The Raspberry Pi costs just $40 and is cheap, versatile, and relatively powerful than its competitors. While most projects can be implemented using Raspbian, a fork of Debian Linux, this Raspberry PI OS is not the only option.

So many other operating systems can run on the Raspberry Pi. Just make sure you have a monitor, mouse, and keyboard handy before you boot it up, and a fast microSD card to run your operating system of choice.

Best Raspberry Pi Operating Systems

1. Linux operating systems based on ARM

Let’s clean up this Raspberry Pi OS collection first. It is estimated that there are over 80 Linux-based distributions for the Raspberry Pi. They range from Raspbian to Linutop and even Peebang.

While Raspbian is the default option (and recommended by the Raspberry Pi Foundation), you may prefer Ubuntu MATE or the lightweight DietPi OS. To get away from Debian-based distributions, there is a choice of Pidora (a Fedora-based distribution) and Arch Linux ARM.

Then there’s Kali Linux for testing the pen, and a range of operating system images designed for the Pi, covering many different purposes.

For youth Kano OS [Broken URL Removed] is an educational distribution available for all Pi computers, not just those sold by Kano.

Note that several operating systems (including Raspbian and Ubuntu MATE) are available with the NOOBS installer.

2. Raspberry Pi Media Centers

If you want to use your Raspberry Pi as a media center, you’ll have a good choice. While these operating systems are invariably built on Raspbian/Debian, they are also based on Kodi, the popular media center software. On these systems, you get a disk image to install just like any other Raspberry Pi operating system.

So what’s available? Well, OpenELEC versions are available for all Raspberry Pi consumer models.

Meanwhile, OSMC is compatible with Raspberry Pi 1, 2, 3 and Zero, with regular updates available through a dedicated admin screen. This is also available as an option in NOOBS.

Finally, LibreELEC is also available with the easiest installation thanks to the SD card creation tool for Raspberry Pi 2 and 3 users.


RISC OS for Raspberry Pi

Developed at Cambridge, RISC OS was the first operating system for ARM processors, developed in the 1980s. It saw widespread use in the Acorn Archimedes found in educational settings in the mid-1990s and was eventually replaced by Windows-based computers.

However, the RISC OS remains relevant and easy to set up.

For best results, you will need a mouse with a clickable scroll wheel, as the RISC OS user interface requires a mouse with three buttons. Once installed, you’ll find free apps in Packman and commercial options in the Store app.

You can install RISC OS using the NOOBS installation tool above, or download RISC OS for manual installation.

4. Plan 9

If you’re looking for an alternative to desktop operating systems, the UNIX-like Plan 9 might be the answer. It is an open source OS developed by the same team as the original UNIX.

The microSD card image can be burned in the usual way, and booting will bring you to the Plan 9 OS almost immediately.

In truth, the command line user interface can be difficult to understand. However, if you have experience with UNIX or want to try out such computing systems, Plan 9 is a good place to start. And if you need advice, check out this guide to Terminal Commands

5. Retro games for Raspberry Pi

Back to Linux, and a couple of operating systems for retro gaming can be installed on the Raspberry Pi. Powered by Raspbian/Debian, these tools allow you to run game ROMs and emulators and have user-friendly interfaces inspired by the user console that can be viewed with a game controller.

Several retro suites are available for you to choose from.

RetroPie offers emulation of a wide collection of retro platforms from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. Its main competitor is RecalBox, which supports some later systems that RetroPie doesn’t have.

Prefer to stay away from them? Other options are available.

Lakka is considered «a lightweight Linux distribution that turns a small computer into a complete emulation console», while Pi Entertainment System (PES) is a suite of Arch Linux-based emulators.

PiPlay, meanwhile, is a compact alternative that squeezes 12 platform emulation plus ScummVM into the Raspberry Pi.

Remember: When using an emulator, boot and game ROMs are usually required. To use them legally, you must have previously purchased the original systems and games.

For more details, check out our guide for everything you need to know about retro gaming on your Raspberry Pi.

