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Best Raspberry Pi Operating Systems for Everyday Use

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As you may know, the Raspberry Pi can run more operating systems (OS’s) than just the official Raspberry Pi OS. I don’t use Raspberry Pi OS anymore unless I want to connect sensors, lights, motors, and other electronics to it. The official Raspberry Pi OS is the only one I’ve found that works well for that. But if you want to use it as a normal desktop computer, you’ll want to use a different Raspberry Pi operating system. Here is a list of them, but I’ll be going more in-depth for each OS after that.

  • Ubuntu
  • LineageOS
  • Manjaro XFCE
  • Kano OS

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is probably the most popular type (usually called a distro) of Linux. Unlike most distros, it has paid services (code hosting) directed towards businesses. However, the non-business version is completely free and open-source (anyone can see all the code and check for bugs and security flaws or contribute their code to be possibly included in future updates). It works great for everyday use because it is maintained by a team of developers to keep it updated and fix bugs. To install it on your Pi, click the Desktop download link on the Ubuntu website to get the .img.xz file, drag it to the Desktop folder, and follow the install instructions at the bottom of this post. The website says that the Desktop image only works on the Pi 4, but it works on the Pi 3, however, it runs a lot slower.

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LineageOS

Getting LineageOS, a modified version of Android, to work on the Raspberry Pi was previously hard to accomplish, but now it’s much easier. Android, like most Linux distros, is open source, so people can modify and redistribute it. Someone modified Android and turned it into LineageOS. Later, someone else took LineageOS and adapted it to work on the Raspberry Pi. I tried LineageOS on my Pi for a while, but eventually, I removed it because it is really slow. Launching an application took about 30 seconds, but other things took even longer. The install is a long process, so I’ll give you a link to another tutorial on how to do that. Overall, Android is a great operating system, but should only be used on the higher-end Pi 4 with several gigabytes of RAM for faster performance.

Manjaro XFCE

Manjaro is the best operating system for everyday use that I’ve found, other than Ubuntu, which is a little slower. It is based on Arch Linux, an OS designed to be fast and simple. Manjaro, because it is based on Arch Linux, uses different terminal commands than most other Linux distros, so established Linux users may have trouble learning new commands. Manjaro can be downloaded with several different desktops. A desktop is what defines the user interface what the whole OS looks like. Pretty much the only desktop that is fast, easy to use, and nice-looking is XFCE. Now here’s how to download it: Go to https://www.manjaro.org/downloads/arm/raspberry-pi-4/arm8-raspberry-pi-4-xfce/ and click the Download button. Now a popup will come up. Just ignore the message and click Download. It will redirect you to a different page, and the download will automatically start. You will get a .img.xz file. Drag it to your Desktop folder, follow the instructions below, and enjoy!

Kano OS

Kano OS is, as you can see from the picture, meant for young kids. Based on Raspberry Pi OS, it has a nice, intuitive, interface. There are several coding games, like Make Snake (coding a snake game you can play), Make Pong (the same thing except with pong), and Terminal Quest (learning terminal commands). There is also a Story Mode where you can direct a little character around to try the coding games and learn about the Raspberry Pi. Now let’s download it. Go to the Kano website and choose the Pi 3, 2, or 1 version, with touch if you have a touchscreen, and hit download. You should get a .zip file, so you will need to use your computer’s built-in tools to extract the .img file.

On Windows:

First of all, open File Explorer. Navigate to the Downloads folder. Click the “Kanux-Beta-v4.3.3-Hopper-stretch-release.img.zip” or similar zip folder. On the top bar, select the “Compressed Folder Tools” tab. Select the “Unzip All” button. Make sure the “Show extracted files when complete” box is checked, and select the Extract button. There will be a .img file on the folder. Drag it to your Desktop folder and move on to the next step.

On macOS:

Navigate to the Downloads folder. Double-click the folder, and your Mac will automatically unzip the folder. The unzipped folder will automatically open. There should be a .img file inside the folder. Move that file to your Desktop folder, and go to the next step.

Installation

What You Need

If you followed the instructions on the descriptions above, you should have a .img, .img.gz or .img.xz file. That is what gets installed on the Pi. .img files are compressed, so you can’t just copy them to the SD card. To do it right, you need to install the Raspberry Pi Imager. Download the .exe or .dmg installer file (depending on your operating system) from the Raspberry Pi website.

For Windows computers:

First of all, open File Explorer. Double-click the Downloads folder. Look for a file called “imager_x.x.x”, x meaning a number, depending on the version you download, and double-click it. The installer will launch. Now, just follow the instructions on the installer, and it will install itself. Launch the software by selecting the search icon on the taskbar, then searching for “raspberry pi”. Click on “Raspberry Pi Imager”. A prompt will come up asking if the application can make changes to your device. The software needs this permission to flash the SD card, so allow it.

For macOS:

The macOS version of the Raspberry Pi Imager is downloaded as a .dmg file. DMG stands for Disk Image and is commonly used to install software downloaded from the Internet on your Apple computer. They act as a removable disk. First of all, open the Finder. Navigate to the Downloads folder, then, double-click the “imager_x.x.x” file. It will launch the installer. Follow the instructions to install the application. When you launch it for the first time, use the Finder to find the app icon. Control-click the app icon, then choose Open from the menu. After that, you can open it from the Launchpad like normal. This process bypasses the developer registration process so that the application can run.

And now, regardless of what type of computer you have, the next thing to do is to put the micro SD card in the adapter (either micro SD to full SD or micro SD to USB). Next, plug the adapter into your computer. File Explorer will pop up several times during the installation, but you don’t need it, so just close it. Now, in the Raspberry Pi software, select “Choose OS”. After that, pick “Custom Image”. Then, in the file manager popup, navigate to the Desktop folder. Choose your image file. Select “Choose Storage”. Select your SD card. Next, select “Write”. Lastly, choose “Yes”. If another notice comes up, choose “Yes” for that one too. After a while, a notice will pop up saying that the SD card is finished (flashed). Get out your Raspberry Pi. Flip it over, and insert the micro SD card. It will only go in one way. If you have a TV, try plugging the cable into the Raspberry Pi’s HDMI port. If it fits, great! Otherwise, if the connector looks like this,

Credit: Raspberry Pi Foundation

you may need to buy a Micro HDMI to HDMI cable. Plug the small end into the Raspberry Pi and the other end into the monitor. If your Pi looks like this,

you will need an HDMI to HDMI cable. Both ends are the same, so plug one end into the Pi, and another into the TV so that the video signal can be transferred to your TV. Get out a keyboard and mouse (required) Find the receiver, and plug it into a USB port on the Pi. Turn on the mouse and keyboard. Get out your power supply (Pi 4 and newer or Pi 3 and older. Plug the large end into a wall socket. Next, plug the USB end into the Pi. Just so you know, it doesn’t have a power switch. To turn it on, you have to plug it in. Also, the Pi doesn’t have a battery. To have it on, you need to have it plugged in.

That’s all you need to do to install any of the above OSs. If you need any help figuring out how to use them, check out the Ubuntu, LineageOS Pi, Manjaro, and Kano OS docs. Overall, my opinion is that Manjaro with the XFCE desktop is the best Raspberry Pi operating system. All the operating systems have their pros and cons, but the choice is up to you.

John H (7)

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