15 Best Operating Systems for Raspberry Pi (with pictures) (2024)

The Raspberry Pi is not limited to Raspberry Pi OS. It’s the official distribution, but is far from being the only one. Depending on the model you use, your goals, and your personal preferences, it might be a good idea to examine other options. I tested all of the other options and share my favorites in this post, which should be a great starting point for you.

Raspberry Pi UsageRecommended distribution
DesktopRaspberry Pi OS
ServerDietPi
GamingBatocera
Media-centerLibreElec

I will introduce the 15 distributions that stand out and deserve to be tested if you’re looking for the ideal system. By the way, note that most of these distributions can be installed on an external SSD drive (this one on Amazon is the best), to improve the boot and daily usage speed. It works really well on Raspberry Pi 4.

If you need help getting started on Raspberry Pi, I have an entire course to guide you through your first steps. I’ll help you use the perfect hardware, plug everything in and install your first system. You’ll also do your first projects with me, just to make sure you are ready for the next level. Get all the information on this page if you are interested.

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1 – Raspberry Pi OS
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Raspberry Pi OS is the official distribution created by the manufacturer specifically for Raspberry Pi devices. It’s the recommended operating system for 90% of Raspberry Pi projects.

Raspberry Pi OS is based on Debian and is built on the same philosophy, i.e., stability and performance. Most Debian packages are available on Raspberry Pi OS.

Since its first release in 2012, this distribution has seen many improvements. Raspberry Pi OS comes with the PIXEL desktop (based on LXDE) and is powered by Wayland in its latest versions, making Raspberry Pi usable as an everyday desktop computer.

Depending on your edition, you may find some pre-installed applications such as Chromium, VLC and LibreOffice. Raspberry Pi OS uses the APT package manager (like Debian), which makes it easy to install additional packages or a different desktop environment.

If you are used to Debian or Ubuntu, it should be pretty straightforward for you. By the way, it’s also possible to directly install Debian on your Raspberry Pi (click on the link to learn more about it).

I put Raspberry Pi OS first in this ranking, and I recommend it for most projects because it has many advantages: compatibility with all models, reliability and a simple interface for beginners.

Raspberry Pi OS is available on the official website, or directly in Raspberry Pi Imager.
To install it, you can check my tutorial here.

And for a step-by-step guide to help you begin on Raspberry Pi the right way, I recommend watching my video course here. In a few videos, I teach you everything I know to help you get started, save time by learning quickly and have fun with any project on Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi OS now has a 64-bit version, you may want to try it if you are looking for a nice increase in performance. You can read my comparison between 64-bit and 32-bit Raspberry Pi OS here, and learn what you can really expect of these two versions.

Note: If you want to see all these top distributions in action, I have a video lesson available for the community members where I introduce the best ones for desktop usage (so you don’t have to test them all yourself). You can join here and watch it directly if you are interested (with 10+ other lessons for Raspberry Pi and many other benefits).

2 – Ubuntu
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In the first few years, installing Ubuntu on a Raspberry Pi was an adventure. But now it is one of the best alternatives to Raspberry Pi OS, with full support on Raspberry Pi devices. It was even the only distribution supported on Raspberry Pi 5 on its release day (in addition to Raspberry Pi OS).

On traditional computers, Ubuntu quickly became the most used Linux distribution in the world.
Based on Debian, this distribution runs on a shorter development cycle and therefore provides the latest news a lot earlier than Debian.

If you’re used to Ubuntu and are looking for an alternative to Raspberry Pi OS, Ubuntu for Raspberry Pi is probably a good choice!

Behind a more modern interface, you will find the same basic packages as on Raspberry Pi OS: LibreOffice, VLC, Scratch, …
Firefox is installed as the default browser, but you can easily install additional packages with the apt command.

I put this distribution in second because it offers a work environment that is more attractive and more up-to-date than Raspberry Pi OS.
There is a catch – it comes with less stability and a smaller community (on Raspberry Pi).
It remains a perfect distribution to start.

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You can download Ubuntu for Raspberry Pi on this page, or find it in Raspberry Pi Imager.
A Raspberry Pi 4 or more recent is recommended to have the best experience with a desktop environment.

