11 Operating Systems That Run on Your Raspberry Pi

Costing just $40, the Raspberry Pi is cheap, versatile, and relatively powerful in a way its competitors are not. While most projects can be achieved with Raspbian, the Debian Linux fork, this Raspberry PI OS isn’t the only option.

So many other operating systems can run on a Raspberry Pi. Just make sure you’ve got a monitor, mouse, and keyboard to hand before you boot it up, and a fast microSD card to run your operating system of choice.

The Best Raspberry Pi Operating Systems

1. ARM-Based Linux Operating Systems

Let’s get this Raspberry Pi OS collection out of the way first. It’s estimated that there are over 80 Linux-based distributions for the Raspberry Pi. These range from Raspbian to Linutop and even PiBang.

While Raspbian is the default option (and recommended by the Raspberry Pi Foundation), you might prefer Ubuntu MATE or the lightweight OS DietPi. To get away from the Debian-based distros, there’s a choice of Pidora (a Fedora-based distribution), and Arch Linux ARM.

Then there’s Kali Linux for pen testing, and a whole host of operating system images intended for the Pi, covering so many different purposes.

For youngsters, Kano OS [Broken URL Removed] is an education distro that is available for all Pi computers, not just those sold by Kano.

Note that several operating systems (including Raspbian and Ubuntu MATE) are available via the NOOBS installer How NOOBS For Raspberry Pi Can Help First Time Users There is something about the Raspberry Pi that might just put people off: until now, setting it up has not been particularly user friendly. NOOBS aims to change that! Read More .

2. Raspberry Pi Media Centers

If you want to use your Raspberry Pi as a media center there is a good selection available. Although these operating systems are invariably built on Raspbian/Debian, they’re also based on Kodi, the popular media center software. What you get with these systems is a disk image to install How to Install an Operating System on a Raspberry Pi Here's how to install an OS on your Raspberry Pi and how to clone your perfect setup for quick disaster recovery. Read More , just as you would any other Raspberry Pi operating system.

So, what’s available? Well, versions of OpenELEC [Broken URL Removed] are available for all consumer models of the Raspberry Pi.

Meanwhile, OSMC is compatible with the Raspberry Pi 1, 2, 3 and Zero, with regular updates available via the dedicated admin screen. It’s also available as an option in NOOBS.

Finally, LibreELEC is also available, with the easiest installation thanks to an SD card creation tool for Raspberry Pi 2 and 3 users.


RISC OS for Raspberry Pi

The Cambridge-developed RISC OS was the first operating system for ARM processors, developed in the 1980s. It gained widespread use in the Acorn Archimedes, found in education institutions in the mid-1990s, eventually being replaced by Windows-based PCs.

However, RISC OS remains relevant and easy to setup.

For the best results, you’ll need a mouse with a clickable scroll wheel, as the RISC OS user interface requires a three-buttoned mouse. Once installed, you’ll find free applications in Packman, and commercial options in the Store app

You can install RISC OS using the NOOBS installer tool, linked to above, or download RISC OS for manual installation.

4. Plan 9

If you’re looking for an alternative to desktop operating systems, the UNIX-like Plan 9 might be the answer. This is a barebones open source OS, designed by the same team behind the original UNIX.

The microSD card image can be written in the usual way, and booting will take you almost immediately into the Plan 9 OS.

In truth, a purely command line user interface may be difficult to get to grips with. However, if you have UNIX experience or want to sample that sort of computing, Plan 9 is a good place to start. And if you need some tips, check out this guide on Raspberry Pi terminal commands Raspberry Pi Terminal Commands: A Quick Guide for Raspberry Pi Users Want to get the most out of your Raspberry Pi? Take full control with these Raspberry Pi terminal commands. Read More .

5. Retro Gaming for Raspberry Pi

Back to Linux, and there are a pair of retro gaming operating systems that you can install on the Raspberry Pi. These tools—both running on Raspbian/Debian—enable you to launch game ROMs and emulators and feature slick user console-inspired interfaces that can be browsed with a game controller.

Several retro suites are available for you to choose from.

RetroPie offers emulation of a wide collection of retro platforms from the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. Its main rival is RecalBox, which supports for some later systems that RetroPie does not.

Prefer to steer clear of these? Other options are available.

Lakka is considered ” a lightweight Linux distribution that transforms a small computer into a full blown emulation console,” while the Pi Entertainment System (PES) is a collection of emulators based on Arch Linux.

PiPlay, meanwhile, is a compact alternative that squeezes emulation of 12 platforms plus ScummVM onto your Raspberry Pi.

Remember: when using an emulator, you will usually need boot and game ROMs. To use these legally, you should have previously purchased the original systems and the games.

