Raspberry Pi is an indispensable single-board computer that comes in handy for a lot of work. Don’t believe me? Just go through this list of Raspberry Pi projects to get a gist of what this tiny device is capable of.
Considering how useful a Raspberry Pi is – it is an important task to choose the right operating system for it. Of course, you can do a lot of things with Linux but an OS specially configured for a specific purpose can save you considerable time and effort.
So, in this article, I will be mentioning some of the popular and useful operating systems tailored for Raspberry Pi.
Installing any OS on Raspberry Pi is really easy thanks to the Raspberry Pi Imager tool
Installing a Raspberry PI operating system on an SD card is easier than ever before. You can simply get the Raspberry Pi Imager and get any Raspberry Pi OS installed quickly. Check the official video to see how easy it is.
You may also utilize NOOBS (New Out Of the Box Software) to easily install different operating systems on Raspberry Pi. You might also get a pre-installed SD card from the list of their supported retailers mentioned in their official NOOBS download page.
Feel free to explore more about installing the operating systems in their official documentation.
Now that you know how to install it (and where to get it from), let me highlight a list of useful Raspberry Pi OS to help you out.
Various operating systems for Raspberry Pi
Please keep in mind that I have taken some effort to list only those Raspberry Pi operating system projects that are being actively maintained. If a project gets discontinued in near future, let me know in the comment section and I’ll update this article.
Another thing is that I have focused on the latest Raspberry 4 but this should not be considered a list of Raspberry Pi 4 OS. You should be able to use it on Raspberry Pi 3, 3 B+ and other variants as well but please check the official project websites for the exact details.
Note: The list is in no particular order of ranking.
1. Raspbian OS: The official Raspberry Pi OS
Raspbian is the officially supported OS for Raspberry Pi boards. It comes baked in with several tools for education, programming, and general use. Specifically, it includes Python, Scratch, Sonic Pi, Java, and several other important packages.
Originally, Raspbian is based on Debian and comes pre-installed with loads of useful packages. So, when you get this installed, you probably don’t need to install essentials separately – you should find almost everything pre-installed.
Raspbian OS is actively maintained and it is one of the most popular Raspberry Pi OS out there. You can install it using NOOBS or follow the official documentation to get it installed.
2. Ubuntu MATE: For general purpose computing
Even though Raspbian is the officially supported OS, it does not feature the latest and greatest packages. So, if you want quicker updates and potentially latest packages, you can try Ubuntu MATE for Raspberry Pi.
Ubuntu MATE tailored as a Raspberry Pi OS is an incredibly lightweight distribution to have installed. It’s also popularly used on NVIDIA’s Jetson Nano. In other words, you can utilize it for several use-cases with the Raspberry Pi.
To help you out, we also have a detailed guide on how to install Ubuntu MATE on Raspberry Pi.
3. Ubuntu Server: To use it as a Linux server
If you’re planning to use your Raspberry Pi as some sort of server for your project, Ubuntu Server can be a great choice to have installed.
You can find both 32-bit and 64-bit images of the OS. And, depending on what board you have (if it supports 64-bit), you can go ahead and install the same.
However, it is worth noting that Ubuntu Server isn’t tailored for desktop usage. So, you need to keep in mind that you will have no proper graphical user interface installed by default.
4. LibreELEC: For media server
While we already have a list of media server software available for Linux, LibreELEC is one of them.
It’s a great lightweight OS system capable enough to have KODI on your Raspberry Pi. You can try installing it using the Raspberry Pi Imager.
You can easily head to their official download webpage and find a suitable installer image for your board.
5. OSMC: For media server
OSMC is yet another popular media server software for Linux. While considering the use of Raspberry Pi boards as media center devices, this is one of the best Raspberry Pi OS that you can recommend to someone.
Similar to LibreELEC, OSMC also runs KODI to help you manage your media files and enjoy watching the content you already have.
OSMC does not officially mention the support for Raspberry Pi 4. So, if you have Raspberry Pi 3 or lower, you should be good to go.
6. RISC OS: The original ARM OS
Originally crafted for ARM devices, RISC OS has been around for almost 30 years or so.
We also have a separate detailed article on RISC OS, if you’re curious to know more about it. Long story short, RISC OS is also tailored for modern ARM-based single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi. It presents a simple user interface with a focus on performance.
Again, this is not something meant for the Raspberry Pi 4. So, only if you have a Raspberry Pi 3 or lower, you can give it a try.
7. Mozilla WebThings Gateway: For IoT projects
As part of Mozilla’s open-source implementation for IoT devices, WebThings Gateway lets you monitor and control all your connected IoT devices.
You can follow the official documentation to check the requirements and the instructions to get it installed on a Raspberry Pi. Definitely, one of the most useful Raspberry Pi OS for IoT applications.
8. Ubuntu Core: For IoT projects
Yet another Raspberry Pi OS for potential IoT applications or just to simply test snaps – Ubuntu Core.
Ubuntu core is specifically tailored for IoT devices or specifically Raspberry Pi, here. I wouldn’t make any claims about it- but Ubuntu Core is a suitable secure OS for Raspberry Pi boards. You can give this a try for yourself!