If you are interested, I explain everything here on how to install Ubuntu on Raspberry Pi. You’ll get tips that will help you save time and avoid the most common issues while installing this operating system.

And I also have an in-depth comparison of Ubuntu and Raspberry Pi OS here if you aren’t sure which one to install.

Note: Using Armbian on Raspberry Pi can be a lighter option to consider if you want to run Ubuntu. Check the link for more details.

3 – Batocera
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Batocera is currently my favorite app for retro-gaming on a Raspberry Pi. It’s pretty new, so it might not be one you’ve heard a lot of, but I think it deserves this place on the podium.

Batocera is inspired from Recalbox, another solution that I’ll discuss a bit later. It takes all the good stuff from Recalbox and adds another layer with great features (like the built-in content downloader) and optimized performance. The best way to show you is through a video, so here is the Batocera trailer:

And as for all the distributions in this list, you can also read my related content about Batocera, especially if you want to give it a try:

4 – Manjaro
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Manjaro is a distribution I only discovered lately in my Raspberry Pi journey, but it works well and I like it.

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Manjaro is based on Arch Linux, a rare base system on Raspberry Pi. But that’s cool, it allows us to test and learn new things. The goal of the developers is to create a fast and user-friendly distribution.

Manjaro is available in various flavors with the most known desktop environments (XFCE, GNOME, KDE, Cinnamon, LXDE, Mate, …).
You can also start with a minimal version (named Architect), where you can install only what you need and configure everything yourself.

Manjaro is available on recent Raspberry Pi models (4, 400, 3B/3B+ and Pi Zero 2), and I highly recommend using at least a Pi 4 to enjoy this system in graphic mode. You can download the system images here.

I have a step-by-step tutorial on how to install Manjaro on your Raspberry Pi. You can also watch the video version of this tutorial just below:

If you like Arch Linux, EndeavourOS can be an alternative to consider, even if for the moment I don’t think it deserves a place on this list.

5 – LibreELEC
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On the screenshot, it doesn’t seem very different from any other distribution running Kodi. But it’s different, everything is different, it’s LibreELEC.

LibreELEC is a fork of OpenELEC, a system built from scratch to run Kodi and only Kodi.
The goal of OpenELEC and LibreELEC is to provide the lightest possible distribution to make Kodi work in the perfect conditions.
Like OSMC (I’ll introduce it later), you can use a universal remote control with it (like the famous Harmony remote on Amazon). All you just need is a cheap USB adapter like this one to make it work.

So, it’s not based on Raspberry Pi OS or any other operating system, it’s something different.
LibreELEC was born in 2016 as the OpenELEC project started to decline.

If you are interested, you can read the entire story here, or download the image on this page.
I also have a quick video on YouTube if you need help with installation, you can find it here.

6 – RecalBox
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Recalbox is another Retro gaming system I want to recommend in this list.
Like Retropie and Lakka, it allows you to play old games on your Raspberry Pi (NES, SNES, Atari, etc.).
If you are a bit lost with all of these options, I recommend that you read my comparative here, but Recalbox is a great option to consider.

Here is a short video overview of this system (not the latest version, but you will understand the concept):

RecalBox is a younger system than Retropie, but with different features.
So, you have to try it to make your own choice.
For example, I really like that everything is integrated into the interface (you don’t need to use Raspi-config or the Retropie setup script, for example).

You can read my complete beginner’s guide for Recalbox here.
Or download the Recalbox image directly on the official website.
Raspberry Pi 4 is not yet supported, so you have to stay with Lakka for now if you want to play on Pi 4.

The ROMs you can use on Recalbox are the same as on Retropie, so you can follow the same tips to easily find ROMs online.

7 – DietPi
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DietPi is my favorite minimal distribution on Raspberry Pi.
I really like this distribution because it’s very close to Raspberry Pi OS Lite, and you can have an easy setup included and minimal packages installed.
If you need better performance or want to install only what you need, DietPi is definitively a good option to consider.

DietPi is a recent distribution (created in 2015 I think) with an image size under 1G (1.8G for Raspberry Pi OS Lite) and half of the Raspberry Pi OS Lite packages are installed by default.
On the first boot, a wizard will help you to configure your system as you want.

