DIY Linux

23 Operating Systems That Run on Your Raspberry Pi

Christian Cawley Updated 19-03-2020

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.

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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 Desktop Operating Systems

It’s estimated that there are over 80 Linux-based distributions for the Raspberry Pi. Most of these are for universal and desktop use.

Note that several operating systems (including Raspbian and Ubuntu MATE) can be installed 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 . Using that tool, you’ll also find media center software and emulation suites, both of which you can find below.

1. Raspbian

Recommended by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, Raspbian is the first stop on the journey of learning with the Pi. Raspbian is packed full of tools and features to make the best universal use of your PCB (printed computer board). It’s also a great introduction to Linux.

Raspbian is part of most Raspberry Pi distros and is compatible with every version of the computer.

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2. Ubuntu MATE

Install Ubuntu MATE on your Raspberry Pi 3

If you prefer the more straightforward Linux feel, Ubuntu MATE is available for the Raspberry Pi 2 and later. Featuring support all of the Pi’s hardware including the GPIO and USB booting, Ubuntu MATE has raspi-config pre-installed. Steam Link and Minecraft: Pi Edition are optional extras.

Ubuntu MATE is available for the Raspberry Pi Model B 2, 3, and 3+. See what we thought of Ubuntu MATE on the Raspberry Pi 3 How to Get Ubuntu Running on Your Raspberry Pi Raspbian Jessie is a great Raspberry Pi operating system. But what if you want a more traditional Linux experience? Well, you could go ahead and install Ubuntu instead. Read More .

3. DietPi

Arguably the lightest Raspberry Pi distro available, DietPi runs on a highly optimized version of Debian. DietPi images are as small as 400MB in size, making it three times lighter than the slimline Raspbian Lite.

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We took an in-depth look at DietPi Need a Lightweight Raspberry Pi Distro? Try DietPi! Raspbian Lite is the most popular lightweight Raspberry Pi distro but is it the best? Learn about the popular alternative, DietPi. Read More to see what’s on offer. DietPi is available for all Raspberry Pi models.

4. Arch Linux ARM

Most Raspberry Pi distros are based on Raspbian, itself a derivative of Debian. Arch Linux is an increasingly popular Linux flavor, aimed at competent users—so it’s not ideal for beginners. Once you’ve got to grips with Raspbian, however, Arch Linux is ideal.

Versions of Arch Linux ARM are available for all Raspberry Pi B boards (original, Pi 2, 3, and 4).

5. FydeOS: Chromium OS for Raspberry Pi

Pre-installed Chrome OS apps

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Based on the same code as Google’s 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.

See our guide on installing Chromium OS on Raspberry Pi How to Use Chrome OS on a Raspberry Pi Can't afford a Chromebook? Looking for an alternative to Raspbian? Here's how to install a version of Chrome OS on your Raspberry Pi. Read More with FydeOS.

6. Windows 10 ARM

If you’re looking for a challenge and want to install Windows 10 on your Raspberry Pi 3, you can.

This is thanks to the WOA Deployer, which installs the ARM release of Windows 10 to microSD. This can then be used to boot your Raspberry Pi with Windows 10!

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7. Android

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 almost anything, 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 Android builds are available for the Pi, giving you access to the vast collection of Android apps and games. There may be some compatibility issues, but overall stability is good.

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.

Note that rather than a full disk image, you can install Kodi on any standard Raspberry Pi OS Raspberry Pi Media Center: How to Install Kodi on Raspbian If you want to turn your Raspberry Pi into a media center but you only have one microSD card, installing Kodi on Raspbian is the way to go. Read More .

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8. OpenELEC

Developed to turn your Pi (or other PCB) into a Kodi media center, OpenELEC is a HTPC operating system. This means that its single aim is to utilize computer resources purely towards media browsing and playback.

OpenELEC is available for Raspberry Pi models up to Raspberry Pi 3.

9. OSMC

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.

With arguably the better user interface of all Raspberry Pi Kodi options, OSMC is surprisingly lightweight.

10. Xbian

Fast and lightweight, Xbian does something a bit different. Like the base OS, Debian, it incorporates rolling releases. The other Kodi options for Raspberry Pi don’t do this—Xbian delivers improvements and bugfixes quicker than its competitors.

Xbian runs on the Raspberry Pi up to 3B+.

11. LibreELEC

Finally, LibreELEC is also available, with the easiest installation thanks to an SD card creation tool.

LibreELEC runs on all consumer Raspberry Pi boards including the Raspberry Pi 4.

