The Raspberry Pi is a super-affordable single board computer that be can be used for a variety of different projects. Some of the most popular uses of the Raspberry Pi are to turn it into a dedicated media player with OSMC or a videogame emulation machine with RetroPie or Recalbox. Given the versatility of the Raspberry Pi, some have wondered if it could replace a traditional desktop computer. While the Raspberry Pi has significant hardware limitations, the following lightweight operating systems certainly think so.
Note: The Raspberry Pi has a number of different models on the market. For the purposes of this article, we will be highlighting operating systems that run smoothly on the Raspberry Pi 3B/3B+. While it may be possible to get these operating systems up and running on weaker Raspberry Pi hardware, such as the Zero, your mileage may vary significantly.
While Raspbian is developed independently, it is the de-facto “official” operating system of the Raspberry Pi. Raspbian is based on the Linux Debian OS and has been updated consistently since 2012. Raspbian bundles a slew of features including web browsing and office software to create a desktop environment that is accessible to beginners. In addition, Raspbian features tons of software packages that can easily be installed via a built-in app store.
You have two different options when downloading Raspbian, one with recommended software and one without. Alternatively, if you really want to stretch the RPi’s resources, try Raspbian Stretch Lite. However, be aware that there is no desktop or graphical user interface of any kind. This means that users will have to rely on the Command Line Interface only.
2. Flint OS
If you’ve ever used a Chromebook, you’ll be instantly familiar with Flint OS. Flint OS is built around Google’s open-source Chromium operating system, which is the same OS used on Chromebooks. Like Chromebooks, Flint OS is based around web applications and services. This makes Flint OS one of the few cloud-based operating systems available for the Raspberry Pi. Think of it as a bargain basement Chromebook.
Because Flint OS runs a web-based desktop experience, it consumes far fewer resources than traditional operating system. Ultimately this means that Flint OS is quick to boot and launch software. Furthermore, because it doesn’t demand the same sort of processing power as other operating systems, it’s possible to run Flint OS on weaker hardware. In addition, if you are building a portable Pi-based computer that runs on a battery, you’re likely to achieve better battery life running Flint OS. If you are comfortable with limiting yourself to web-based apps, Flint OS is definitely worth a look.
3. Kano OS
The Kano Kit was launched a number of years ago as a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. The idea behind the Kano Kit was simple: teach a child how to build and program their own computer by providing all the necessary parts in a single box. The Kano Kit includes a Raspberry Pi, an enclosure, all necessary cables, a kid-friendly Bluetooth keyboard and tons of easy-to-understand manuals. Fortunately, you don’t have to buy one of the kits in order to use the Kano operating system. Since the Kano OS is open source, it is freely available for anyone to download and install.
Aimed at children under 10, the simple-to-use OS is a full-featured desktop environment. What sets Kano OS apart are the interactive educational apps. Take “Story Mode.” for example. Here, a digital character walks around the Raspberry Pi circuit board, identifying various parts and components and explaining how each one works. Additionally, Kano OS is bundled with a programming game to teach kids the basics of coding. It even comes bundled with a hackable version of Minecraft! Overall, Kano OS is a kid-friendly operating system that teaches kids about computers as they use the OS.
4. Risc OS
The Risc OS was originally developed by British company Acorn Computers way back in the 1980s for use in their Archimedes personal computers. Since then, Risc has become an open-source operating system called Risc OS Open; a version of this is available for the Raspberry Pi. Upon booting up Risc OS, you’ll immediately notice that it is vastly different from the Windows/Mac/Linux experience. However, if you take the time to learn how Risc OS works, you’ll be impressed with its performance. This is due to the fact that Risc OS is tiny. The entire OS, including the graphical desktop interface comes in at about 10MB. To sweeten the deal even more, software for Risc OS is calculated in kilobytes, not megabytes. Needless to say, Risc OS is one of the fastest operating systems available.
While there is a steep learning curve, Risc OS presents a fantastic opportunity to learn a new operating system. Fortunately, there is plenty of documentation to help you make heads and tails of Risc OS. Furthermore, once you develop an understanding of the ins and outs, Risc OS becomes a powerful, yet incredibly lightweight OS for your Raspberry Pi.
Do you have a Raspberry Pi? Which operating system do you recommend? Let us know in the comments!