now night in much of Eastern Europe (and most of Asia), so servers there are going to be comparatively uncrowded at this time. Back in the old days, we used to look for servers that were close to us geographically so that packets would need to travel as little as possible. Back then, packet travel was usually the main factor limiting download speed. Now, as often as not, the server is the limiting factor, so a lightly-loaded server halfway around the world gives you higher download speeds than an overloaded one down the street.

Not just download pointers

While LinuxISO.org's most visible features are its download links and distro descriptions, it also contains useful information about burning CDs (in both Linux and Windows) and some basic "What is Linux?" material, along with friendly help forums. In other words, someone curious about Linux could come to this site knowing nothing, find a place to download Linux ISOs, learn how to put those ISOs on CD, and get installation help, all in one place.

The only problem is, this fine resource needs help to survive.

Actively seeking donations

Linux is "free" but server space and bandwidth are not, and people who donate their time to Linux development or a Linux Web site are often forced to move on at some point due to changing family or financial circumstances or other factors.

The state and history of LinuxISO page on the site will tell you, in sordid detail, why the site no longer hosts ISOs itself, as it used to, and what it needs to survive.

Briefly: It was once a corporate-supported resource, but now it is a 100% volunteer effort, primarily by one person. And Webmaster Lance can use your help. He's got two "begging buttons" (as he calls them) on the main page, and if his figures are to be believed he's steadily taking in what he needs to cover bandwidth and other bare necessities, which looks to be around $330 per month, and will only be able to keep the site going if he can keep donations coming in.

The "corporate resources" available to support Linux community sites have largely dried up in the last few years. New volunteer sites have sprung up, but many of them only last until their founders become bored and move on to other projects. It might be best, if you are thinking about starting your own Linux site (which I think we all do at some point) to contribute your time (and money) to an existing, proven community resource like LinuxISO.org, which is just one of many useful Linux resource sites run by dedicated people who are doing the best they can to help both new and experience Linux users.


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