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You can find all the details about the DietPi installation in my guide here, including the detailed comparison with Raspberry Pi OS Lite.
And you can download the system on the official website.
For your information, DietPi works on Raspberry Pi 4. It is the perfect operating system for a small server, like a file server or a VPN server you run at home.

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If you are lost in all these new words and abbreviations, request my free Raspberry Pi glossary here (PDF format)!
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8 – Fedora
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Fedora is a popular Linux distribution, based on RedHat, with approximately 1.5 million users today.
Fedora was created in 2003, as the open-source alternative to RedHat.
And for a few months, Fedora has been available as a stable release on Raspberry Pi (3 versions: Server, Minimal, and Workstation).

If you are new to Fedora, you’ll get something similar to other distributions like Debian or Ubuntu in terms of software and usage, as you can run most of the desktop environment on Fedora, with any popular software.
But there are some changes you may have issues with.
Some commands are completely different and you’ll also note differences in the package manager or the file locations

If you want to give it a try, you can read my step-by-step installation guide here (or watch the video here).
You can download the images for the Raspberry Pi on the official website. Raspberry Pi is now officially supported and ARM/AARCH64 versions included in the latest releases each time.

Note: you can also try OpenSUSE or Rocky Linux instead of Fedora, both are derived from Red Hat, so they have many similarities.

9 – Gentoo
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Gentoo is a lightweight distribution thatyou can build as you want, to install any package you need.
With the end of the support of Arch Linux for the Raspberry Pi development, Gentoo could become the new standard if you need flexibility in your projects (with Manjaro).

Gentoo is not a beginner in the Linux world. The first version was released in 2000.
I remember having trouble at this timeinstalling my first Gentoo, but there has been a lot of progress since 2000.
Most of the time, you can now add new packages with emerge and portage.

The big difference between Gentoo and other distributions is that packages are compiled locally on your computer.
If you choose toinstall new software, the system will download the source code, extract it, and build it according to your preferences and your computer type.
So, it’s very optimized for you, unlike in Debian systems, where you get the same generic binary package that everyone receives.

For this distribution, the easiest option is to check my Gentoo tutorial for Raspberry Pi to get the full installation procedure, including downloads.

10 – Retropie
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Retropie is a well-known distribution, which allows you to turn your Raspberry Pi into a retro-gaming console. Built on Raspberry Pi OS, it gives you the ability to play old games from classic PC to N64 games.

Retropie provides an easy setup and a user-friendly interface to start and play your favorite games.
Before playing, you have todownload ROMs from the Internet (my top websites for this are listed here) and upload them to your Raspberry Pi. They will automatically show in the Retropie menu.

For a better experience, you can even add a controller like on SNES and enjoy a game as if you were back in your childhood!

I decided to place the Retropie distribution in this list because it’s still a good choice, and it allowed Raspberry Pi to be discovered by many players, which helped it become well known. But the Retropie project seems to be a bit less active than the alternatives nowadays, so I decided to put Batocera and Recalbox sooner in this list (for more details, you can read my article where I compare Retropie with the other retro-gaming alternatives).

Pre-made images for the Raspberry Pi are available here, but you can also get a pre-installed SD card with a thousand of games on Amazon. It’s surprisingly cheap to purchase, given the time it saves you from spending hours finding games on various websites.

I also have many tutorials about Retropie on this website that you can read to learn more about this OS:

  • Beginner step-by-step guide
  • My 12 favorites games on Retropie
  • Best Themes for Retropie – Top 15
  • How to Add Games on Raspberry Pi (4 ways on Retropie)
  • And where to download other games easily

You don’t even need a Raspberry Pi to try Retropie, you can simply install it on Ubuntu, as explained in this tutorial.

11 – Kali Linux
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Do you know Mr. Robot?
Kali Linux is the best penetration testing distribution with many security tools for all kinds of purposes:

  • Wireless attacks
  • Passwords cracking
  • Forensics
  • Web apps attacks
  • Network sniffers
  • Vulnerability scanners
  • … and a lot more

Behind Kali Linux, we find Offensive Security, a major security trainer and pen-testing provider.
They have funded and maintained this distribution, formerly known as Backtrack, to become a reference in the security market.

