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Choosing an OS for your Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi has caught the hearts and imaginations of people since its release in 2012. There’s rarely one day passed by where we haven’t heard of some awesome hardware or software project from the ever-growing community of Raspberry Pi fans. The potential for the Raspberry Pi’s achievements are limited only by the users’ imagination.

Suitable-OS-for-Raspberry-Pi Choosing an OS for your Raspberry Pi

However , it’s not just the hardware that’s worthy of consideration . The Raspberry Pi is capable of running a variety of different Linux operating systems . These – known as distributions , or distro for short – are as varied as the many Raspberry Pi projects , and each offers a different look and feel , as well as different functionality . Let’s take a look at some of the best distros available for your Pi , all available via Raspberry Pi download page.

Raspbian OS

Raspbian is the first distro every new Raspberry Pi owner should ideally use. It’s based on Debian Linux and, as we mentioned, is fully optimised for the Raspberry Pi’s hardware. It’s also an excellent starting point as it contains a plethora of pre-installed programs that will help get you up and running, and into the wonderful world of the Raspberry Pi.

Raspbian-OS Choosing an OS for your Raspberry Pi

The Raspbian operating system itself is very well constructed and developed. Running LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) as the desktop environment makes this a considerably streamlined operating system, ideally suited to the limited system resources of the Raspberry Pi.

Raspbian leans heavily toward the educational aspects of the Raspberry Pi, as per the ethos of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Packaged within you’ll find such programs as Scratch – the childfriendly graphical beginner programming language whereby games and live story books can be created. Python is also included, a programming language that’s ideal for beginners.

Arch Linux OS

Arch is a Linux distro that has been active for roughly 14 years. It’s a fantastic operating system and prides itself on its minimalism, code correctness and elegance. The port for the Raspberry Pi – Arch Linux ARM – aims for simplicity and offers full control of the operating system to the user. It’s fast (booting to a command prompt in less than ten seconds) and is incredibly light on resource usage.

ArchLinux-interface Choosing an OS for your Raspberry Pi

However, while it’s a more user-control-orientated operating system, its very design means that it’s not as friendly to the beginner as the aforementioned Raspbian. Whereas Raspbian will hold your hand, to some degree, in the setting up of the operating system, Arch will boot to the command prompt and expect you to install everything manually.

Ubuntu OS

Ubuntu, based on Debian (just like Raspbian), is the most popular Linux distribution for regular desktop and laptop computers. It is just as simple to use as Raspbian and is incredibly well-supported by its parent company Canonical.

For the Raspberry Pi, it comes in two flavours:

  • Ubuntu MATE
    Ubuntu MATE is basically regular Ubuntu but with a different desktop environment – it uses the popular MATE desktop rather than Canonical’s own Unity desktop.
  • Snappy Ubuntu Core
    Snappy Ubuntu Core is designed to run on Internet of Things (IoT) devices, so it’s a stripped-down version of the OS that is based on transactional updates.

If you are developing a product that is powered by the Raspberry Pi, it’s well worth a look.

Windows 10 IOT Core

Windows-10-IOT-Core-raspberry Choosing an OS for your Raspberry Pi

Similar to Snappy Ubuntu Core, Windows 10 IOT Core is Microsoft’s version of a strippedback operating system designed to be used in embedded devices and IoT tech. It is, of course, not a Linux distro – it’s a kind of Windows – but with Microsoft embracing open source technologies and practises in recent times, it’s not to be ignored.


Designed in Cambridge and first released in 1987, RISC OS can trace its roots back to the team that developed the ARM processor – in fact, it’s a direct descendant of the OS used on BBC Micros. RISC OS Open is a port designed for the Raspberry Pi, and is quite a charming, retro offering. If you can imagine the look and feel of a desktop from the early Nineties, you won’t be far away from this version of RISC OS. Admittedly, it requires some patience since it isn’t Linux, so things are done slightly differently.


Many people use their Raspberry Pis as media servers – basically, a device to connect to your home network that can relay audio and video files around the house. You could use it to automatically download internet TV and podcasts, to stream your movie collection onto the big screen in your house, and to handle music playback over your sound system. OSMC is a great distro that is specifically optimised for this task. Another one worth investigating is OpenELEC, which is an older project that has an incredible amount of support in the community. Both are based on the Kodi media player, formerly known as XBMC.

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