Editor’s Note: This article was updated to clarify some details and to include new information.
You already know the Raspberry Pi 2, unless you’ve been living in a parallel universe free from any sort of online blogs and international daily newspapers.
So, after a few weeks since the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the prototyping board, I’m wondering which is the shortest path from the Raspberry Pi 2 to a mobile phone, robot, multimedia center or a simple desktop? A building kit? A company with an army of engineers and developers? No. None of these.
The secret is the operating system. Rather than a building kit with sensors or an LCD touchscreen, a multimedia keyboard or the most advanced 3D virtual reality glasses, the operating system is the professor who teaches his students to do many things.
From the wild paradise of operating systems, I’ve selected nine different programs which manage the Pi 2 resources. Eight of these operating systems are Linux-based, and only one is based on Windows.
If you’re one of the millions of Linux users, I have no doubt that you already know that the operating systems based on the Linux kernel includes Raspbian, Arch Linux ARM, OSMC, OpenELEC, Snappy Ubuntu Core, Ubuntu MATE, Debian Jessie, Windows and Android. If all these eight programs have a family relationship to manage the Pi resources, Windows is like a child who tries to get attention. Even so, maybe Windows will be the biggest surprise in a world of big guys with tattoos. We will see.
Like any other Pi owner, I want to know when I should choose an OS and when another one. So far, I’ve heard just run Debian or run Raspbian, run Arch Linux ARM or OpenELEC…
Above all, there is no “best” operating system.
But even so, which are the important features of each operating system?
The majority of Pi users recommend Raspbian. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is on the same line and recommends the same operating system. But why?
Raspbian is an operating system easy to use and with a good support around the world. More than that, Raspbian is an unofficial port of Debian Wheezy – a respectable Linux distribution.
The Raspbian OS is simple and familiar. Also it’s the best platform for teaching beginner users to work with Pi. Once the Linux operating system becomes familiar for you, it’s like riding the bicycle; you will never forget how to do it.
Like any respectable product, Raspbian features include the latest available applications, which is a great thing if you want to consider Raspberry Pi as a general computer.
Digging deep into Raspbian specifications, I’ve found that the operating system has support for the Raspberry Pi’s floating-point unit. And that’s great because this point is missing on the specs list of other operating systems such as Debian – the father of Raspbian.
The Raspbian features include multimedia and graphics packages as default software, and if you need more for your Raspberry Pi, you can add additional working packages with internet browsers, messaging, office software suites, etc.
Interacting with the Raspbian
It’s clear that this operating system competes as the best OS for beginners. A competition where the operating system doesn’t play for money, and it’s not about gambling.
It’s a friendly OS which boots automatically with the user-friendly LXDE GUI. This GUI looks friendly and can introduce easily any beginner into the world of Linux. More than that, you can alter Raspbian with additional packages to give it a look and feel on the same line with your preferences.
The Raspbian community
We should always appreciate a product based on the community that keeps the information and support at a high level. From this point of view, the Raspbian is appreciated and recommended in the makers and hackers culture. Also, it has a big community with a special focus on Raspberry Pi and everything related to DIY projects.
Here is the link where you can check the latest updates and download fresh versions of Raspbian.
Arch Linux ARM
For some time, Arch Linux ARM is one of the simplest operating systems available for the Pi users. This operating system is based on Arch Linux and provides only a frame that allows you to shape the OS to your needs. It’s like a LEGO kit that allows you to create with bricks, sensors and actuators almost any structure.
With graphical interface or with command line interface?
Its simplicity comes from a noble aim. Arch Linux ARM has a design that allows users to have a full control over the environment. For this reason, the Arch image for Raspberry Pi doesn’t come with a graphical interface.
Sometimes this kind of simplicity can bring benefits, but can also bring trouble. If you haven’t worked so far with a command line interface, you can choose to install a graphical user interface. First, you have to learn about administration and configuration.
With or without a graphical interface, this Linux distribution is intended for makers who are already familiar with Linux or for beginners with a high interest to learn Linux.
Enjoy the benefits of a great support
A good documentation with explanations and useful information is always in great demand.
In other words, you find all the answers you need in the manuals, beginner’s guide, or through the very friendly and helpful community.
Because it’s free, you can download and install the Arch Linux ARM image whenever you need.
