Getting started on Raspberry Pi isn’t exactly intuitive if it’s your first experience with Linux. Choosing the best operating system for your usage is the first challenge you’ll face. There are many operating systems available for Raspberry Pi, but not all of them are a good choice for beginners.
My mission with this article is to guide you in this choice.
The best choice for a beginner is to use the official distribution: Raspberry Pi OS. It’s built for the Raspberry Pi and as a large community using this device. It’s easier to find support and not so hard to understand for a beginner.
But that’s not the only option. That’s why today I will suggest several options, so you can pick the one that suits you the best.
Raspberry Pi OS: compatibility and community
If you are lost in all these new words and abbreviations, request my free Raspberry Pi glossary here (PDF format)!
As mentioned in the introduction, Raspberry Pi OS is probably still the best choice to get started on Raspberry Pi. It’s developed by the Raspberry Pi team (the same that built this fantastic device), so you are sure everything is compatible.
The Raspberry Pi is not a device like any computer. It’s running on a specific architecture (ARM) and has many differences with a standard computer. So, when starting on it, you want everything to works as smoothly as possible.
For example, many distributions have issue with the Wi-Fi, it doesn’t handle the GPIO ports or camera very well, and you’ll probably need to install additional packages to set up and use everything. However, Python is already installed on Raspberry Pi OS, and you have a configuration tool to easily enable or disable any service:
Also, Raspberry Pi OS is the default operating system on Raspberry Pi for most users. This implies that you’ll easily find help on forums and websites like RaspberryTips 🙂.
Most of my tutorials on this website are written for Raspberry Pi OS, the official forums have almost 2 million posts and the Foundation’s blog also has documentation and tutorials for the most common tasks.
In short, I recommend this distribution for a beginner because it will work directly, and it’s easy to find support for it. It’s not the most beautiful OS (even if you can easily customize it) and maybe still very different from your other experiences (on Windows and macOS), but it’s an excellent choice.
To install it, you can download the images or the Raspberry Pi Imager tool on the official website.
I have a step-by-step tutorial if you need help the first time you install it.
Alternative: If you want to try something else, Ubuntu has a strong community, and it’s also based on Debian (like Raspberry Pi OS), so you shouldn’t be lost. The latest version is working pretty well on Raspberry Pi, even if it’s not the fastest distribution for the Pi. You can check my comparison in video here:
By the way, it’s also possible to directly install Debian on your Raspberry Pi (click on the link to learn more about it). It’s not really the best choice for beginners, but if you are used to it on PC it might be an idea.
Twister OS : the easiest one to use
The second option I want to introduce today is Twister OS. You probably haven’t heard of it if you are new to Raspberry Pi, but it’s a solid choice for beginners.
- Twister OS is based on Raspberry Pi OS: so the strengths listed before also apply. You’ll easily find help for Twister OS if you are looking RPI OS resources.
- Twister OS has several themes available: you can make it look like your favorite system for an easier start.
- Most apps are preinstalled on Twister OS: the Twister OS image is huge (5x the size of RPI OS) because almost any app you’ll want is already preinstalled (Wine, Kodi, Retropie, Discord, etc.).
So, it’s probably not the best choice if you have an old Raspberry Pi model, but it’s wonderful on a recent one. I tested it on Raspberry Pi 4 with 4 GB RAM, and it works really well. By the way, I also made a video if you want to see it in action:
If you prefer written instructions, I have a tutorial here on how to install it on your Raspberry Pi. And the official website is linked in this article if you want to download it and give it a try.
In short, I would recommend Twister OS if you have a recent Raspberry Pi model and want a ready-to-use system directly after the installation. Also, the design is much better than the Raspberry Pi OS. You have the choice of several themes and even the default one is nice.
Alternative: I recently tested Fenix OS on my YouTube channel, that seems taking the same path as Twister OS. It’s still in beta at the time of writing, so I wouldn’t recommend it for now (many bugs need to be fixed), but it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you like that kind of distribution.
Kano OS : perfect for kids
The first two options in this list are oriented for a standard desktop use. But that may not be your (only) goal. That’s why I will also show you a few different options, so that you’ll have a full view of the possibilities.
If you are looking for the best Raspberry Pi OS for beginners kids, the previous solutions I introduced are probably not the best. Depending on their age, kids may be completely lost on a standard interface. That’s why Kano OS exists, with a distribution created for kids from 6 years old and older.
They are slowly moving to other operating systems (their latest product ran on Windows), but they have a great experience with Raspberry Pi based solutions, and you can still download the operating system on their website.
There isn’t a version available for Raspberry Pi 4 and 400, so it isn’t for everyone. But if you have an old Raspberry Pi that you want to use for your kids, I recommend checking this distribution. And by the way, I don’t know any alternative for this specific usage. You can find apps designed for kids, but I don’t think there is a complete system for them.
If you want to learn more about Kano OS, I have a completed guide here. And as always, I also have a video for it, if you want to see how it works:
Other options to consider
Grab your free PDF file with all the commands you need to know on Raspberry Pi!
So, we have seen two great desktop OS for beginners, and also an alternative for kids. But maybe you still aren’t convinced. If you want to use your first Raspberry Pi for retro-gaming, do you really need to install an entire desktop distribution? Absolutely not!
The power of the Raspberry Pi world is that there are so many choices available. Most of them are designed for a desktop usage (Ubuntu, Fedora, Manjaro, etc.), others have a minimal system for servers (DietPi, FreeBSD, etc.), but there are also many alternatives for a specific usage:
- Retro-gaming: you don’t need a standard desktop environment to play old games on your Raspberry Pi. In this case, a distribution like Retropie would be the perfect choice. It includes all the emulators, and can be used with a controller. You’ll just need to upload your games, and you’ll be ready to play.
- Media-center: same thing to watch movies on your TV. You need a specific interface with big buttons, and a system that can read any media directly in full screen. In that case, LibreElec is the best choice you can find currently. It runs Kodi natively, which is the perfect app for a media-center.
- Media-player: if you are only interested in a music player, Volumio is a great system with everything you need preinstalled. You can even install Spotify on it.
So, whatever your case may be, don’t limit yourself to well-know distributions. There are many options available to best fit your needs.
If you want more ideas, I keep a list of my favorites operating systems for Raspberry Pi here. They are not necessarily for beginners, but you may find something for you.
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My final recommendation
To sum up on this topic, you have seen that there are many options available for your Raspberry Pi. I hope it helps you find the best choice depending on your projects.
If you are still unsure, I highly recommend starting on Raspberry Pi OS. It’s not complicated, and everything will work smoothly. Once installed you can dig a bit deeper and learn new things, but the basics will work directly.
By the way, if you need help to set up your first Raspberry Pi OS system, I have a course on the topic. You can check it here.
The promise is to get you from the starting point, even if you don’t have a Raspberry Pi yet, and show you the step-by-step process to install and optimize your system. You’ll also do your first Raspberry Pi projects with me, so that you’ll be ready to try anything on your own after watching the entire course.