Raspberry Pi

Ultimate guide to Raspberry Pi operating systems, part 1

Since we published a roundup of 10 Raspberry Pi operating systems the number of choices has exploded.

Raspberry Pi Model B+

Raspberry Pi

Since we published a roundup of 10 Raspberry Pi operating systems the number of choices has exploded. In this piece I’m including every option I could find (and for you pickers of nits, yes, I’m counting individual Linux distros as individual operating systems, so sue me). If you know of anything I’ve missed or a detail that’s wrong, please drop me a note at feedback@gibbs.com and I’ll update the piece and give you a shout out. Watch the next installment here.

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Now on with the awesomeness …

Adafruit’s Occidentalis desktop

Adafruit - Occidentalis v0.3

Occidentalis v0.3 is the result of running Adafruit’s Pi Bootstrapper on a Raspbian installation to build a platform for teaching electronics using the Raspberry Pi. Arguably not a true distro (the previous versions were) it’s included because it’s kind of cool.

ArchLinux Openbox desktop

Arch Linux ARM

Arch Linux ARM is a fork of Arch Linux built for ARM processors. This distro has a long history of being used in a wide range of products, including the Pogoplug as well as the Raspberry Pi. It’s known for being both fast and stable. There is no default desktop but above, I show the option of Openbox.

Installing LTSP under Edubuntu


BerryTerminal has not been updated for several years: “BerryTerminal is a minimal Linux distribution designed to turn the Raspberry Pi mini computer into a low-cost thin client. It allows users to login to a central Edubuntu or other [Linux Terminal Server Project] server, and run applications on the central server.”

DarkELEC’s XBMC interface


DarkELEC: “None of the currently available solutions do a perfect job running XBMC on the Pi, however OpenELEC comes by far the closest, in spite of its locked down nature. [The DarkELEC] fork aims to remedy the very few flaws in its implementation and to focus 100% on the Pi, while also sticking to the upstream and incorporating its updates.”

Debian “Jessie”with the Gnome desktop environment

Debian 8 (“Jessie”)

Debian 8 (“Jessie”) is the latest and greatest version of Debian and Sjoerd Simons of Collabora appears to be the first person to get it running on the Raspberry Pi 2 back in February this year. As of this writing, there isn’t an “official”release of Debian 8 for the Raspberry Pi so, if you go down this path, expect a few bumps (and complexities) on the way.



DietPi: “At its core, DietPi is the go to image for a minimal Raspbian/Debian Server install. We've stripped down and removed everything from the official Raspbian image to give us a bare minimal Raspbian server image that we call DietPi-Core.” DietPi is optimized for all Pi models and has a 120MB compressed image, fits on a 1GB or greater SD card, has only 11 running processes after boot, requires just 16MB of memory after boot, and, “unlike most Raspbian minimal images, ours includes full Wifi support.” An LXDE desktop is optional.

Pidora desktop

Fedora Remix (Pidora)

Fedora Remix (Pidora): Pidora is a Fedora Remix, a customized version of the Unix-like Fedora system, running on the ARM-based Raspberry Pi single board computer and it moves faster than a politician taking a donation. First released in 2003 Fedora has a long history and is noted for its stability. Given that there are thousands of packages available in the Pidora repository you’ll be able to find pretty much any functionality or service you need for your project.

GeeXboX user interface


GeeXboX ARM is a free and Open Source Media Center Linux distribution for embedded devices and desktop computers. GeeXboX is not an application, it’s a full-featured OS that can be booted from a LiveCD, from a USB key, an SD/MMC card or installed on an HDD. The core media delivery application os XBMC Media Center 12.2 “Frodo”.

IPFire Web-based configuration interface


IPFire is a specialized version of Linux that operates as a firewall. Designed to be highly secure and fast, it’s managed through a Web-based interface.

Kali Linux, a penetration testing distro

Kali Linux

Kali Linux is one of my favorite flavors of Linux because of its excellent collection of penetration testing and diagnostic tools (plus it has a great logo). Being able to run this bad boy on a Raspberry Pi means you can have your own custom pen tester in your pocket.

Lessbian 8.1 (“Raptor”)

Lessbian 8.1 (“Raptor”)

Lessbian 8.1 (“Raptor”): A stripped down bare minimal Debian “Jessie”. The goal of Lessbian is to “provide a small and fast jessie image for servers and wifi security testing without the madness of system.” This release is described as “A bootable wifi system optimized for throughput, performance, and encryption”and it’s a great platform for running a Tor Relay.

Minepeon management interface


Minepeon: There’s gold in them thar' BitCoin mines! You can get it out using the Minepeon operating system based on Linux and running on a Raspberry Pi. Of course you’re going to need a lot of machines to get your digital “quan”given how much more “work”is needed to mine BitCoin today, but given the price of the Raspberry Pi you won’t go broke assembling a roomful of miners. Show me the digital money!

The Moebius system configuration utility


Moebius: A minimal ARM HF distribution that needs just 20Mb of RAM for the entire operating system and fits on a 128MB SD card. Version 2 is current stable version. An LXDE desktop is optional.



nOS: Based on Ubuntu and the KDE, this distro has been abandoned: “Development of nOS has stopped, existing versions will continue to work and receive updates from the package manufacturers until April 2019. The only things that will no longer be issued are updates for nOS specific software and the monthly image releases (they haven't been going for a while anyway).”