My journey through the world of operating systems compatible with Raspberry Pi 2 continue with OSMC or Open Source Media Center. The OSMC system is the successor of Raspbmc and it’s designed to provide the same features as Raspbmc.
Raspberry Pi is a great platform for multimedia applications, and it needs to run an operating system such OSMC.
OSMC is good for media center stuff
The OS allows you to watch TV using a tuner, play music, or play video using the PlayOn Media Server from premium services such as Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon. In addition, you can play smooth and clear video files from USB storage devices or browse through your library of images.
Installation and add-ons
It should be easy to download, install and customize the OS with your preferred add-ons. The operating system is installed via an installer that can work for Windows, Linux, and Mac.
About add-ons, this is the sweetest part. You can customize your OSMC system from hundreds of user-built add-ons to enhance the ability of Pi to play music, video and display vivid photos.
You have at least two options to transform your Raspberry Pi into a media center. OpenELEC is on the same line with OSMC. It’s a good operating system to play video, watch TV and play music.
OpenELEC is different from other operating systems that run on Pi. This operating system was built to run the open source entertainment media hub – Kodi(formerly known as XBMC).
You can download the OpenELEC image for free and run it on your Pi 2.
Snappy Ubuntu Core
Ubuntu or ‘humanity to others,’ is an ancient African word that means a lot in the Linux community. The first Ubuntu version (Ubuntu 4.10) is almost a teenager released eleven years ago. Now the OS has been reinvented and spread around the world in what means – Internet of Things.
Once Raspberry Pi doubled the RAM memory to 1GB, the fruit-named computer has fully supported the Ubuntu OS. In fact, there is a fresh version available for Ubuntu that fits like a glove into Raspberry Pi 2. It’s about Snappy Ubuntu Core.
The Canonical Ltd., Ubuntu community and the Raspberry Pi Foundation collaborate to develop the Snappy Ubuntu Core. The idea is to build a powerful operating system for connecting devices and an easy to use platform for robots and automation.
Like an African tribe member who breaks the color spectrum with a colorful traditional jewelry, the Ubuntu promises to break the barriers of customization and gives the users total power. The operating system is able to provide easy updates and is capable to provide extra-reliable construction. All of these in the meaning of keeping the system safe and not losing the control of your robot.
What you can build with Snappy
For any maker and hacker that plays with Snappy, is a great way to use Pi 2 and learn about robots, drones, smart devices and cloud computing. It’s the simplest and safest way to invade what means the Internet of Things. You can develop, simulate and run applications in a friendly style and with minimum resources. More than that, Ubuntu is appreciated as being a secure platform that can bring secure connections in the cloud.
The most successful cloud application for Ubuntu Core is the Erle-Copter. This drone can stay secure in the air and is able to receive upgrades with additional capabilities via an app store. This is a normal step ahead into a connected world that announces a fierce competition in this way.
Ubuntu Snappy can jump from a platform to another without losing its focus. In the DIY area, the operating system is running on development boards such as BeagleBone Black and Odroid-C1.
Snappy aim is to bring all the knowledge from the Ubuntu Touch (also known as Ubuntu Phone) and deliver the enormous Ubuntu ecosystem in the new generation of development boards. It contains a new AppArmor packaging tool able to keep the applications isolated from one to another. In other words, the Snappy packaging system is the developers’ effort to make the life easier for the makers.
The Ubuntu Core has attracted like a magnet the developers involved in sophisticated projects such as robot vision, self-driving cars, space missions, smart display systems, etc. With so many applications and thousands of users, a large community waits the moment to lend a helping hand to other users who surround the new Ubuntu version.
Because it’s free and open-source, you can always download a version and run it on Raspberry Pi.
Many of you would say Ubuntu and again Ubuntu. There are many operating systems in existence that start with Ubuntu, but the name can’t tell you everything about what an operating system can do.
Ubuntu MATE has a very active community that works hard to release a version of Ubuntu MATE for Raspberry Pi 2. It’s about the Ubuntu 15.04. This is the first official version that supports the new Pi 2, if we ignore Ubuntu Snappy Core, which is different and plays in another league.
The Ubuntu 15.04 version comes with a code name: Vivid Vervet. The Vivid Vervet image offers interesting features and improvements in the core of the high definition area for video.
Is this good for a desktop?
In other words, MATE is a good desktop choice for Pi 2 users. The default image comes with applications that remind us by the Raspbian.
