Lightweight distributions for the Raspberry Pi

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Article from Issue 274/2023

The Raspberry Pi is a Linux machine, and its default distribution is Raspberry Pi OS. But Linux is all about choices….

The default operating system for the Raspberry Pi is the 32-bit version of Raspberry Pi OS [1], formerly known as Raspbian, which was short for Rasp(berry-Pi-De)bian: The distribution is based on Debian GNU/Linux. 2022 saw the official release of a 64-bit version, but the 32-bit edition remains the standard.

Many of the other big Linux distributions have released ARM versions that run on the Rasp Pi, for example Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora, Manjaro, Gentoo, Arch Linux, Slackware, and Pop!_OS – some of which will only run on the Rasp Pi 4 and Rasp Pi 400. Kali Linux and Recalbox, which I mention elsewhere in this issue, are also available for the Rasp Pi. Rather than enumerating these Rasp Pi versions of everyday Linux, this article highlights some alternative distros you might not know about.

Finding Distributions

If you want to get an overview of Linux distributions for the Raspberry Pi, you can check the RPi Distributions page in the Embedded Linux Wiki [2]. However, many of the entries on that page are outdated. You can also use your favorite search engine to find distributions, or you can simply download the official Raspberry Pi Imager from the same web page that hosts Raspberry Pi OS [1]: The imager lets you download various distro images and write them to an SD card (Figure 1).


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