Raspberry Pi operating systems: 5 reviewed and rated

A sweet selection of tasty Raspberry Pi distros

The verdict


Of all the operating systems we looked at here, Raspbian comes out on top as being the most usable, best-looking, having the best range of default software and so on; but the others are snapping at the heels of the Foundation's OS of choice.

For the newcomer, Raspbian is indeed the starting point for their journey, not only into the wonderful world of the Raspberry Pi itself, but also their first steps into the big, wide world of Linux and alternative operating systems. However, once the newcomer is au fait with the intricacies of the operating system, and how the RPi works, then there's a very solid chance that they will instead install the likes of Arch, Risc OS or Plan 9 to become their main OS for the Raspberry Pi.

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Android for the RPi is certainly an interesting project, and one that will no doubt end up being one of the main distributions for the RPi, but there's still some work needed, and in all truth the Raspberry Pi is nowhere near as powerful a device as the latest crop of Android-powered smart devices.

Power to the people

Power being the limiting factor here, the likes of Arch and Plan 9 will come into their own. Their minimalistic, and streamlined systems mean that the RPi will tear along without ever hitting the upper limit of the available resources, whereas Raspbian could end up being a very bloated beast if it's not managed accordingly. Should the Foundation ever produce a significantly more powerful unit, then the wealth of operating systems available will no doubt triple overnight.

However, the problem therein lies with the cost of such a unit. At the moment, the £25 price is what's so endearing about the RPi project - with more oomph comes more cost, generally speaking, so at present we have it pretty good with the current batch of operating systems available.

As the title suggests, there's no competition here; there's merely the chance for a user to try out their Raspberry Pi, install an OS, use it to their heart's content, learn from it, and - like Linux - evolve into their own custom way of doing things. So while Raspbian scores the top marks, bear in mind the other operating systems represent a project that's standing by, ready for the individual to enjoy and experiment with.

Final verdict

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

Also consider...

If these operating systems hold little interest for you, then consider PiBang, a Linux distribution inspired by the popular Crunchbang Linux. With an excellent use of Openbox, Tint2 and Nitrogen, PiBang not only looks amazing, it's also a fast, fluid and stable environment.

PiBang includes OMXplayer and VLC, but as stated on the PiBang site, "VLC does not currently play videos to a watchable level on the Raspberry Pi, it is installed for testing and for audio playing."

PiBang offers a full desktop environment, so the educational software has been removed in favour of Abiword, Conky, Gimp and so on. It uses the same software sources as Raspbian, so there's added compatibility. In fact, if PiBang had been included in the operating systems on test here, there's a chance it would have won. Why wasn't it included? Well, it's an OS that hasn't stood out from the crowd yet. Why, we're not quite sure, as it's very, very good.