XBMC running on OpenELEC


OpenELEC, an acronym for Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center, is a Linux-based OS that runs the popular XBMC open source digital media center software. The first release of OpenELEC was in 2013 and, according to the OpenELEC Wiki, “Installing OpenELEC for Raspberry Pi from a Linux computer is a very simple process and whether you're new to Linux or a hardened *NIX user, you shouldn't have any problems.”

OpenWRT, a Linux distribution for embedded devices

OpenWrt for Raspberry Pi

OpenWrt for Raspberry Pi is “a Linux distribution for embedded devices.” Systems based on OpenWrt are most often used as routers and, with something like 3,500 optional add-on packages, its features can be tailored in pretty much anyway imaginable. Want an ultraportable, incredibly tiny wireless router that can be run anywhere? OpenWrt on a Raspberry Pi running off a battery with a USB WiFi dongle can only be described as “epic.”

Raspberry Digital Signage management interface

Raspberry Digital Signage

Raspberry Digital Signage is based on Debian Linux running on a Raspberry Pi and used in Web kiosks and digital signage (including digital photo frames). A really well thought out system, Digital Signage is designed to be easily administered while being as “hacker-proof”as possible.

Raspberry Pi Thin Client user interface based on XFCE

Raspberry Pi Thin Client

Raspberry Pi Thin Client: Creates a very low price thin client that supports Microsoft RDC, Citrix ICA, VMWare View, OpenNX and SPICE.

Raspbian Pisces R3

Raspbian Pisces R3

Raspbian Pisces R3: Another non-official distro, Raspbian Pisces created by Mike Thompson, is an SD image of Raspbian and creates a minimal Debian installation with the LXDE desktop.

Raspbian Server Edition, a stripped-down version of Raspian designed for servers

Raspbian Server Edition

Raspbian Server Edition: A stripped-down version of Raspbian with some extra packages that boots to a command prompt. It is an excellent tool to use for testing hard float compilations and running benchmarks.

Rasmpbmc home screen


Raspbmc: Yet another distro that is designed for the popular XBMC open source digital media center, Raspbmc is lightweight and robust.


RaspEX desktop with LXDE

RaspEX (Edition 150706)

RaspEX (Edition 150706): RaspEX is a full Linux desktop system with LXDE and many other useful programs pre-installed. Chromium is used as Web Browser and Synaptic as Package Manager. RaspEX uses Ubuntu’s software repositories so you can install thousands of extra packages if you want.

Raspian Debian 7.8 (“Wheezy”)

Raspian Debian 7.8 (“Wheezy”)

Raspian Debian 7.8 (“Wheezy”): The Raspian Debian “Wheezy”distro for the Raspberry Pi is a fully functional Debian Wheezy installation containing the LXDE desktop, the Epiphany browser, Wolfram Mathematica, and Scratch. It supports the Raspberry Pi and the Raspberry Pi 2 and is the current Debian version supported by the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Red Sleeve Linux with the Gnome3 desktop

Red Sleeve Linux

Red Sleeve Linux: “RedSleeve Linux is a 3rd party ARM port of a Linux distribution of a Prominent North American Enterprise Linux Vendor (PNAELV). They object to being referred to by name in the context of clones and ports of their distribution, but if you are aware of CentOS and Scientific Linux, you can probably guess what RedSleeve is based on. RedSleeve is different from CentOS and Scientific Linux in that it isn’t a mere clone of the upstream distribution it is based on –it is a port to a new platform, since the upstream distribution does not include a version for ARM.”

RISC OS is it’s own operating system and has no relation any other OS


RISC OS Pi: Originally developed and released 1987 by UK-based Acorn Computers Ltd. RISC OS is, as the RISC OS Web site claims, “its own thing –a very specialized ARM-based operating system… if you’ve not used it before, you will find it doesn’t behave quite the same way as anything else.”. RISC OS Pi has been available on the Raspberry Pi since 2012.

The SliTaz GNU/Linux Raspberry Pi distro with the JWM window manger

SliTaz GNU/Linux Raspberry Pi

The SliTaz GNU/Linux Raspberry Pi distribution is “a small operating system for a small computer! The goal is to provide a fast, minimal footprint and optimized distro for the Raspberry Pi. You can setup a wide range of system types, from servers to desktops and learning platforms.”

Windows 10 IoT Core Edition splash screen

Windows 10 IoT Core Edition

Windows 10 IoT Core Edition’s GUI stack is limited to Microsoft’s Universal App Platform so there’s no Windows desktop or even a command prompt. With PowerShell remoting you get a PowerShell terminal from which you can run Windows commands and see the output of native Win32 apps. Currently available as a preview version, there’s no support for Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Raspberry Pi

Part 2 is now here

In our next installment of Network World’s Ultimate Guide to Raspberry Pi Operating Systems we cover a whole new collection: Bodhi, Commodore Pi, FreeBSD, Gentoo, ha-pi, I2Pberry, Kano OS, MINIBIAN, motionPie, Nard, NetBSD, OSMC, PiBang Linux, PiBox, PiMAME, PiParted, Plan 9, PwnPi, and more.

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Want more Pi? Check out 10 Reasons why the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B is a killer product and MIPS Creator CI20: Sort of a challenge to the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B. What could be the next RPi? Check out Endless: A computer the rest of the world can afford and How low can we go? Introducing the $9 Linux computer!