The image comes with the MATE Desktop Environment, which is an attractive desktop environment able to provide an intuitive interface.
The MATE Desktop Environment includes a good selection of applications such as Shotwell image viewer and organizer, Mozilla Thunderbird email client and Mozilla Firefox web browser, LibreOffice office suite, Pidgin multi-protocol instant messenger, Rhythmbox audio player, or Transmission torrent downloader.
Download and installation
The Ubuntu MATE image is ready for download, and like any other Linux distributions, the MATE image is free.
Having four versions, the Debian OS is on the right track to prove the UNIX origins on Raspberry Pi:
- The first version of Debian for Pi was Debian Squeeze;
- After Squeeze, the next major Debian release for the same Pi was Debian Wheezy;
- The Raspbian (Wheezy with enhancements) is the third Debian release for Pi;
- The current major release is for Raspberry Pi 2 with the codename Debian Jessie (Debian 8.0);
In addition to these versions, the Debian team has in plans to release two new versions: Debian 9.0 with the codename Stretch and Debian 10 with the codename Buster.
Debian Jessie features
Debian Jessie includes desktop environment tools required for a modern desktop computing experience such as KDE “Plasma”, GNOME, Xfce, LXDE, and MATE.
From a modern desktop computer cannot miss a browser such as Iceweasel (a web browser based on Firefox) and Chromium. In addition, the system includes office tools like LibreOffice and educational toolbox like GCompris. In other words, Jessie is the right operating system to transform Raspberry Pi 2 into a modern desktop computer.
Jessie plays in the main league of Pi together with other Linux operating systems. It’s in this game with more than 42000 packages available for installation and with a good selection of utilities and applications.
Moreover, because Jessie holds the line of free operating systems, you can download the OS from here and test its features on your Pi 2.
We don’t have to forget that the Raspberry Pi Foundation designs a product as an educational platform for teaching programming and electronics skills. Once with the Windows OS, the Pi platform breaks the barrier of Linux distributions and expands the audience in schools where the Windows compatible software is required.
If the compatibility of Pi with Windows is like a new book in the library, for Windows is like a trip to the Moon and back. The Microsoft engineers want to extend the makers community with the new Windows Developer Program especially in the Internet of Things area.
Almost all we have already known about the PC version of Windows OS (menu, icons, features, etc.) will most likely disappear from the Windows version compatible with Pi 2. Windows 10 for Raspberry Pi is a consumer-centric version designed to bring Windows development tools to small devices.
The good news is that the Windows 10 design is for makers who love to dig deep into developing applications having the Microsoft’s developer tools suit. The best news is that this version of Windows 10 is free and includes support for both Raspberry Pi and Intel Galileo.
With a vision that includes a world that is more mobile and grounded in trust, the Windows 10 is a flexible platform with support for a wide range of devices including tablets, smartphones, PC’s, Xbox and the Internet of Things.
Join the Windows community
With a whole community on its track and under development, the Windows 10 is still waiting around the corner for a release day. For more information, you can check the Microsoft website.
Note: Only if anyone will work on an Android image for Raspberry Pi 2. The Raspberry Pi Foundation does not intend to develop one.
With a 900MHz CPU and 1GB of RAM, Raspberry Pi 2 has specifications comparable to a mid-range smartphone. These numbers make many users express a deep interest in installing Google’s mobile operating system Android on Raspberry Pi 2.
Since any Raspberry Pi system includes a mouse and a keyboard, for a Raspberry Pi Android system the same accessories are quite limited. The best option to take advantage of all the features of the operating system is to use a touchscreen attached to Pi.
Android is a pretty good-looking operating system with decent animation, a large variety of themes and decent applications.
So, after few years of blogging, I’m still walking around robots, coffee, and I’m mining around for good information.
Using Pi should be fun as the first computer in everyone’s life experience, but at a fraction of the cost. Depending what do you want to do with your Pi 2, in the morning you can wake up with a mini Linux computer and in the evening you can fall asleep having in mind a smartphone idea.
The simplicity matters and you need only a simple guide to install any of these operating systems.
You don’t need a Ph.D. to install the OS and use Pi 2. All you need is imagination and a little craziness to try, fail, try again, get better, and so on.
With these nine operating systems for Raspberry Pi 2, you’ll be prepared to dominate what the fruit-name single board computer gives you with the new ARMv7 multicore processor and a full gigabyte of RAM.