If you want to go deeper, you can read my post about 15 steps to start with Kali Linux on Raspberry Pi. I not only show you how to install it but also introduce all the fantastic tools you can use on this distribution. As almost everything is pre-installed it will be a shame to miss them.
By the way, if you want to push it a step further, you can also check my guide on how to hack a Wi-Fi network here.

The download image is available here and are also list in Raspberry Pi imager.
You have to scroll to the Raspberry Pi Foundation part.

12 – OSMC
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OSMC (Open Source Media Center) is one of the best media center solutions built for Raspberry Pi.
Based on Debian and using Kodi as a front-end, OSMC is a Linux distribution that’s easy to install and use.
OSMC can play most media formats and stream from all kinds of sources.

I chose toput it in this list because it has a significant use for the Raspberry Pi, as you can set up your media center for $50 with OSMC.
The Kodi interface is excellent, the system self-updatesand the community is always present if you have an issue.

You can Download OSMC from the official website.
If you need further advice, check my dedicated post about OSMC and Kodi. It will show you all of the steps from download to a full media center setup (including how to use a USB storage or even a NAS). I also introduce the best add-ons you can install and the web interface that most users don’t know about.

13 – Rocky Linux
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If you remember the days when CentOS was the recommended distribution for most servers because of its high stability and respect for the Linux standard, and you’re looking for a replacement, you’ll love Rocky Linux.

Launched by the creator of CentOS after a controversial decision by Red Hat to discontinue the CentOS project, Rocky Linux is an interesting distribution. The goal is to provide a community supported alternative to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

Recent Raspberry Pi models have been supported from the beginning, as there is an image available for the aarch64 architecture (meaning it will run on Raspberry Pi 3B+ and newer models).

Rocky Linux is a good choice for Raspberry Pi servers, and is currently only available with a minimal image (I’d recommend Fedora for desktop use), but it’s possible to install a GUI on top of it if needed.

I explain everything in my tutorial on how to run Rocky Linux on Raspberry Pi. Check it out for more details.

If you want to create a network drive easily and at a low cost, OpenMediaVault is probably a good choice.
OpenMediaVault is based on Debian and provides a NAS solution that ships the needed services: SMB, SSH, FTP, NFS, …

OpenMediaVault is an easy-to-use, out-of-the-box solution that everyone can install at home or in a small office.
It works verywell on Raspberry Pi. You can add a larger SD card or an external hard drive to increase capacity and store all kinds of files (movies, backups, …).
The best accessory for that kind of server would be something like the NAS Kit from Sunfounder. This kit includes everything you need to host a file server on a Raspberry Pi (SATA slot, fan, case, etc.), click to see how it works.

Another thing you have to knowis that you can install many plugins to improve OpenMediaVault.
Thissystem allows you to run most of the services on your Raspberry Pi, even if you are not interested in a NAS.
For example, you can install the Nginx and MySQL plugins to build a web server with a simple configuration in the web interface from OpenMediaVault.
Plugins are now directly available in the web interface.

I included it in this list for two reasons:

  • It makes it easy for beginners to build a server at home.
  • It is reliable. I used it for years in a company of 200 people with veryfew problems.

The OpenMediaVault image for Raspberry Pi is available on Sourceforge (the latest system images are compatible with Raspberry Pi 4). I have a complete guide about OpenMediaVault on this website.
I also made a post on how to turn your Raspberry Pi into a file server (with or without OpenMediaVault, you can check it by clicking on the previous link).

Note: if you want to use SATA drives to build your NAS with your Raspberry Pi, you can use a NAS kit like this one. It works on any Raspberry Pi model and supports any SATA disk you already have. Much cheaper than a real NAS device.

15 – Pop!_OS
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Pop!_OS is a new distribution in the Linux world, based on Ubuntu and using GNOME as a desktop environment. Its release on PC caused a stir, and it’s now available for Raspberry Pi. I have tested it for you, and I chose to add it to the end of this ranking.

As a whole, the Pop!_OS distribution is promising. Based on Ubuntu 64 bits for the latest applications and decent performances, using GNOME for a modern-looking desktop, and with several optimizations that might make it even better than the original Ubuntu for our Raspberry Pi.

