Looking for a way to get the most out of your Raspberry Pi? Running a project that just needs something more? Odd as it may seem, Linux might be the problem, so why not consider a non-Linux operating system? Several have been released, or adapted, for use on the Raspberry Pi.
Non-Linux Raspberry Pi OS List for 2019
Looking for a Raspberry Pi operating system that isn’t Linux? These nine alternatives should suit you down to the ground:
- Windows 10
- Windows 10 IoT Core
- RISC OS
- Android Things
- Plan 9
- Chromium OS
It’s a tempting mix, isn’t it? Let’s look at each and help you decide which Raspberry Pi operating system you’re going to install next.
1. Windows 10 on the Raspberry Pi
Most Raspberry Pi users are happy with Linux for many reasons, not least because it is free to use and open source. Yet incredibly, there’s a free version of Windows 10 that will run on the Raspberry Pi 3B and 3B+.
Two tools are available: the WOA Deployer for Raspberry Pi and Windows on Raspberry Imager. Both do essentially the same thing. Once run, they prepare a version of Windows 10 on ARM that is then written to SD card.
Not sure which to choose? If you want everything to just work out of the box, choose the WOA Deployer for Raspberry Pi. Need some configuration options? Use Windows on Raspberry Imager.
Download: Windows on Raspberry Imager
2. Windows 10 IoT Core
Looking for something more functional than Windows 10? Microsoft’s dedicated internet of Things version is ideal for IoT projects. Compatible with the Raspberry Pi (and available as an option in NOOBS), Microsoft describes Windows 10 IoT Core as “…a version of Windows 10 that is optimized for smaller devices with or without a display, and that runs on the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3, Arrow DragonBoard 410c & MinnowBoard MAX. Windows 10 IoT Core utilizes the rich, extensible Universal Windows Platform (UWP) API for building great solutions.”
This makes it similar in many ways to Android Things (see below).
The difference between this and other operating systems listed here is that this is more a deployment system. With the app deployed (either from the default selection, or one you’ve developed), the Raspberry Pi essentially becomes the app.
Download: Windows 10 IoT Core
Want to know more? Try these Raspberry Pi and Windows 10 IoT projects.
Also derived from UNIX is NetBSD, more closely related to BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution), itself an extension of UNIX.
But what does BSD offer the Raspberry Pi user? Well, like Linux, BSD is open source, and UNIX-like. Many apps and utilities work on both, which means switching to BSD is the easiest option in this list. BSD has strengths that Linux does not, such as better GPIO connectivity.
Our Linux vs. BSD comparison will help you out here if you’re new to BSD.
4. OpenBSD for Raspberry Pi 3
An alternative to FreeBSD, OpenBSD for Raspberry Pi is more suited to use as a network server. Many administrators consider OpenBSD the most secure server operating system available.
So, if your aim is to find a non-Linux operating system for a server project, OpenBSD is your best option.
Beyond this distinction, OpenBSD is very alike FreeBSD. Note that a lack of SD drivers in OpenBSD means that you’ll need to install it to a USB drive. As yet there is no version of OpenBSD for the Raspberry Pi 4, so stick to the Pi 3 version instead.
Download: OpenBSD for Raspberry Pi 3
5. RISC OS
Another excellent choice is RISC OS, which has its roots in the 1980s home computing boom. Interestingly, it was developed in Cambridge, where the Raspberry Pi was conceived, and where the Raspberry Pi Foundation is based.
RISC OS is among the operating systems you can install using the NOOBS installation tool. [LINK] Fast and with a consistent user interface, RISC OS also includes a structured BASIC interpreter. If your experience of programming is rooted in the 1980s and BASIC is your root into coding, this is useful.
Despite its age, there are some good applications available for RISC OS, including a web browser. Note that you need a three-button mouse to use RISC OS; the clickable scroll wheel on your mouse should suffice.
Download: RISC OS for Raspberry Pi
You’ll find out more about RISC OS (including how to install and use it) in our dedicated installation guide.
Amazingly, it’s possible to run Android on the Raspberry Pi. While Android uses the Linux kernel, the jury is out as to whether it can be considered a Linux distribution.
Although not an official version, being able to install Android is a big plus. Combine Android with the Raspberry Pi and a touchscreen device gives you a great new way to use the computer. It’s even possible to set up the Google Play store, giving you access to all your favorite games and apps.
Several Raspberry Pi-based projects are available—look for a build for a specific Pi model for the best results.
Download: Android 9.0 Pie for Raspberry Pi
7. Android Things
Meanwhile, the IoT development platform Android Things is also available for the Raspberry Pi. This is an embedded operating system aimed at low memory and power-limited IoT devices.
Android Things supports Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi and features Weave, which Google hopes will become the default protocol for IoT.
Download: Android Things for Raspberry Pi
8. Plan 9
Released as an open-source operating system in 1992, Plan 9 has a small footprint and is targeted at developers. Its lightweight presence makes it ideal for the Raspberry Pi.
A descendent of UNIX, Plan 9 is easy to install on the Pi, much like any other compatible operating system.
Once running, you’ll initially see a command line, before the mouse driven user interface known as “rio” loads. Beware, Plan 9 appears very rudimentary, and has very little visual relationship with any operating system you’ve previously used. There is, perhaps, a similarity with RISC OS (above). However, Plan 9’s UNIX heritage will help anyone with experience of its forerunner.
This newbie guide to Plan 9 should help you get started. Meanwhile, follow these instructions to set up Plan 9 for Raspberry Pi, using a Linux PC.
Download: Plan 9 for Raspberry Pi (Manual instructions)
9. Chromium OS
A final option if you’re looking for a non-Linux Raspberry Pi operating system is Chromium OS. This is the open source version of the Chrome OS and once again relies on the Linux kernel.
Several builds of Chromium have been configured for the Raspberry Pi. However, the one you’re probably going to get the best results from is FydeOS. It’s a basic operating system that gives you the full Chrome OS-like experience on your Raspberry Pi.
Download: FydeOS (Chromium OS build for Raspberry Pi)
Chromium OS is unsuitable for accessing the GPIO, but it is perfect for using your Raspberry Pi like a desktop.
The Best Alternatives to Linux for Raspberry Pi
If you’re looking for alternative operating systems for the Raspberry Pi, there are other options. However, these are almost all Linux distributions, ported to the ARM architecture. Even those that claim to be something else (such as the Raspberry Pi version of AROS, an open source version of AmigaOS 3.1 from the early 1990s) relies on Linux for drivers.
Android aside, these operating systems are lightweight alternatives to Raspbian Stretch. If you’re wedded to Linux but looking for a Raspberry Pi distro with a small footprint, however, our guide to lightweight Raspberry Pi operating systems is worth a read.