best raspberry pi distribution

15 best operating systems for Raspberry Pi (with pictures)

The Raspberry Pi is not limited to Raspbian, which is the official distribution but is far from being the only one

What is the best distribution for Raspberry Pi?
There are dozens of operating systems available on Raspberry Pi, and there is not a perfect distribution. Each distribution has its strengths and weaknesses and is more suited to a specific use.

I will present here the 15 distributions that stand out and that deserve to be tested if you’re looking for the ideal system

1 – Raspbian
raspbian raspberry pi

Raspbian is the official distribution of Raspberry Pi
Based on Debian it is built on the same philosophy, i.e., stability and performance.
A large number of Debian packages are available on Raspberry Pi

Since its first release in 2012, there have been a lot of improvements
Today Raspbian comes with the PIXEL desktop (based on LXDE), which makes the Raspberry Pi usable as a daily desktop computer
At the level of the preinstalled applications, we find essential ones like Chromium, Minecraft Pi, Scratch or LibreOffice

Installing additional packages or a different desktop environment is facilitated by the presence of the APT Packet Manager
If you are used to Debian or Ubuntu, you will not be lost

I put it first in this ranking because it has many advantages, such as compatibility, reliability and adaptability to most beginner projects

Raspbian is available on the official website

2 – Ubuntu Mate

Ubuntu Mate has a specific version for Raspberry Pi
Ubuntu quickly became the most used Linux distribution in the world
Based on Debian, this distribution runs on a shorter development cycle and therefore provides the latest news much earlier than Debian

If you’re used to Ubuntu and are looking for an alternative to Raspbian, Ubuntu Mate for Raspberry Pi is probably a good choice
Even if he does not have much support from developers and the Raspberry Pi community, his fame in the world of PCs makes us want to test more deeply

Behind a more modern interface, you will find the same basic packages as on Raspbian: LibreOffice, Minecraft PI, Scratch, …
And there are some small changes like installing Firefox as the default browser and using MATE as the primary desktop environment
You can install additional packages with the apt command

I put this distribution in second because it is for me a work environment more attractive and more up to date than Raspbian.
But with less stability and a smaller community
It remains a perfect distribution to start

You can download Ubuntu MATE for Raspberry Pi on this page

3 – Retropie

Retropie is a well-known distribution, which allows you to turn your Raspberry Pi into a retro-gaming console
Built on Raspbian, it gives you the possibility to play old games from classic PC to N64 games

Retropie provides easy setup and a user-friendly interface to start and play your favorites games
Before playing, you have to download ROMs from the Internet, and then upload it to your Raspberry Pi
They will automatically show in the Retropie menu

For a better experience, you can even add a controller like on SNES and enjoy a game as if you were back to childhood!
I choose to place the Retropie distribution in the top 3, because it’s a good one and it allows Raspberry Pi to be discovered by a lot of players, and therefore to make it more known

Pre-made images for the Raspberry Pi are available here

4 – OSMC

OSMC (Open Source Media Center) is the best media center built for Raspberry Pi
Based on Debian and using Kodi as a front-end, OSMC is a Linux distribution easy to install and use
OSMC can play most of the media formats and stream from all kind of sources

I choose to put it in this listing because it has a significant use for the Raspberry Pi, you can set up your media center for $50 with OSMC
The look is excellent, the system is self-updating and the community is always present if you have an issue

You can Download OSMC from the official website

5 – Kali Linux

Do you know Mr. Robot?
Kali Linux is the best penetration testing distribution with a lot of security tools for all kind of purposes :

  • Wireless attacks
  • Passwords cracking
  • Forensics
  • Web apps attacks
  • Network sniffers
  • Vulnerability scanners
  • … and a lot more

Behind Kali Linux, we find Offensive Security, a major security trainer and pen-testing provider
They have funded and maintained this distribution, formerly know as Backtrack, to become a reference in the security market

If you want to go deeper, you can read my post about 15 steps to start with Kali Linux on Raspberry Pi

The download image is available here
You have to scroll to the Raspberry Pi Foundation part

