15 best operating systems for Raspberry Pi (with pictures)

best operating system on raspberry pi

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

1 – Raspbian
raspbian buster desktop

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

Since its first release in 2012, there have been many improvements
Today Raspbian comes with the PIXEL desktop (based on LXDE), which makes the Raspberry Pi usable as a daily desktop computer
About the preinstalled applications, we find essentials 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 works well on any Raspberry Pi model

Raspbian is available on the official website
To install it, you can check my step-by-step tutorial here

2 – Ubuntu
ubuntu

A few months ago, installing Ubuntu on a Raspberry Pi was an adventure ๐Ÿ™‚
My last attempt was successful, everything works well on Raspberry Pi 3 and 4

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 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
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 (on Raspberry Pi)
It remains a perfect distribution to start

You can download Ubuntu for Raspberry Pi on this page
It’s the server version (terminal only), but you can install your favorite desktop environment (commands are listed at the end of the page)
A Raspberry Pi 4 is recommended to have the best experience with a desktop environment

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 many players, and therefore to make it more known

Pre-made images for the Raspberry Pi are available here
During writing Retropie was not yet available for Raspberry Pi 4, but it will probably happen soon
I also have a few posts about Retropie that you can check to learn more:

4 – Manjaro
manjaro

Manjaro is a distribution I discovered recently on Raspberry Pi
It’s working very well and I like it

Manjaro is based on Arch Linux, a rare system on Raspberry Pi
But it’s cool, it allows us to test and learn new things
Its goal is to be a fast and user-friendly distribution

Manjaro is available in various flavors with the most known desktop environments (XFCE, GNOME, KDE, Cinnamon, LXDE, Mate, …)
You can also start with a minimal version (named Architect) where you can install only what you need and configure everything

Manjaro is available on Raspberry Pi 4, and I highly recommend using it to enjoy this system in graphic mode
You can download the system images here
And I have a step-by-step tutorial available here for this system

5 – OSMC

OSMC (Open Source Media Center) is probably the best media center solution 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
If you need more help, check my dedicated post about OSMC and Kodi

6 – Lakka
lakka main menu

You probably recognize this well-known interface which is inspired from the PlayStation 4
But it’s Lakka! A Retro-gaming system on Raspberry Pi
Like Retropie you have many emulators available on it and can install your games easily

The Lakka systems runs on LibreElec and uses RetroArch for the graphical interface
I have added it in this list because it’s available on Raspberry Pi 4, so it’s a good alternative to Retropie at the moment
And I also like the intuitive usage for many things (PSX games are working directly, on/off button for many options, etc.)

If you want to discover this retro-gaming system, you can read my tutorial here on how to install and use Lakka
Downloads links are on the official website here

7 – Kali Linux

Do you know Mr. Robot?
Kali Linux is the best penetration testing distribution with many 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 known 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
Raspberry Pi 4 is fully supported now

8 – Kano OS
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 funny 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 many 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 on Amazon (click here to check the computer Kit for example)

9 – Gentoo
gentoo xfce

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 (with Manjaro)

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 ๐Ÿ™‚
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

10 – RecalBox
recalbox main menu

Recalbox is the last Retro gaming system I want to recommend in this list
Like Retropie and Lakka, it allows you to play old games on your Raspberry Pi (NES, SNES, Atari, etc.)

Here is a short video overview of this system (not the latest version, but you will understand the concept):

RecalBox is a younger system than Retropie, but with different features
So, you have to try it to make your own choice
For example, I really like that everything is integrated in the interface (you don’t need to use Raspi-config or the Retropie setup script for example)

You can read my complete beginner’s guide for Recalbox here
Or download the Recalbox image directly on the official website
Raspberry Pi 4 is not yet supported, so you have to stay with Lakka for now if you want to play on Pi 4 ๐Ÿ™‚

11 – DietPi
dietpi

DietPi is my favorite minimal distribution on Raspberry Pi
I really like this distribution because it’s very close to Raspbian Lite, and you can have the easy setup included and really the minimal packages installed
If you need performances or want to install only what you need, DietPi is definitively a good option to consider

DietPi is a recent distribution (created in 2015 I think) with an image size under 1G (1.8G for Raspbian Lite) and half of the Raspbian Lite packages installed by default
On the first boot, a wizard will help you to configure your system as you want

You can find all the details about the DietPi installation in my guide here
And download the system on the official website
For information, DietPi is working on Raspberry Pi 4

12 – LibreELEC
libreelec

On the picture it doesn’t seem so different from any other distribution running Kodi
But it’s different, everything is different, it’s LibreELEC ๐Ÿ™‚

LibreELEC is a fork of OpenELEC, a system built from scratch to run Kodi and only Kodi
The goal of OpenELEC and LibreELEC is to provide the lightest possible distribution to make Kodi work in the perfect conditions