For more details, check our guide for everything you need to know about retro gaming on the Raspberry Pi Retro Gaming on Raspberry Pi: Understanding ROMs, RetroPie, Recalbox, and More The Raspberry Pi is ideal for playing classic video games. Here's how to get started with retro gaming on your Raspberry Pi. Read More .

6. FreeBSD

BSD is not Linux, but it looks like Linux and works in much the same way. Descended from Research Unix via the Berkeley Software Distribution (hence “BSD”), FreeBSD (or large chunks of its code) is one of the most widely used operating systems in the world.

You’ll find FreeBSD code in macOS, the Nintendo Switch, and Sony’s PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.

Running on a Raspberry Pi is largely a command line-focused experience, albeit one with the ability to launch applications and games. A surprisingly large collection of software is available for FreeBSD, so if you haven’t checked it out already, now is the time—on your Raspberry Pi!

The dedicated RaspBSD operating system is available to download (visit the FreeBSD wiki for more information).

For an alternative, consider NetBSD.

7. Chromium OS

Based on the same code as Chrome OS, Chromium OS can be installed on netbooks, laptops… and the Raspberry Pi. With Chromium OS installed, you’ll have access to the same cloud-based tools found on Chrome OS. (Check out more details on using Chrome OS on Raspberry Pi.)

In fact, there’s a project right here: build your own Chromebook with a Raspberry Pi! This project is in continuous development, so new features might be introduced (or removed) compared to the video above.

Several Chromium OS-based projects for the Pi are in progress. Perhaps the most polished is Flint OS, although you have a strong alternative in Chromium OS for All.

8. Windows 10 IoT Core

Let’s be clear: Windows 10 IoT Core for Raspberry Pi is not Windows 10 as you know it.  Rather, it is a rebadged version of Windows Embedded, and has no desktop environment. Its purpose—as evidenced by “IoT”—is as an Internet of Things OS.

This means that the Pi can be used for IoT development purposes, but for the best results you’ll need to connect remotely to the Windows 10 IoT Core device from a different PC.

From here, you can deploy software from Visual Studio to it. A Raspberry Pi under Windows 10 IoT Core will also run Python apps.

Note, however, that it’s a bit of a development cul-de-sac. While useful for a specific set of tasks, Windows 10 IoT Core isn’t a Linux replacement for the Raspberry Pi.

Here’s our guide for installing Windows 10 IoT Core on your Raspberry Pi How to Install Windows 10 IoT Core on Raspberry Pi 3 Windows 10 is available on a range of devices, including the Raspberry Pi, thanks to the Windows 10 IoT Core. Learn what it is and how to get started. Read More :

9. Android and Android Things

Amazingly, it’s also possible to run Android on a Raspberry Pi. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise—Android seems to run on just about anything these days, from PCs to set-top boxes. You can even build an Android tablet from scratch for Raspberry Pi How to Build Your Own Android Tablet With Raspberry Pi Fancy building your own tablet? Here's how to build an Android tablet for under $100 with a Raspberry Pi and touchscreen display. Read More .

Various versions of Android are available for the Pi, with the current versions based on Android 7.0 Nougat. Some Android TV builds are also in development at the time of writing.

As you might expect, installing Android on your Raspberry Pi gives you access to the vast collection of Android apps and games. There may be some compatibility issues, but overall stability is good. You can find a copy of the most up-to-date version at the Android Pi Wiki.

10. AROS: AmigaOS Remake

One of the most popular operating systems of yesteryear, AmigaOS is a closed source project currently owned by Amiga, Inc, and licensed exclusively and perpetually to Hyperion Entertainment. Several clones have been developed over the years (most notably MorphOS), but only AROS is available for the Pi.

As you can see from the demo, some games and applications are available, and you should find the modern Amiga-like experience worthwhile. Download it from the AROS website.

Note that you can also emulate an Amiga on your PC How to Emulate a Commodore Amiga on Your PC Want to emulate one of the classic 16-bit consoles, the Commodore Amiga? Here's how to do it on any system! Read More , and use any of the applications and games from its vast library.

11. IchigoJam BASIC RPi

Finally, IchigoJam BASIC has been ported to the Raspberry Pi.

Designed for the low-power, sub-Raspberry Pi single board IchigoJam computer from Japan, IchigoJam BASIC RPi is designed for low level, basic computing.

The operating system was designed to make programming in the BASIC language easy, and has support for digital I/O, PWM, I2C, and UART functions.

If you’re looking for a language to get to grips with and you’re new to programming, try IchigoJam BASIC RPi. Otherwise, have a look at Rust How to Get Started With Rust on Raspberry Pi Looking for a way to get started with Rust? Here's how to build a basic hardware program with Rust on the Raspberry Pi. Read More .