6 – OpenMediaVault

If you want to create a network drive easily and at low cost, OpenMediaVault is probably a good choice.
OpenMediaVault is based on Debian, and provide a NAS solution that ships the needed services: SMB, SSH, FTP, NFS, …

OpenMediaVault is an easy to use out-of-the-box solution that everyone can install at home or in a small office
It works very well on Raspberry Pi. You can add a larger SD card or an external hard drive to increase capacity and store all kind of files (movies, backups, …)

Another thing you have to know is that you can install a lot of plugins to improve OpenMediaVault
This system allows you to run most of the services on your Raspberry Pi, even if you are not interested in a NAS
For example, you can install the nginx and mysql plugins to build a web server with a simple configuration in the web interface from OpenMediaVault
You can find available plugins on this website

I chose it to be in this top for two reasons:

  • It makes it easy for beginners to build a server at home
  • It is reliable. I used it for years in a company of 200 people with very few problems

The OpenMediaVault image for Raspberry Pi is available on SourceForge

7 – Gentoo

Gentoo is a lightweight distribution that you can build as you want, to install any package you need
With the end of the support of Arch Linux for the Raspberry Pi development, Gentoo could become the new standard if you need flexibility in your projects

Gentoo is not a beginner in the Linux world. The first version was released in 2000
I remember having trouble at this time to install my first Gentoo, but there has been a lot of progress since 2000 🙂
Most of the time you can now add new packages with emerge and portage

The big difference between Gentoo and other distributions is that packages are compiled locally in your computer
If you choose to install new software, the system will download the source code, extract it, and build it according to your preferences and your computer type
So it’s very optimized for you unlike in Debian systems, where you get the same generic binary package that everyone will get

For this distribution, I prefer to redirect you to the Gentoo wiki page for Raspberry Pi to get the full installation procedure, including downloads

8 – Kano OS

As you can see on the picture, Kano OS is a distribution dedicated for kids
Kano is a manufacturer selling computer kits for school or kids, to teach them how a computer works
But they also provide a free open-source operating system to install on a Raspberry Pi

After the installation, a wizard will help you to create a user account, that will become a real character in the adventure
Then you can jump into the Story Mode to discover all the stuff provided with Kano OS
You can also explore other apps from the menu, where you will find the most common apps (Minecraft, Youtube, web browser) but also dedicated apps to start small projects with your kids as you can see in this video

The Kano website provides a lot of resources to help you start with this distribution
If you want to make a try, you can download OS and books from this page

If you are interested in the proposed kits, you will find them in the store of the main site

9 – Rokos

Rokos is a Raspberry Pi dedicated distribution, to turn it into a Bitcoin miner node
The primary goal of this distribution is to help people to create their first node and learn more about Bitcoin

You can do everything from a light GUI, so you can easily:

  • Create your Bitcoin wallet
  • Start your first miner

However, do not expect incredible results, this must remain for educational purposes
Bitcoin is less and less profitable for minors, let alone for Raspberry Pi
But it’s still an inexpensive way to discover this universe

You get the last version of Rokos for Raspberry Pi on this download page

10 – Minibian

As the name suggests, Minibian is a minimal version of Raspbian without GUI and unneeded software
This distribution takes advantage of the stability and support of Raspbian while proposing a lighter system for embedded systems

You can boot a Minibian image in seconds from a 512MB SD Card
Then you will benefit from the same repositories and binaries from the Raspbian project, and so the same advantages as listed in the first paragraph

I included this distribution because it is not very known but allows to realize projects under the same conditions as on Raspbian, with a small screen or even without a screen
It’s an interesting solution

You can get the image on SourceForge

10 – Windows 10 IoT
windows 10 iot

Microsoft designed Windows 10 IoT (Internet Of Things) for small smart devices
Although the name contains “Windows 10” this has nothing to do with the operating system of desktop computers

If you are a developer of Raspberry Pi, you should take a look at this operating system
This is the only non-Linux based system in this ranking, but it deserves to be here

The target of Windows 10 IoT is smart devices like:

