The Raspberry Pi already has its own official operating system, known as Raspberry Pi OS. However, there is nothing proprietary about Raspberry Pi OS, or any reason that you must use it. Raspberry Pi OS is a Debian derivative with a few tweaks and curated software meant to make your Raspberry Pi experience better out of the box. If you so choose, there are a variety of other Linux distributions that you can run on the Raspberry Pi as alternatives.
In this tutorial, we will go over a list of Linux distributions that are available for the Raspberry Pi. Depending on the primary purpose of your Raspberry Pi, you may find that Raspberry Pi OS is a little too generic, and you want a more niche distribution. There are more than a few alternatives to choose from. Let’s take a look. Note that this is not an exhaustive list, as there are far too many distros that support the Raspberry Pi.
In this tutorial you will learn:
- List of Linux distros available for the Raspberry Pi
|Category||Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used|
|Software||Raspberry Pi compatible operating systems|
|Other||Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the
# – requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of
$ – requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user
Raspberry Pi OS
This one should be obvious, but the majority of users will simply go with the default, official operating system of the Raspberry Pi, which is Raspberry Pi OS (formerly known as Raspbian). This operating system is supported by the developers of the Raspberry Pi, so it is always a safe pick.
Its only potential downside is that it remains quite generic in order to fill a variety of needs from many different users. For this reason, you are sometimes better off installing a different distribution that is more tailored to whatever purpose you plan on using your Raspberry Pi for.
Everyone knows Ubuntu. It is one of the most popular and beloved distributions of Linux, and has been for a great many years. It now has a version which has been certified by Canonical for use on the Raspberry Pi 4, Raspberry Pi 400, and Raspberry Pi CM4.
Open Media Vault
OpenMediaVault is an operating system meant for NAS (network attached storage) servers. It comes with many storage and network protocols that make it easy to manage large amounts of storage on your network.
Retro Pie & Recalbox
Retro Pie and Recalbox are great operating systems for those looking to turn their Raspberry Pi into a retro gaming machine. They come with all the emulators you will need to get started with creating a home console for classic PC, console, and arcade games.
For those looking to squeeze the most performance out of their Raspberry Pi as possible, DietPi is a Linux distribution that has been completely optimized for performance on the Raspberry Pi. It only consumes 42 MB of RAM by default, and 531 MB of disk space.
OSMC is a full screen movie organizer and player, which will manage your movie library for you and present it in a digestable way, so you can navigate and find the film you want to watch. It can combine your movie library from a variety of sources, including locally attached storage, another computer on the network, etc.
LibreELEC is “just enough OS for Kodi,” meaning that its only real purpose is to be able to run Kodi, the popular movie player and multimedia manager. For those looking to use their Raspberry Pi plugged into their TV to watch movies, and if you like Kodi, then LibreELEC will be the perfect choice.
OpenWrt can be used to transform your Raspberry Pi into a router and/or firewall. It comes with all the usual componenets of a Linux distribution, like a package manager, but allows you to customize your device to route and filter traffic on the network.
Rune Audio is an ideal Linux distro for users that would like to turn their Raspberry Pi into a Hi-Fi music player. It comes with a lovely interface for playing back your favorite audio tracks, and the music can be controlled from another device such as your phone in case you want to skip a track, increase volume, etc.
Twister OS is a general purpose operating system with a custom look and feel compared to most other Linux distros and desktop environments. It comes with many themes to choose from, including an Ubuntu theme and a Windows theme. It also has the Box86 emulator to run x86 software and games, and Wine to remain compatible with many Windows programs.
Other Distros for Raspberry Pi
Here are a few more distributions which can now fully support installation on the Raspberry Pi:
There is no wrong choice when it comes to choosing a Linux distribution for your Raspberry Pi system. Many distros just lend themselves to certain niches, while others remain general purpose in order to attract a variety of different users. All of the operating systems mentioned here are free, so there is no harm in downloading a few and trying them out to find the one that suits your purposes best.