So, it’s not based on Raspbian or any other operating system, it’s something different.
LibreELEC was born in 2016 as the OpenELEC project starts to decline

If you are interested, you can read the entire story here, or download the image on this page

13 – Fedora

Fedora is a popular Linux distribution, based on RedHat, with something like 1.5 million users today
Fedora was created in 2003, as the open-source alternative to RedHat
And since a few months, Fedora is available as a stable release on Raspberry Pi (3 versions: Server, Minimal and Workstation)

If you are new to Fedora, you’ll get something similar to other distributions like Debian or Ubuntu in term of software and usage, as you can run most of the desktop environment on Fedora, with any popular software
But there are some changes you may have issue with it
Some commands are completely different and you’ll also note differences in the package management or the files locations

If you want to give a try, you can read my step-by-step installation guide here
Or download the images on the official website
Fedora is not yet compatible with the Raspberry Pi 4

14 – 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 many 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 (the latest system images are compatible with Raspberry Pi 4)
I also made a post on how to turn your Raspberry Pi into a file server (with or without OpenMediaVault, you can check it by clicking on the previous link)

Note: if you want to use SATA drives to build your NAS with your Raspberry Pi, you can use expansion boards like this one on Amazon. It works on any Raspberry Pi model and supports any SATA disk you already have

15 – CentOS
centos

And the last system I suggest trying on your Raspberry Pi is CentOS
CentOS is a well-known Linux distribution for its stability and its respect for Linux best practices
CentOS is based on the Red Hat distribution (like Fedora), so you’ll find many similarities with these systems

They have a version available for Raspberry Pi and it’s working pretty well on Raspberry Pi 3B+ (not yet available on Pi 4)
But if you’re used to Raspbian, you must adapt yourself to some CentOS commands and operation
Like on Fedora, some management commands are different

You can download 3 different versions: GNOME, KDE or Minimal
You will find all of them on this link
And if you need some help or information about CentOS, you can read my post on the subject here

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

Here is a list of the 15 best operating systems for Raspberry Pi

24 comments

  1. bruce davidson Reply

    It’s not the rosy picture you paint here.

    I installed Ubuntu MATE. But once you run apt-get upgrade, it’s a broken install. And both Mate and Raspberry say its the other’s fault and don’t address it.

    I’m trying to install Alpine. Sure, it looks like there is a lot of documentation until you try to use it to install. But the install docs are incomplete. I have yet to get it working.

    The only one I’ve gotten to work is Raspbian. But it is a really ugly 90’s style UI.

    Not a NOOB – I’ve been using Linux for the past decade, and I’ve been a dev for about 35 years.

  2. RaspberryTips Post authorReply

    Hi Bruce,
    What is the error you get exactly?

    I can try it and let you know if I find a solution

  3. Alisha Ross Reply

    I installed Ubuntu MATE. But once you run apt-get upgrade, itโ€™s a broken install. And both Mate and Raspberry say its the otherโ€™s fault and donโ€™t address it.

    Iโ€™m trying to install Alpine. Sure, it looks like there is a lot of documentation until you try to use it to install. But the install docs are incomplete. I have yet to get it working.

    The only one Iโ€™ve gotten to work is Raspbian. But it is a really ugly 90โ€™s style UI.

    Not a NOOB โ€“ Iโ€™ve been using Linux for the past decade, and Iโ€™ve been a dev for about 35 years.

  4. SingingCoyote13 Reply

    i tried risc os a couple o times but it hangs after 20 – 50 sec in the
    desktop
    nothing helps cannot change anything in this time for it to run
    if i would know what
    and why is amibian not in this list?

    • RaspberryTips Post authorReply

      Hi,

      I do not remember having problems with Risc OS when I tested it.
      Maybe you can try to ask for help from the official community

      I have never heard of Amibian
      I’ll try it in the next few weeks and add it to the list if it’s worth it

      Thank you for your comment

  5. UglyMike Reply

    Next to OSMC, you could mention LibreELEC, which also turns the Raspberry Pi into a top-notch KODI Media Server with lots of ‘remotes’ that one can install on Android, iOS.
    https://libreelec.tv/

    Google Coder is also worth a look if you’re into web development (or want to get a taste of it):
    https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/google-coder/

    Although Bodhi Linux for the Pi has been discontinued for, what, 5 years or so, it is still a nice eye candy OS to try out
    https://sourceforge.net/projects/bodhilinux/files/ARMHF/Pi/

    Of course, everybody has always wanted their own PABX. Here is you chance with Asterix & FreePBX for Raspberry Pi:
    http://www.raspberry-asterisk.org/

    Raspberry Pi was developed to have people experiment with computers. Some of the above mentioned installable SD images will offer just that. If however you just want a (bare bones) Linux desktop computer, there is really only one contender and that is Raspbian. It might look a bit dated, but it is the best supported Raspberry Pi OS out there.