9. DietPi: Lightweight Raspberry Pi OS
DietPi is a lightweight Debian operating system that also claims to be lighter than the “Raspbian Lite” OS.
While considering it as a lightweight Raspberry Pi OS, it offers a lot of features that could come in handy for several use-cases. Ranging from easy installers for software packages to a backup solution, there’s a lot to explore.
If you’re aiming to get an OS with a low footprint but potentially better performance, you could give this a try.
10. Lakka Linux: Make a retro gaming console
Looking for a way to turn your Raspberry Pi to a retro gaming console?
Lakka Linux distribution is originally built on the RetroArch emulator. So, you can have all your retro games on your Raspberry Pi in no time.
We also have a separate article on Lakka Linux – if you’re curious to know about it. Or else, just go right ahead and test it out!
11. RetroPie: For retro gaming
RetroPie is yet another popular Raspberry Pi OS that turns it into a retro gaming console. It features several configuration tools so that you can customize the theme or just tweak the emulator to have the best retro games.
It is worth noting that it does not include any copyrighted games. You can give it a try and see how it works!
12. Kali Linux: For hacking on budget
Want to try and learn some ethical hacking skills on your Raspberry Pi? Kali Linux can be a perfect fit for it. And, yes, it usually supports the latest Raspberry Pi as soon as it launches.
Not just limited to Raspberry Pi, but you can get a long list of other supported devices as well. Try it out and have fun!
13. OpenMediaVault: For Network Attached Storage (NAS)
If you’re trying to set up a NAS (Network Attached Storage) solution on minimal hardware, Raspberry Pi can help.
Originally, based on Debian Linux, OpenMediaVault offers a bunch of features that include web-based administration capabilities, plugin support, and more. It does support most of the Raspberry Pi models – so you can try downloading it and get it installed!
14. ROKOS: For crypto mining
If you’re someone who’s interested in cryptocurrencies and bitcoins specifically, this could interest you.
ROKOS is a Debian-based OS that basically lets you turn your Raspberry Pi into a node while having pre-installed drivers and packages for the same. Of course, you need to know how it works before getting it installed. So, I suggest you do some research if you’re not sure what you’re doing.
15. Alpine Linux: Lightweight security-focused Linux
Nowadays, a lot of users are usually looking for security-focused and privacy-focused distributions. And, if you are one of them, you might as well try Alpine Linux for Raspberry Pi.
It may not be as user-friendly as you’d expect (or beginner-friendly) if you’re just getting started with Raspberry Pi. But, if you want something different to start with, you can try Alpine Linux, which is a security-focused Linux distribution.
16. Kano OS: Operating system for kids’education
If you’re looking for an open-source OS for Raspberry Pi to make things interesting to learn and educate kids, Kano OS is a good choice.
It’s being actively maintained and the user experience for the desktop integration on Kano OS is quite simple and fun for someone to play and make kids learn from it.
17. KDE Plasma Bigscreen: To convert regular TVs into Smart TVs
This is an under development project from KDE. With KDE Plasma Bigscreen OS installed on Raspberry Pi, you can use your regular TV like a smart TV.
You don’t need a special remote to control the TV. You can use the regular remote control.
Plasma Bigscreen also integrates MyCroft open source AI for voice control.
The project is in beta phase so expect some bugs and issues if you are willing to give it a try.
18. Manjaro Linux: For a versatile desktop experience
If you were looking for an Arch-based Linux distro on Raspberry Pi, Manjaro Linux should be a great addition for general computing tasks with the ability to do a lot of things.
Manjaro Linux ARM edition supports the latest Raspberry Pi 4 as well. It offers both XFCE and KDE Plasma variants for your Raspberry Pi or any Raspberry Pi alternatives.
Also, it seems to offer one of the fastest/best experience on a Raspberry Pi device. Give it a try if you haven’t!
19. Volumio: To use it as an open-source music player
Want to make an inexpensive audiophile system? Volumio should be able to help with that.
It is a free and open-source OS (GitHub) which also supports the ability to integrate multiple devices. You can manage all the devices connected through a simple web-based control interface. In addition to the free edition, it does offer a premium edition as well that gives you access to exclusive features.
It does support the latest Raspberry Pi 4 as well. So, if you’ve got some interest in tuning an existing home stereo system for the best quality, you should try this out.
Don’t want to utilize a Linux distribution? Fret not, you can also have a unix-like OS installed on Raspberry Pi with FreeBSD.
In case you didn’t know about, we have a detailed article on the FreeBSD project.
Once you get it installed following their official instructions, you can utilize it for any DIY experiment or just use it as a lightweight desktop setup for particular tasks.
NetBSD is yet another impressive UNIX-like OS that you can install on your Raspberry Pi. It aims to be a portable OS across multiple systems.
If you’ve used it for another system, you might be already knowing about its benefits. However, not just limited being a lightweight and portable OS, it features a useful set of features to get a variety of tasks done.
I’m sure there are a lot of other operating systems tailored for Raspberry Pi – but I’ve tried to list the most popular or the useful ones that are actively maintained.
If you think I missed one of best suited Raspberry Pi OS, feel free to let me know about it in the comments below!