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Linux Distributions Raspberry Pi

20 Best Operating Systems You Can Run on Raspberry Pi in 2020

Raspberry Pi Operating Systems
Written by Divine Okoi
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We haven’t covered any major thing on the Raspberry Pi since our article on the 8 New Raspbian Features to Start Using on Your Raspberry Pi close to a year ago. No one needs to state how successful the Raspberry Pi has been since its inception till date, thus, the factor behind this article.

Today, we bring you a list of the best Linux distributions you can run on the Raspberry Pi perfectly. But before we delve into that list, let me brief you on NOOBS.

NOOBS

The Raspberry Pi supports several OSes and as such usually comes without one. Most of the time, however, it ships with an SD card that includes NOOBS (New Out Of the Box Software) – an OS that includes of a variety of Operating Systems from which you can choose which to or you to choose which to run on your Raspberry Pi setup.

While you can buy an SD card with NOOBS pre-installed, you can set it up yourself by following the instructions on the Raspberry Pi website.

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This list includes the Operating Systems typically in NOOBS and more.

1. Raspbian

Raspbian is a Debian-based engineered especially for the Raspberry Pi and it is the perfect general-purpose OS for Raspberry users.

It employs the Openbox stacking window manager and the Pi Improved Xwindows Environment Lightweight coupled with a number of pre-installed software which includes Minecraft Pi, Java, Mathematica, and Chromium.

Raspbian is the Raspberry foundation’s official supported OS and is capable of accomplishing any task you throw at it.

Raspbian is a Debian-based OS for Raspberry

Raspbian is a Debian-based OS for Raspberry

2. OSMC

OSMC (Open Source Media Center) is a free, simple, open-source, and easy-to-use standalone Kodi OS capable of playing virtually any media format.

It features a modern beautiful minimalist User Interface and is completely customizable thanks to the several built-in images that it comes with. Choose OSMC if you run the Raspberry Pi for managing media content.

OSMC is a Kodi-centered Linux OS

OSMC is a Kodi-centered Linux OS

3. OpenELEC

OpenELEC (Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center) is a small Linux-based JeOS (Just enough Operating System) developed from scratch to turn PCs into a Kodi media center.

On a side note,

JeOS (pronounced “juice“) is a paradigm for customizing operating systems to fit the needs of a particular application such as for a software appliance, Wikipedia

You can think of OpenELEC as a barebones Kodi as it has fewer customization options and limits access to certain areas e.g. SSH and it is more complex to customize.

Nevertheless, OpenELEC is a powerful media center that might suit your needs if OSMC doesn’t.

OpenELEC Mediacenter for Raspberry Pi

OpenELEC Mediacenter for Raspberry Pi

4. RISC OS

RISC OS is a unique open-source OS designed specifically for ARM processors by the creators of the original ARM. It is neither related to Linux nor Windows and is being maintained by a dedicated community of volunteers.

If you want to choose RISC OS, you should know that it is very different from any Linux distro or Windows OS you have used so it will take some getting used to. A good place to start is here.

RISC OS for Raspberry Pi

RISC OS for Raspberry Pi

5. Windows IoT Core

Windows IoT Core is a Windows OS built especially for the Raspberry Pi as a development platform for programmers and coders. Its aim is for programmers to use it to build prototypes of IoT devices using the Raspberry Pi and Windows 10.

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It has an emphasis on security, connectivity, creation, and cloud integration. Unlike other titles on this list, you can’t use it without running Windows 10 on your PC as you need Visual Studio on a Windows 10 setup to work with it.

Check out Microsoft’s collection of projects to get you up and running with Windows IoT core here.

Windows IoT Core for Raspberry Pi

Windows IoT Core for Raspberry Pi

6. Lakka

Lakka is a free, lightweight, and open-source distro with which you can turn even the smallest PC into a full-blown game console without the need for a keyboard or mouse.

It features a beautiful User Interface and so many customization options you might get overwhelmed. Its PS4-like UX brings style to the Raspberry Pi so pick it if you’re a gamer.

Read our dedicated publication on Lakka here.

Lakka - The Open Source Game Console

Lakka – The Open Source Game Console

7. RaspBSD

RaspBSD is a free and open-source image of FreeBSD 11 that has been preconfigured in 2 images for Raspberry Pi computers.

If you didn’t know, FreeBSD isn’t Linux, but it works in pretty much the same way as it is a descendant of the research by the Berkeley Software Distribution and it is among the world’s most broadly used Operating Systems today with its code existing in-game consoles e.g. PlayStation 4, macOS, etc.

Running RaspBSD on Raspberry Pi

Running RaspBSD on Raspberry Pi

8. RetroPie

RetroPie is an open-source Debian-based software library with which you can emulate retro games on your Raspberry Pi, PC, or ODroid C1/C2 and it currently stands as the most popular option for that task.

RetroPie used the EmulationStation frontend and SBC to offer users a pleasant retro gaming experience so you can’t go wrong with it.

Learn about other ways to play retro games on Linux here.

RetroPie - Retro-gaming on the Raspberry Pi

RetroPie – Retro-gaming on the Raspberry Pi

9. Ubuntu Core

Ubuntu Core is the version of Ubuntu designed for Internet of Things applications. Ubuntu is the most popular Linux-based Operating System in the world with over 20+ derivatives and given that it has an active and welcoming forum, it will be easy to get up and running with Ubuntu Snappy Core on your Raspberry Pi.