    • RaspberryTips Post authorReply

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for all this extra information!

    • Patrick Fromaget Post authorReply

      Hi,

      I have tried it today in preparation to an update of this post
      But I didn’t get network, wired or wireless (Raspberry Pi 3B+)

      Even if the OS seems interesting, I can’t recommend it in this list

      Any idea?
      Patrick

    • Patrick [RaspberryTips] Post authorReply

      Hi Michael,

      Yes thanks for your suggestion

      I already have it my list of posts to write soon
      I tested it two weeks ago and seems to work fine

      Stay tuned ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Dave Pickering Reply

    How about DietPi? Minimalist install. I used it in headless mode as a wireless security camera that creates its own WiFi point without internet. With a hidden SSID and a Portable 10ah 5Volt LiOn battery this is a great Eavesdropping plant.

    • Patrick [RaspberryTips] Post authorReply

      Hi Dave,

      Yes, I tested it (a post comes out this weekend)
      And it deserves to be in an updated version of this post

  7. Joel Palmer Reply

    Have you been able to install windows 10 iot onto a Raspberry PI 4? I have found no good examples in my googling and when i tried it following PI 3 instructions (loading IoT onto the Sim directly then booting with PI) I have no boot. I have also found that there is doubt in the community as to if MS is going to continue to support this device. I appreciate whatever insight you have on it.

    • Patrick Fromaget Post authorReply

      Hi Joel,

      I didn’t try it yet because I have read many posts saying that it was too slow to use

      But I’m interested in your project, let us know if you have any news

  8. Rodger Phillips Reply

    Coming in a bit late, but worth a mention since you mention Retropie are Ambian which runs your Pi 3b+ (and possibly others) as an Amiga Computer, it will allow simulation of all Amiga systems, and does a better job at it than the Original old Amiga 500.
    and it’s related cousin Combian which allows you to run your Pi as a Commodore 64/128/16/Vic 20/Plus 4 etc. the great part about Combian is that it runs at boot up striaght into the Commodore cursor screen the same as the original computer did back in the day.

    of the OS you mentioned I only use Raspian but that is about to change with many on this list about to be taking up my spare SD cards…. Thank You for this article.

    • Patrick Fromaget Post authorReply

      Hi,

      I’ve checked this to see if it’s interesting or not
      But Armbian doesn’t display the Raspberry Pi models on its download page, so it’s probably not a good idea to recommend it here
      https://www.armbian.com/download/

      I will try Combian for fun, but not sure it could appear in this list ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Patrick Fromaget Post authorReply

    Hello,

    I just updated the post to remove the obsolete systems and add the true challengers at the moment
    I have updated almost all the screenshots, and added a compatibility information for the Raspberry Pi 4 when I have tested it

    Hope you’ll enjoy this new list ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Jinhai Reply

    Could you elaborate on Arch linux ending support for the Raspberry Pi? I was thinking of installing Arch on my Raspberry Pi 4. Is there be anything I should be concerned of?

    • Patrick Fromaget Post authorReply

      Actually, I didn’t check this point when updating the post.
      I just saw that they have a Raspberry Pi 4 page, so it may work now
      Let us now after your test, so I can update the post if needed

    • daspo Reply

      I really had a bad experience with Raspbian. It breaks very easy after unexpected shutdowns or being a couple of weeks turned off. Which alternative you suggest that could be more resilient?

  11. Josh M Reply

    How do you make an image which is in turn made from a .iso file actually work on the pi. Starting with Ubuntu I had image after image after image not work at all; the Pi wouldn’t even respond at all. Took me a few minutes to realize that all the images that didn’t work were written from .iso files, so clearly there’s something about those images that the Pi doesn’t work with, but there are no instruction manuals ANYWHERE on how to either mount the .iso file and in turn use that to write the image via some intermediary program, or convert the .iso file into a .img file directly.

  12. Balsey Dean De Witt Reply

    I finally got a Pi4B with 4GB ram. After playing around with the Pi’s since the pI2, The only real good os for the Pi is Raspbian. After the Stretch version came Buster, which totally changed how the Pi boots. I have two Pi3B+, one with Stretch and the other with Buster. Stretch seemed to run better on the Pi3 then Buster. When using Buster on the Pi4B, I noticed the Pi doesn’t use that much ram, 2GB is plenty! What a waste! As for 64-bit os’es, I really don’t think they got it out yet, even though they say it’s 64 bit, I have my doubts. Seems to me there would be better choices or even getting the Raspbian people to do better. The Pi4B runs hot, even with the new firmware installed. Anyway, it’s a fun computer box to play with, that is about it.

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