6 FreeBSD

BSD is not Linux, but it looks like Linux and works much the same. Originating from Research Unix through the Berkeley Software Distribution (hence «BSD»), FreeBSD (or large chunks of its code) is one of the most widely used operating systems in the world.

You’ll find the FreeBSD code on macOS, Nintendo Switch, and Sony PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.

Working on the Raspberry Pi is largely command line oriented, though it does allow you to run apps and games. There is a surprisingly large collection of software available for FreeBSD, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, now is the time — on your Raspberry Pi!

A dedicated RaspBSD operating system is available for download (visit the FreeBSD wiki for more information).

As an alternative, consider NetBSD.

7 Chromium OS

Based on the same code as Chrome OS, Chromium OS can be installed on netbooks, laptops… and Raspberry Pi. By installing Chromium OS, you will have access to the same cloud-based tools found in Chrome OS. (Check out more details on using Chrome OS on Raspberry Pi.)

In fact, there’s a project right here: build your own Raspberry Pi Chromebook! This project is in constant development, so new features may be introduced (or removed) compared to the video above.

Several Chromium OS-based Pi projects are under development. Perhaps the most successful is Flint OS, although you have a strong Chromium OS alternative for everyone.

8. Windows 10 IoT Core

Let’s be clear: Windows 10 IoT Core for Raspberry Pi is not Windows 10 as you know it. Rather, it is an updated version of Windows Embedded that does not have a production environment. Its goal, as evidenced by the «Internet of Things», is the OS of the Internet of Things.

This means the Pi can be used for IoT development purposes, but for best results, you need to remotely connect to your Windows 10 IoT Core device from another PC.

From here, you can deploy software to it from Visual Studio. Raspberry Pi running Windows 10 IoT Core will also run Python apps.

Note, however, that this is a bit of a development dead end. While Windows 10 IoT Core is useful for a certain set of tasks, it is not a Linux replacement for the Raspberry Pi.

Here is our guide to installing Windows 10 IoT Core on Raspberry Pi :

9. Android and Android things

Surprisingly, it’s also possible to run Android on a Raspberry Pi. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: Android runs on just about everything these days, from PCs to set-top boxes. You can even build an Android tablet from scratch for your Raspberry Pi.

Various versions of Android are available for the Pi, with the current versions based on Android 7.0 Nougat. Some builds of Android TV are also in development at the time of writing.

As you might expect, installing Android on your Raspberry Pi gives you access to a huge collection of Android apps and games. There may be compatibility issues, but overall stability is good. You can find a copy of the most recent version on the Android Pi Wiki.

10. AROS: AmigaOS Remake

AmigaOS is one of the most popular operating systems of the past years. This is a closed source project currently owned by Amiga, Inc and licensed exclusively and permanently to Hyperion Entertainment. Several clones have been developed over the years (especially MorphOS), but only AROS is available for the Pi.

As you can see from the demo, some games and apps are available, and you should find the modern Amiga-like experience worthwhile. Download it from the AROS website.

Please note that you can also emulate the Amiga on your computer. and use any of the apps and games from its extensive library.

11. Ichigo Jam BASIC RPi

Finally, IchigoJam BASIC has been ported to the Raspberry Pi.

Designed for the low-power IchigoJam single-board computer manufactured by Sub-Raspberry Pi from Japan, the IchigoJam BASIC RPi is designed for low-level basic computing.

The operating system has been designed to simplify BASIC programming and supports digital I/O, PWM, I2C, and UART functions.

If you want a language you can handle and you’re new to programming, give the IchigoJam BASIC RPi a try. Otherwise, take a look at Rust

So many Raspberry Pi operating systems!

With the Raspberry Pi, you can do just about everything from running a low-budget space program to streaming PC games and launching projects.

Despite the good hardware, the success of the Raspberry Pi depends on the wide variety of operating systems available.

With Linux-based operating systems, the legendary RISC OS and AmigaOS, and even Windows 10 IoT Core, you’ll be hard-pressed to find so many options for any of the Raspberry Pi competitors.

For more help with your Raspberry Pi, check out our guide on how to add a power button to your Raspberry Pi.

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