The default desktop environment is GNOME, so I would recommend a Raspberry Pi 4 or 400 with enough RAM to use it, but in fact, I find it was working even better than with Ubuntu. The dock, launcher and app store make it a nice distribution for desktop usage.

Want to give it a try? Read my full setup guide of Pop!_OS there.
And I also have a video on my YouTube channel, comparing it to Raspberry Pi OS:

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Recommended hardware to test these distributions

  • Fast & big SD card: If you are like me, and often switch from one distribution to another, I recommend a big SD card (at least 128GB) with all your operating systems on it (with BerryBoot for example). This one is the best model available right now (and often in discount).
  • Raspberry Pi 4: Almost all operating systems in this list are now supported on Raspberry Pi 4. There’s no need to think more about it, get a Raspberry Pi 4 with at least 4GB, you’ll not regret it.
  • SSD drive: If you expect more performance, a Raspberry Pi and an SSD allows you to run systems really fast. My favorite model is this one, and SSD drives are now really affordable, go for it (USB adapter included).
  • The best controller for retro-gaming OS: If you are a serious gamer, you should take a look at this controller. I tested many of them, and it’s my favorite (for style, tech and comfort).

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🛠 This tutorial doesn't work anymore? Report the issue here, so that I can update it!


Want to chat with other Raspberry Pi enthusiasts? Join the community, share your current projects and ask for help directly in the forums.

You may also like:

  • Master Raspberry Pi in 30 days with this
  • 15 best operating systems for Raspberry Pi
  • Top 25 Raspberry Pi home projects you should try
  • The 11 Best Raspberry Pi Robot Kits for Beginners
  • Top 13 Raspberry Pi HATs you need to try

Conclusion

This is the end of this ranking, which was intended to help you discover the 15 operating systems that are worth using on Raspberry Pi. If I had to do a synthesis, I would say thatfor beginners and for most small projects, Raspberry Pi OS is the best choice. And then the other distributions are typically chosen for a specific purpose.

For your convenience, I created a page on this website with a list of all images for the Raspberry Pi, with download and tutorial links. Make sure to check it or even bookmark it if you try different systems.

Want to see the best ones in video? Watch this comparison on my YouTube channel:

If I forgot some that you think should be here, feel free touse the report link at the end of this page to contact me, and I’ll take alook. I know that Linux Mint on Raspberry Pi is asked a lot, but it’s not yet fully supported (check the link for a workaround).

Whenever you’re ready, here are other ways I can help you:

The RaspberryTips Community: If you want to hang out with me and other Raspberry Pi fans, you can join the community. I share exclusive tutorials and behind-the-scenes content there. Premium members can also visit the website without ads.

Master your Raspberry Pi in 30 days: If you are looking for the best tips to become an expert on Raspberry Pi, this book is for you. Learn useful Linux skills and practice multiple projects with step-by-step guides.

The Raspberry Pi Bootcamp: Understand everything about the Raspberry Pi, stop searching for help all the time, and finally enjoy completing your projects.
Master Python on Raspberry Pi: Create, understand, and improve any Python script for your Raspberry Pi. Learn the essentials step-by-step without losing time understanding useless concepts.

You can also find all my recommendations for tools and hardware on this page.

15 Best Operating Systems for Raspberry Pi (with pictures) (2024)

FAQs

What operating system should I use for Raspberry Pi? ›

Raspberry Pi OS (previously called Raspbian) is our official supported operating system.

Which operating system is well suited for Raspberry Pi board? ›

Raspbian Operating System

This Debian-based operating system and its features and preferences are designed specifically for the Raspberry Pi. Raspberry users prefer it due to its general-purpose applicability. Openbox is the preferred window manager for it.

Which is better Raspberry Pi OS 32-bit or 64-bit? ›

Higher performance

If you use your Raspberry Pi for CPU-intensive processes like file compression, and graphics manipulation, you will benefit from using the 64-bit OS. Phoronix tested this on a Raspberry Pi 400 board which had 4GB of RAM.

How to choose Raspberry Pi OS? ›

Pick your Raspberry Pi operating system (OS)

Connect the microSD card to your computer and fire up the Raspberry Pi Imager. Now click on Choose OS. The default is Raspberry Pi OS (32-bit) which is a good choice, but if you have a Raspberry Pi 3, 4, or 400, you can go find the 64-bit version.