So Many Raspberry Pi Operating Systems!

You can do almost anything with a Raspberry Pi, from running a low budget space program to streaming PC games to taking your Raspberry Pi projects on the go 3 Raspberry Pi Battery Packs for Portable Projects A Raspberry Pi battery can make a regular Pi into a portable computer. You'll need one of these battery solutions to get started. Read More .

While the hardware is good, the Raspberry Pi’s success rests in the wide selection of operating systems available.

With Linux-based operating systems, the legendary RISC OS and AmigaOS, and even Windows 10 IoT Core, you would be hard pushed to find so many choices for any of the Raspberry Pi’s competitors.

For more help with your Raspberry Pi, check out our guide on how to add a power button to Raspberry Pi How to Add a Power Button to Your Raspberry Pi Want an ordered shutdown for your Raspberry Pi? Here's how to add a power switch and shutdown script to the Raspberry Pi. Read More .

Explore more about: Linux Distro, Operating Systems, Raspberry Pi.

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  1. kubik256
    January 6, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    Nice, but I'm missing Armbian (my favourite) in Debian based distros and MotionEyeOS for build smart IP cam from Raspberry - it is featurefull and very smart system ;)

  2. KT
    December 21, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    I bought a 32 gig sd card for $20 with over 10,000 games and Retro pie on it. Most of them work flawlessly and every controller I've used works great! I want to build a kodi card for it to free up my pc.

  3. Robert Lucas
    October 24, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    The Raspberry Pi OS should include the coding for 3.2" and 3.5" LCD panels .

  4. Alexander Luiz Marinho da Silva
    September 6, 2018 at 10:46 am

    I would like of this article, it was very mater for me, bacause i was how very dudes if Android will work in Raspberry or no. Thanks for all, I am Alex, from Brazil.

  5. Ron
    June 2, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    I think I have tried and run most every OS there i s on my PI's, 90% of which, i had booting straight from hard drive! My all time favourite is definitely Q4OS with Trinity desktop and for pure stability / tenacity, Ubuntu Mate. Both of them boot directly from hard drive and have never given me a single problem. I keep an image backup of both just in case, but thankfully have never had to use one! Must say a close third would be Solydxk which also runs very stable and reliably. Fortunately all three use conventional console commands. For a really pretty desktop try Q4 with KDE plasma......not for the faint hearted.

    • cuvtixo
      October 9, 2018 at 3:42 pm

      Ron, do you use the Western Digital RPi Hard Drive kit? Or did you get a stock PC drive work on RPis? Just a USB connection to be good to go?

      • Ron
        October 11, 2018 at 7:10 pm

        I have used several different hard drives to boot the pi3 directly without the use of SD. Simple rules to stick with
        a/ you need a second machine with linux so that you can access the fstab file in /etc, as this needs to be altered to reflect the attached media.
        b/ edit the cmdline.txt to point the firmware to sda2 as the filesystem! You may have one or two problems with mouse and keyboard not working but that is down to the wrong modules in /lib/modules. I had to experiment using modules from other distros sometimes. Basically I have made it run consistently even from 2 terabyte drives and small external 250G USB drives for laptops. Don't give up on first try! Sometimes the drive needs to be running just before the PI boots but all in all I must say I am very pleased with the results. I have quite a few PI's from 1 up and they all do as promised.

  6. helpful55
    January 20, 2018 at 11:10 pm

    If it isn't too large I was thinking of allowing all of the noobs OS's so they will be there if I want to boot to other than raspbian to try. But can I also install android with the rest and have it in that list of bootable options? If so how do I do that part? And can the default first boot option be changed easily? Thanks.

    • Thea Blanca
      February 10, 2018 at 4:04 pm

      In short: Raspberry PI doesn't multiboot. It's far too small and restricted for that. Since it runs of regular microsd cards, my personal recommendation is to get more than one card and simply install whatever you want on the cards. One OS at a time. Really recommend that you look into how to manually flash the storage cards with the OS you want to try.

      • Alexis
        March 31, 2018 at 1:47 am

        Well, I think it does. If you know how to play with bootloaders. You can also check out BerryBoot. Just download it, extract contents to micro sd card and run RPi. You can then either download your images from the net, or select them from a usb source. Have fun experimenting!!! The OnLy way to LeArN...!!

      • chuckles
        May 22, 2019 at 4:14 pm

        All you have to do is get the SD card of your choice, even a 128gb, and format it with Fat32 and you can put several OS's with BerryBoot. I have 64gb with several OS's to play with. Most OS's are under 2 GB in size and will run on a 4GB SD. Fat32 is the key.