Who can argue with a $40 computer? Especially one that also forms a good base for electronics projects! I certainly can’t. But the hardware alone is only one side of the story: you still need to run an operating system. Join me today as I explore 7 different OSes you can install on your Raspberry Pi, right now. Disclaimer: some are significantly more useful that others.
Three different flavours of Linux are available officially: Pidora (based on Fedora); Archlinux (a DIY OS); and Raspian (Debian).
Raspian is the recommended OS for everyone new to the Raspberry Pi, but if you fancy trying out some of the others too, a new tool from the creators of Raspberry Pi has been released which allows you to choose from a selection of images during boot-up (including some of the others on this list).
OpenElec & XBMC
OpenElec is a slimmed down and optimized OS specifically made for running XBox Media Centre. Unlike Raspbmc, OpenElec doesn’t contain anything other than the bare minimum, so it’s more difficult to install other packages, for instance. Consequently, the selection of add-ons available is much smaller (no emulators, gasp!) – but it does offer better performance.
It’s my current choice of media center having functionally replaced my Windows 8 PC in the living room.
Considering how easy it is to swap out an SD card for making a Pi multipurpose, OpenElec is definitely a great way to enjoy the core XBMC experience. Download a ready-made image here which includes a good selection of streaming plugins like IceFilms, and some metadata pre-downloaded for the most popular shows. You can also speed up the system by running from a USB stick after the initial SD boot.
We also a have a nice tutorial here on the hardware you’ll need for your own Pi Media Center.
RetroPie is a universal emulator, which means it can pretty much play any ROM you throw at it, although Playstation games don’t work so well (that is kind of pushing the Pi, don’t you think?). Technically built on Raspian, but this comes as a prebuilt OS image you can download.
Christian has written a full guide to getting RetroPi up and running, so head over there for emulation heaven.
A nice 1080p GUI awaits you in this retro environment specifically built for the ARM , by the team who designed the original ARM processor. Though it might seem unfamiliar to you, RISC was actually commonplace in British schools in the early 90s.
Some basic apps are included, but for a small fee you can even upgrade to a full Office suite.
Not quite the sleek new phone UI you’ve been seeing, but a combination of Firefox and PTXdist-built Linux. It’s very much a work in progress, and doesn’t actually support any input devices yet – so purely used as a public information terminal. Check out this page for a ready made image if you dare.
Do you like being tortured? Then you’ll love Plan 9 from Bell Labs, a barebones open-source unix-like OS with primitive GUI that fully supports UTF8 filenames (I know, exciting stuff). It was designed by the same people who created the original UNIX, so that must mean it’s good. Download an SD image here, and strap yourself in for literally minutes of hardcore fun (and don’t forget this newbie guide).
Why would you actually want to run Plan 9? I’m sorry, I don’t have a clue.
Broadcom was working on an official build of Android 4.0 which would be video accelerated, but work on the project has seemingly died with no news in a year .
You can however download an older Android 2.3 build which, while technically accomplished, is also too slow to be useable.
Wearable computing is all the rage, and I know the first thing I’ll be doing to prepare for the coming apocalypse is making a functional Pipboy, which is precisely what this ingenious cosplayer managed.
Ok, it’s not actually an operating system as such, but it is a bit of Python code that makes it look like you have a Pipboy. Which is pretty awesome, really.
Did I miss any – what are your favourite OSes for a Pi? Let us know in the comments, while I grab some ROMs and settle down for some retro fun. If you need a little juice from your PC, you can always try overclocking it.