What operating system is my Raspberry Pi using? ›

One of the simplest ways to see your Raspberry Pi OS version is with the hostnamectl command. This is provided by systemd, which is standard across all editions of Raspberry Pi OS. Depending on your release, either the version or the release code name is revealed in the output.

Which Raspberry Pi is the most powerful? ›

Raspberry Pi 4 and Raspberry Pi 400

It's the most powerful Pi, with a fast clock speed, the most RAM available on a Pi yet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and the ability to run two screens at 4k resolution. If you need speed and power, you want this one. The Pi 4 has a price range depending on the amount of RAM you need.

What filesystem is best for Raspbian? ›

Better Filesystem Support??

Raspbian seems to have the best support for EXT4 as far as performance is concerned. The other requirement for the project be that the filesystem be readable by other operating systems after you detach the disk.

Which Raspberry Pi is the fastest? ›

Raspberry Pi 5 is faster and more powerful than prior-generation Raspberry Pis, and like most general-purpose computers, it will perform best with active cooling.

Which board is better than Raspberry Pi? ›

The Rock64 Media Board is a powerful Raspberry Pi alternative with a faster processor and double the memory. It features a quad-core 2.1GHz processor and plenty of ports, including HDMI, and built-in support for Android and Linux.

Is there anything better than a Raspberry Pi? ›

The best Raspberry Pi alternatives of 2024Libre Computer Board AML-S905X-CC (Le Potato)Orange Pi 5 PlusAsus Tinker Board S R2. 0Odroid N2+Udoo Bolt V3What is the best Raspberry Pi alternative?

Is 32-bit or 64 but better? ›

In such cases, because a 64-bit operating system can handle large amounts of memory more efficiently than a 32-bit operating system, a 64-bit system can be more responsive when running several programs at the same time and switching between them frequently.

Is BCM2835 32-bit or 64-bit? ›

Processor. The Raspberry Pi 2B uses a 32-bit 900 MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 processor. The Broadcom BCM2835 SoC used in the first generation Raspberry Pi includes a RISC-based 700 MHz 32-bit ARM1176JZF-S processor, VideoCore IV graphics processing unit (GPU), and RAM.

Which OS is mainly used in Raspberry Pi? ›

The standard OS on a Raspberry Pi is Raspberry Pi OS, formerly known as Raspbian, a port of Debian Linux. The major Linux distributions are also supported on the Raspberry Pi: Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Gentoo, Arch, Pop!_ OS, Slackware, and others.

How do I choose the right OS? ›

Consider factors like ease of navigation, the learning curve for new users, and how straightforward or complicated it is to access essential features. A poor user interface can turn even the most powerful computer into an unwieldy mess, so opt for an OS that you find straightforward and enjoyable to use.

Which Raspberry Pi OS for Zero W? ›

The installer makes it simple to set up various operating systems, including Raspbian and Risc OS, as well as the media center software openElec and OSMC. The go-to choice for those running the Zero W as a computer is Raspbian, the Pi's official operating system.

Which OS to install on Raspberry Pi 5? ›

The best OS for newcomers to the cybersecurity sphere

Unlike Windows 11, setting up Kali Linux is a piece of cake. All you have to do is download the Kali Linux ISO that's compatible with the Raspberry Pi 5 before flashing it onto a microSD card.

What Linux is recommended for Raspberry Pi? ›

For a desktop experience, try a Linux OS such as Ubuntu MATE, CentOS, or openSUSE. Gaming and HTPC needs are fulfilled by RetroPie, Recalbox, or a Kodi operating system for the Raspberry Pi. Minimalist and lightweight OSes run well on the Pi.

Which OS is installed in Raspberry Pi? ›

Raspberry Pi OS is Linux based operating system and to see the currently running version type the cat /etc/os-release command at Linux prompt.

Can you run Raspberry Pi OS on any computer? ›

Debian with Raspberry Pi Desktop is our operating system for PC and Mac. It provides the Raspberry Pi OS desktop, as well as most of the recommended software that comes with Raspberry Pi OS, for any PC or Apple Mac computer.

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