  • Robots
  • Automation
  • Trackers

So if you want to get into these kinds of projects, it’s a system to consider
It is sold for its security, scalability, and ease of connection with Microsoft’s Azure platform

For development on Windows 10 IoT, you will need to use Visual Studio to control and program your Raspberry Pi

You can get the last Windows ISO from this page
And you can find some projects to try on this other page

11 – RISC OS
risc os

If you are looking for something new, you have just found it
RISC OS is a British operating system, designed by the same team that invented the original ARM processors
This is neither Linux nor Windows and it was built to be compact, efficient and fast

Without going too much into technical details, there are many innovations and differences in this system, compared to other systems in this ranking.
Management of tasks, system startup, kernel, file system, etc … everything is done differently
For example, the complete image weights only 120MB 🙂

Even if you are used to Linux distributions of all kinds, you will discover things with RISC OS on Raspberry Pi
I advise you to try

You can download the image from the official website

12 – LinuTop OS
linutop

Linutop OS is a distribution based on Raspbian and designed for companies, mainly for retail outlets
It’s a light operating system, easy to install and fast to run, with only needed packages

You could use Linutop as a desktop computer but its primary purpose is to provide tools to facilitate use in a kiosk mode or for digital signage
It comes with tools like VLC, LibreOffice and Firefox
And as I said, it serves above all his interest thanks to his functions usable for a store:

  • Autostart applications like a Firefox page, play a video file in a loop, start a specific app or directly Linutop Kiosk
  • Linutop Lock: make your initial configuration and enable this mode to be sure the system will work as wanted after each reboot, all added data will be discarded after reboot (like a LiveCD)
  • Linutop Kiosk: choose what you want to display on the screen (web page, videos, images, pdf, screen saver, …)

You can get your image on this website

13 – Pidora
fedora raspberry pi

Pidora is a Fedora Remix distribution optimized for the Raspberry Pi computer
If you are a regular Fedora, you will be at home
This version contains packages from different sources:

  • from the Fedora Project compiled for the ARM architecture
  • from the Raspberry Pi Foundation
  • and specifically written for the Raspberry Pi

Pidora is a small project that does not give much information, so I can’t tell you more
I chose it for this ranking because I know that some of you are used to the Fedora system
And instead of losing you on Raspbian, Pidora can be a good alternative

Pidora is no longer offered directly on the Raspberry Pi website, so you must download it from this page

14 – Chromium OS
chromium os

Chromium OS is the open-source version of the Google operating system running on Chromebook computers
Its main purpose is to deliver a simple and secure experience to people who spend most of their time on the Internet
The goal of the Chromebook project is to use cheap computers when you work mainly on the Internet.
So not too far from the Raspberry Pi world?

Once Chromium OS is installed, you will find yourself on a desktop where you can use Google’s suite of applications (Chrome, Drive, Gmail, …), store some files locally, and print documents

Unfortunately, Chromium OS is not the easiest to install from this list
I might write an article on the subject someday, but for now, you’ll have to deal with their wiki

15 – Alpine Linux
alpine linux rpi

The last distribution proposed in this top 15 is Alpine Linux
It’s an independent distribution aimed at power users
Like many systems presented in this list, efficiency, simplicity and security are highlighted on the official website

Alpine Linux is primarily intended for network equipment such as routers, VPN servers or firewalls
The image for Raspberry Pi is less than 50MB and it is up to you then to build the system according to your needs
You will have to use their own “apk” package management tool for this

Even if it is aimed more at embedded systems, it is possible to use it as a workstation with XFCE, Firefox and the main Linux software

You can find the last image of Alpine Linux for Raspberry Pi in this download page

I also want to highlight the provision of an incredibly detailed wiki at this address
It’s rare for publishers to make that much information about their software directly available

Conclusion

This is the end of this ranking, which was intended to make you discover the 15 operating systems that are worth using on Raspberry Pi

If I had to do a synthesis, I would say that for beginners and in most small projects, Raspbian is the best choice.
And then the other distributions are more chosen for a specific purpose

If I forgot some that you think should be here, do not hesitate to post them in a comment, I’ll take a look

 

 

 

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