Ubuntu Core for Raspberry Pi

Ubuntu Core for Raspberry Pi

10. Linutop

Linutop OS is a secure Raspbian-based Web Kiosk and digital signage player. It is dedicated to professionals with the need to deploy public Internet stalls and digital signage solutions using Raspberries.

This OS is perfect if you run hotels, restaurants, shops, city halls, offices, museums, etc. and it is compatible with Raspberry Pi B, B+ and 2.

Linutop for Raspberry Pi

Linutop for Raspberry Pi

11. Ubuntu Mate

Ubuntu Mate is a free and open-source resource flavour of Ubuntu designed for devices that don’t have the best hardware specs. It ships with the APT package manager and works reliably with remote workstation software such as X2GO and LTSP.

When you decide to run Ubuntu Mate, run the latest and make sure that you have at least 4GB high-speed SD card.

Ubuntu Mate for Raspberry Pi

Ubuntu Mate for Raspberry Pi

12. Domoticz

Domoticz is a free and open-source Home Automation System designed to enable users monitor and configure various devices such as switches, sensors and meters like temperature, Electra, gas, water, UV, wind, etc. and notifications/alerts can be set to any device.

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It uses a scalable HTML5 web frontend for its interface and it is automatically adapted for mobile and desktop devices. Among its several features is compatibility with all browsers, auto-learning sensors/switches, extended logging, and support for external devices.

Domoticz for Raspberry Pi

Domoticz for Raspberry Pi

13. OpenSUSE

The OpenSUSE project is a worldwide initiative that promotes the use of Linux everywhere by making operating systems for desktop and server devices.

It is a severely community-driven OS and its Tumbleweed & Leap versions are an excellent choice for any Raspberry Pi especially the Raspberry 3. Learn more about OpenSUSE for the Raspberry Pi 3 here.

OpenSuse for Raspberry Pi

OpenSuse for Raspberry Pi

14. Gentoo Linux

Gentoo Linux is a free and open-source completely flexible Linux distribution that can be customized for virtually any application or computing task.

The developers develop the OS with IoT in mind, so its builds ship optimized for devices like the Raspberry Pi with security-tight modules. To install and reliably run Gentoo on a Pi, you need at least a 4GB SD card. See installation instructions here.

Gentoo Linux for Raspberry Pi

Gentoo Linux for Raspberry Pi

15. Arch Linux ARM

Arch Linux ARM is a version of one of the most popular Linux distros that people love to hate – Arch Linux. Its version 6 is built for Raspberry Pi and 7 for the Raspberry Pi 2 and they are both designed with a philosophy that emphasizes usability and simplicity and ownership. The latest version of Arch Linux ARM needs at least a 2GB SD card to run.

Arch Linux for Raspberry Pi

Arch Linux for Raspberry Pi

16. Kali Linux

Kali Linux is a free and open-source security-centric operating system that ships with advanced tools for security testing and network performance analysis.

It offers users several versions built to run on the Raspberry Pi and users get to enjoy its set of forensics and reverse engineering tools. Its installation requirement is at least an 8 GB SD card.

Kali Linux for Raspberry Pi

Kali Linux for Raspberry Pi

17. FreeBSD

FreeBSD is an operating system built to power anything from servers and desktop computers to IoT devices and cloud technologies. It has a life span of over 25 years and it offers users ARM versions that support Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Pi 2. Installation and smooth run require only a 512 MB SD card.

FreeBSD for Raspberry Pi

FreeBSD for Raspberry Pi

18. Batocera.linux

Batocera.linux is an open-source operating system built with a focus on retrogaming and while it can run on typical computers, it is specially designed for different nanocomputers such as the Odroids and Raspberry Pis. Among its features are themes, rewinding, bezels, and plug and play support.

Batocera.linux for Raspberry Pi

Batocera.linux for Raspberry Pi

19. SARPi

SARPi (Slackware ARM on a Raspberry Pi) is a community product of Slackware Linux team, that is widely used and considered one of the best preferred operating system for Raspberry Pi, that can be easily deployed on a Raspberry Pi as it boots in under 30 seconds.

Although the ARM release do not support all the applications, most essential applications have been ported for the ARM architecture.

SARPi for Raspberry Pi

SARPi for Raspberry Pi

20. BMC64

BMC64 is a free and open-source bare-metal fork of VICE’s C64 emulator. It is optimized for the Raspberry Pi with features such as low video/audio latency, true 50hz/60hz smooth scrolling, quick boot time, low latency between input and audio/video, PCB scanning, and support for wiring real keyboards and joysticks via GPIO pins.

BMC64 for Raspberry Pi

BMC64 for Raspberry Pi

That rounds up my list of operating systems you can run on the Raspberry Pi this year. Do you have a solid suggestion to make #20? The discussion section is below.

Also, what’s the future of the Raspberry Pi? Forward ever. Drop your comments section tell us why you agree or why you think otherwise. Also, feel

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About the author

Divine Okoi

Martins Divine Okoi is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for Linux and Open Source software. He is studying again for an MSc in Cybersecurity but still makes time to write about the best software the market has to offer.