Arch Linux for the RPi is a different beast, booting the user into a Terminal environment and leaving them to download, install and configure their OS. Arch, once fully appreciated, is one of the best operating systems available, but it takes some tweaking to get to the normalised desktop.

The current Android for the RPi project is beginning to shape up; when booted, you'll be presented with the official Android unlock screen, and behind that the interface we all know and (sometimes) love. It's still a little buggy, crashes a fair bit and is extremely slow, almost to the point of being unusable on the 256MB RPis - 512MB versions fair slightly better.

Plan 9 delivers a GUI that's effective, but has a steeper learning curve, although it's well documented.

Raspbian offers a text-based menu on boot. Users can configure the system, enable SSH and boot automatically into the user-friendly LXDE GUI. We would recommend Raspbian for the beginner, followed by Risc OS, and Arch as they become more familiar with Linux and its workings.

Verdict

Raspbian - 5/5
Risc OS - 4/5
Plan 9 - 3/5
Android - 3/5
Arch - 2/5

Default software

Default software

What's in the box for the sweet-toothed Pi user?

The software that you get for each Raspberry Pi operating system varies greatly, but what you do get out-of-the-box can often be the single biggest selling point for the system. We shouldn't expect anything too complex, though, after all this is an operating system running from an SD card and being delivered by a credit card-sized computer with minimal (compared with a desktop system) resources available.

While the likes of an office product and full multimedia and graphics editing packages are the norm on a standard distro, we were quite pleased with what we got from our selection of RPi operating systems.

Raspbian leads the way here, with default software - as would be expected - but Risc OS isn't too far behind it - and, incidentally, if you opt for an additional £35 payment for the NutPi Pack, then you'll be offered a fully-working Raspberry Pi desktop, complete with office software, internet browsers, messaging and so on.

Arch, as we previously mentioned, brings you to the Terminal, but if you know your Terminal commands you'll be able to achieve a result that's almost the same as the desktop. However, matching Raspbian takes us out of the default software realm.

Android was the surprise here, with a decent selection of media-ready software, but no office-based apps. For some reason, we expected the RPi Android project to be devoid of apps, so we were quite shocked to see the usual suspects present.

Plan 9, however, was quite bleak. Once we broke through the desktop environment, Rio, we found little to work with effectively - especially so for the newcomer.

Verdict

Raspbian - 5/5
Risc OS - 4/5
Plan 9 - 4/5
Android - 3/5
Arch - 2/5

Looks and usability

Looks and usability aren't everything. Oh yes they are!

Desktop eye-candy remains something of a guilty pleasure for most Linux users. Despite convincing the world that the operating system is a lean and mean machine, the user then goes and installs 3D rotating desktop objects, on-screen fire, Conky-esque dials and all manner of glitz and glam. It's a personal thing, and regardless of the toll taken on the resources, we like a bit of glitz on our desktops.

Of course, there comes a point whereby nice graphical desktops forsake the usability of the system - remember Vista, anyone? So while each of these RPi operating systems has the potential to be drop-dead gorgeous, there's a trade-off due to the low resources the RPi has available.

Looking at each of the OSes from humble beginnings to what can be achieved with a little work, we're sure you'll find a nice compromise with the selection offered.