Originally designed to promote basic computer science education in schools, Raspberry Pi, the credit card-sized single-board computer, has been spreading across the world like wildfire.
The latest iteration, christened Raspberry Pi 2, offers 1GB of RAM and was released in early 2015.
There are a number of Linux kernel-based operating systems designed specifically for the Raspberry Pi. These include fully featured distros such as Raspbian, which offers a fully functional desktop environment and is based on Debian, and even speciality distros like RetroPie, which supports a large number of controllers and is aimed at gaming fans. Plus there are many more besides…
In this article, we're going to look at five of the most popular and distinct Raspberry Pi distros.
Raspbian is one of the oldest and most popular mainstream distros for the Raspberry Pi. Although it's developed independently, the Raspberry Pi Foundation also develops its own recommended version of Raspbian that you can install using the foundation's NOOBS installer.
Raspbian is based on the ARM port of the Debian Wheezy desktop distro and requires a 4GB SD card for installation. The distro uses the lightweight LXDE desktop environment and includes thousands of software packages. The foundation's version of Raspbian also includes the official app store for the Pi called the Pi Store which houses apps optimised for the Raspberry Pi.
The Pi MusicBox distro converts your Raspberry Pi into the ultimate music-oozing jukebox. The distro is based on the Mopidy music streaming server that can fetch music from various streaming services including Spotify, Google Play Music, and SoundCloud as well as a host of online radio stations.
Pi MusicBox can also play music stored on the SD Card or on any USB drives attached to the Pi. You can also configure the distro to fetch music by automatically mounting shared folders on the network. Additionally, the distro can also connect to any DLNA and AirPlay devices and can be controlled via any player that supports MPD.
If you're a fan of classic gaming titles, grab a copy of the RetroPie distro and transfer it onto an SD card. The distro can emulate dozens of classic games consoles and home computers such as the Amiga, Amstrad, Atari 2600, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Game Boy, PlayStation 1 and more.
RetroPie also supports all sorts of gaming controllers, from cheap no-name USB efforts to controllers for the PS3 and Xbox 360. It boots into the Emulation Station software which first helps you set up the controller and then lets you select a game from any of the supported emulators.
The only caveat is that you must get your own ROMs. There are several that can be legally downloaded for free and you can even create your own from old cartridges using adapters like the Retrode.
- For more details on how to use RetroPie, check out: How to turn your Raspberry Pi 2 into a retro games console
One of the most popular uses of the Pi is as a low-cost and low-power home cinema media centre. The OpenELEC distro uses the recently rechristened Kodi media player to convert the Pi into an HTPC.
The distro uses a 10-foot user interface that's ideal for connecting to large screen displays and projectors. The interface has ergonomic display elements and can be easily controlled via a remote control. You can also control playback from your Android smartphone. Using Kodi you can view multimedia in virtually all formats. Besides playing files off local and network storage devices, the distro can also fetch files from online services such as YouTube, Spotify and more.
Originally designed for the desktop, the OpenMediaVault (OMV) distro has a specially tuned version for the Raspberry Pi 2 that lets you use the little computer as a dedicated Network Attached Storage (NAS) device.
Once it's up and running, you can configure and manage the distro using its browser-based admin interface. You can attach USB disks which the distro will detect and let you add to your network storage. For the best performance make sure you use self-powered removable disks. You can use the disks attached to the OMV NAS individually or assemble them in a RAID array. The distro has ample options to manage other advanced aspects of a NAS.