Retro Gaming Operating Systems for Raspberry Pi

A bunch of retro gaming operating systems can be installed on the Raspberry Pi. These tools—both running on Raspbian/Debian—enable you to launch game ROMs and emulators.

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 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 . The following retro gaming systems work on all Raspberry Pi models.

12. RetroPie

The original Raspberry Pi retro gaming solution, RetroPie offers emulation of a wide collection of retro platforms from the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s.

With RetroPie, you can play almost any classic games, even those from arcade machines. It’s all dressed up with the EmulationStation user interface.

13. RecalBox

The main rival to RetroPie is RecalBox. This system tends to issue emulators for some later systems that sooner than RetroPie. For example, the Dreamcast emulator for Raspberry Pi How to Play Dreamcast Games on Raspberry Pi With RetroPie If you want to emulate Dreamcast games on Raspberry Pi, you can't use RecalBox. Here's what you need to do instead. Read More was issued for Recalbox before RetroPie.

14. Lakka

Considered “a lightweight Linux distribution that transforms a small computer into a full-blown emulation console,” Lakka is a smart retro gaming platform.

The official Linux distro of RetroArch and libretro, Lakka is available for numerous PCBs as well as Windows and macOS.

15. Pi Entertainment System (PES)

PES is a collection of emulators based on Arch Linux. It handles emulation for 22 platforms, tracks achievements via RetroAchievements.org, and includes Kodi.

Written in Python, PES is a more hobbyist approach to retro gaming.

Specialist Operating Systems for Raspberry Pi

Unusual, eclectic, and downright frustrating operating systems are available for the Raspberry Pi.

16. Kali Linux

Kali Linux is for penetration testing and security auditing. This means that you use the operating system and its installed tools to test the integrity of the connected network.

Different builds are available for the Raspberry Pi, Pi Zero, and the Raspberry Pi 2, 3, and 4.

17. 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 is one of the most widely used operating systems in the world.

You’ll find FreeBSD code in macOS, the Nintendo Switch, and the Sony PS3 and PS44.

Use the command line to launch applications and games. A surprisingly large collection of software is available for FreeBSD. Use your Raspberry Pi to check out FreeBSD—it’s available for all versions of the Raspberry Pi B board. Visit the FreeBSD wiki for more information.

18. RISC OS Pi

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

For compatibility, use a mouse with a clickable scroll wheel to suit the RISC OS three-button mouse-driven user interface. Once installed, you’ll find free applications in Packman, and commercial options in the Store app.

RISC OS is compatible with all Raspberry Pis up to and including 3B+, including Pi Zero and Compute boards.

19. 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.

Booting will take you almost immediately into the famously difficult Plan 9 OS, a command line-driven UNIX-like experience. Need some tips? Check our Raspberry Pi terminal commands guides 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 .

20. motionEyeOS

Looking for a way to set up home security software and webcams with your Raspberry Pi?

motionEyeOS runs on all Raspberry Pi boards, including Raspberry Pi 4, Zero, and Compute. It supports USB webcams and the Pi’s own camera, and you can even sync captured footage to Google Drive. Simple to set up, if you’re looking for a DIY home security OS, try this.

21. IchigoJam

IchigoJam BASIC has been ported to the Raspberry Pi. This is an OS initially designed for the low-power, sub-Raspberry Pi single board IchigoJam computer from Japan. Similarly, 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.

Develop Internet of Things Projects With Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a great Internet of Things (IoT) platform, thanks to its size, connectivity, and power.

22. Windows 10 IoT Core

Different to the Windows 10 you know, Windows 10 IoT Core OS for Raspberry Pi 3 has no desktop environment. Its purpose is as an Internet of Things development OS. 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. Just remember: Installing Windows 10 IoT Core on 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 isn’t a replacement for Linux.

23. Android Things

For more IoT fun, consider Android Things, an IoT development platform version of Android. Use it to connect apps through Google services, access hardware such as displays ands cameras via the Android framework, develop in Android Studio.

A smart alternative to Windows IoT Core, Android Things is a Raspberry Pi 3 operating system only.

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.

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, Kodi, and even Windows 10 IoT Core, the choice is considerable. Simply choose an operating system, confirm board compatibility, and download.

Ready to go? Here’s how to install a Raspberry Pi operating system 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 .

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

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  1. geert
    March 30, 2020 at 2:59 am

    If you want easy Arch, manjaro does a great job !

  2. 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 ;)

  3. 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.

  4. 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 .

  5. 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.

  6. 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

        Hi
        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.

  7. 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.