Getting your hands on a Raspberry Pi will open up a remarkable world of computing projects, from media centres and NAS boxes to Android emulation, retro games and of course the computer’s core purpose – teaching software programming.
However in order to be able to do all of these things, you will need to know how to install software to run on the computer. This might mean anything from installing an operating system to downloading and installing applications from repositories or the Raspberry Pi Store.
None of these tasks are particularly difficult, but if you’re new to Linux then they might seem unfamiliar. The installation of an operating system for the Raspberry Pi is particularly unusual.
A New Operating System
The first way to install software on your Raspberry Pi is to get to grips with how to install an operating system.
Amazing as it may seem, installing an operating system on your Raspberry Pi requires a Windows, Mac or Linux computer. This is because the stripped down mini-computer uses an SD card as its storage device, and as the device ships without the SD card, it is left to the user to download a suitable operating system and load it onto the card.
Once this has been done, the card should be inserted into the Raspberry Pi and the device booted up. Installation will then begin as the operating system is unpacked and organized into the necessary directories. After this has happened, the chosen OS will boot. Several operating systems are available for the Raspberry Pi, including the Debian-based Raspbian and the XBMC build, Raspbmc.
Using The Command Line
After installing the operating system, you will be ready to start installing software. The first way that you can do this is via the command line.
As an example: to create the screenshots in this article I have used the scrot tool, which can be installed as follows:
sudo apt-get install scrot
The apt-get install command will search the available repositories for the software you’re looking for and download all of the required files. Note that some further interaction may be required – for instance, you may need to agree to the downloading of additional files that are related but non-essential for the software required.
Welcome To The Raspberry Pi App Store
To ease the learning curve for new Linux users over the years, the various distros (that is, different Linux versions such as Ubuntu, Mint, etc.,) have introduced a number of tools to make installing software easier. The first was a package manager which acted as a searchable interface to the various software repositories available to a particular distro, much like the command line but with a mouse-driven UI.
The second was the arrival of software centres, effectively “app stores”, and the Raspberry Pi has followed suit with the Raspberry Pi Store.
To install this you will need to start at the comment line and issue the following instruction:
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install pistore
After installation, a new icon will be present on the desktop. Double-click to open and you will see some of the available applications. The Raspberry Pi Store can be searched and full details and screenshots for the available software will be displayed.
Installing applications in the Raspberry Pi Store is typically straightforward. Begin by searching for the app you would like to install. Once you have found it, click to start downloading, signing in if prompted. You will notice that some apps require payment – this can be done by adding a payment method to your account. One thing you will notice about the Raspberry Pi store is that you cannot install multiple apps at the same time, so installation of software can appear to take some time.
There are many useful apps available for the Pi. Versions of LibreOffice, FreeCiv and OpenTTD can be installed, with many more set to arrive in the store.
With software installed on your Raspberry Pi, you can turn a small and impressive box of tricks into a portable, compact computer that can be used for a range of fascinating projects. You can find out more details on what is possible with this amazing computer by reading our Raspberry Pi Unofficial Guide.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in installing applications on this computer is the learning curve required to deal with the command line. However, most would argue that this is good practice for anyone with an interest in coding and development – the very purpose that the Raspberry Pi was created for.
However the Raspberry Pi Store is a great way for you to see what other amateur developers have been creating, and is a quick and easy way to add software to your computer.