Download managers seem to be old news these days, but there are still some excellent uses for them. We compare the top four of them on Linux.
Advertised as lightweight and full- featured like a majority of other Linux apps, uGet can handle multi- threaded streams, includes filters and can integrate with an undefined selection of web browsers. It’s been around for over ten years now, starting out as UrlGet, and can also run on Windows.
uGet reminds us of any number of torrent client interfaces, with categories for Active, Finished, Paused and so on for the different downloads. Although there is a lot of information to take in, it’s all presented very cleanly and clearly. The main downloading controls are easy to access, with more advanced ones alongside them.
While it can see into the clipboard for URLs, uGet doesn’t natively integrate into browsers like Chromium and Firefox. Still, there are add-ons for both these browsers that allow them to connect to uGet: Firefox via FlashGot and Chromium with a dedicated plug-in. Not ideal, but good enough.
uGet’s maturity affords it a range of features, including advanced scheduling to switch downloading on and off, batch download via the clipboard and the ability to change which file types it looks for in the clipboard. There are plug-in options, but not a huge amount.
While it’s also available in most major distro repos, the uGet website includes regularly updated binaries for a variety of popular distributions as well as easily accessible source code. It runs on GTK 3+ so it has a smaller footprint in some desktop environments than others, although we’d say it’s worth the extra dependancies in KDE or other Qt desktops.
We very much like uGet – its wide variety of features and popularity have allowed it to develop quite a lot to be an all-encompassing solution to download management, with some decent integration with Linux browsers.
KDE’s own download manager seems to have been originally designed to work with Konqueror, the KDE web browser. It comes with the kind of features we’re looking for in this test: control of multiple downloads and the ability to run a checksum alongside the downloaded product.
As expected of a KDE app, KGet fits the aesthetic style of the desktop environment with similar icons and curves throughout. It’s quite a simple design as well, with only the most necessary functions available on the main toolbars and a minimal view of the current downloads.
KGet natively integrates with KDE’s Konqueror browser, although it’s not the most popular. Support for it in Firefox is done via FlashGot as usual, but there’s no real way to do it in Chromium. You can turn on a feature that asks if you want to download copied URLs, however it doesn’t parse the clipboard very well and sometimes wants to download text.
The selection of features available are not that high. No scheduling, no batch operations and generally an almost bare-minimum amount of downloading features. The clipboard-scanning feature is a nice idea but it’s a bit buggy. It’s a little weird as the Settings menu looks like it’s designed to have more settings and options.
While it doesn’t come by default with a KDE install, it is available for any distro that supports KDE. It does need a few KDE libraries to run though, and it’s a bit tricky to find the source code. There isn’t a selection of binaries that you can use with a few distros either.
KGet doesnt really offer users a huge amount more than the download manager in the majority of popular browsers, although at least you can use it while the browsers are otherwise turned off.
DownThemAll, being somewhat platform-independent, comes to Linux by way of Firefox as an add- on. This limits it somewhat to use with only Firefox, however as one of the most popular browsers in the world its tighter integration may be just what some are looking for in a download manager.
Part of the integration in Firefox allows DownThemAll! to slot into the standard aesthetic of the browser, with right-clicking bringing up options alongside the normal downloading ones. The extra dialog menus are generally themed after Firefox as well, while the main download window is clean and based on its own design
It doesn’t integrate system-wide but its ability to camouflage itself with Firefox makes it seem like an extra part of the original browser. It can also run alongside the normal downloader if you want, and can find specific link types on a webpage with little manual filtering, and no need for copy and pasting.
With the ability to control how many downloads can happen at once, limit bandwidth when not idle and advanced auto or manual filtering, DownThemAll! is full of excellent features that aid mass downloading. The One Click function also allows it to very quickly start downloads to a pre- determined folder faster than normal download functions.
Firefox is available on just about every distro and other operating system around, which makes DownThemAll! just as prolific. Unfortunately this is a double-edged sword, as Firefox may not be your browser of choice. It also adds a little weight to the browser, which isn’t the lightest to begin with.
DownThemAll! is excellent and if you use Firefox you may not need to use anything else. Not everyone uses Firefox as their preferred browser though, and it needs to be left on for the manager to start running.
Easily available in Ubuntu and some Debian-based distros, Steadyflow may be limited in terms of where you can get it but it’s got a reputation in some circles as one of the better managers available for any distro. It can read the clipboard for URLs, use GNOME’s preset proxies and has many other features.
Steadyflow is quite simple in appearance with a pleasant, clean interface that doesn’t clutter the download window. The dialog for adding downloads is simple enough, with basic options for how to treat it and where the file should live. It’s nothing we can really complain about, although it does remind us of the lack of features in the app.
Reading copied URLs is as standard and there’s a plug-in for Chromium to integrate with that. Again, you can use FlashGot to link it up to Firefox if that’s your preferred browser. You can’t really edit what it parses from the clipboard though and there’s no batch ability like in uGet and DownThemAll!
Extremely lacking in features and the Options menu is very limited as well. The Pause and Resume function also doesn’t seem to work – a basic part of any browser’s file download features. Still, notifications and default action on finished files can be edited, along with an option to run a script once downloads are finished.
Only available on Ubuntu and there’s no easy way to get the source code for the app either. This means while it’s easily obtainable on all Ubuntu- based distros, it’s limited to these types of distros. As it’s not even the best download manager available on Linux, that shouldn’t be too big of a concern.
Frankly, not that good. With very basic options and limited to only working on Ubuntu, Steadyflow doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from the standard downloading options you’ll get on your web browser.
And the winner is…
In this test we’ve proven that there is a place for download managers on modern computers, even if the better ones have cribbed from the torrent clients that seem to have usurped them. While torrenting may be a more effective way for some, with ISPs getting wiser to torrent traffic some people may get better results with a good download manager. Not only are transfer caps imposed by most major ISPs, some are even beginning to slow- down or even block torrent traffic in peak hours – even legal traffic such as distro ISOs and other free software are throttled.
Steadyflow seems to be a very popular solution for this, but our usage and tests showed an underdeveloped and weak product. The much older uGet was the star of the show, with an amazing selection of features that can aid in downloading single items or filtering through an entire webpage for relevant items to grab. The same goes for DownThemAll!, the excellent Firefox add-on that, while stuck with Firefox, has just about the same level of features, albeit with better integration.
If you’re choosing between the two it really comes down to what your preferred browser is and whether you need to have downloads and uploads going around the clock. DownThemAll! requires Firefox running, whereas uGet runs on its own, saving a lot of resources and electricity in the process – obviously this makes uGet a much better prospect for 24-hour data transferring and it really isn’t a major hassle to set up big batch downloads, or even just get the download information from your browser.
Give download managers another chance. You will not be disappointed with the results.