A tiny and moderate single-board computer for learning to code through fun and practical projects. It does not include peripherals (such as keyboard and mice). Several generations have been released and processor speed ranges from 700 MHz to 1.4 GHz for the Pi 3 Model B+; on-board memory ranges from 256 MB to 1 GB RAM. Secure Digital (SD) cards in MicroSDHC form factor (SDHC on early models) are used to store the operating system and program memory. The Raspberry Pi is not limited to Raspbian, which is the official distribution but is far from being the only one. There are dozens of operating systems available on Raspberry Pi, and there is not a perfect distribution. Each distribution has its strengths and weaknesses and is more suited to a specific use.

I will present here the 10 distributions that stand out and that deserve to be tested if you’re looking for the ideal system.

1. Raspbian

Raspbian is the official distribution of Raspberry Pi. Based on Debian it is built on the same philosophy, i.e. stability and performance. Today Raspbian comes with the PIXEL desktop (based on LXDE), which makes the Raspberry Pi usable as a daily desktop computer. At the level of the preinstalled applications, we find essential ones like Chromium, Minecraft Pi, Scratch or LibreOffice. If you are used to Debian or Ubuntu, you will not be lost.

2. Ubuntu Mate

If you’re used to Ubuntu and are looking for an alternative to Raspbian, Ubuntu Mate for Raspberry Pi is probably a good choice. Even if it does not have much support from developers and the Raspberry Pi community, its fame in the world of PCs makes us want to test more deeply. You can install additional packages with the apt command. You can download Ubuntu MATE for Raspberry Pi on this page.

3. Retropie

Retropie provides easy setup and a user-friendly interface to start and play your favourite games. Before playing, you have to download ROMs from the Internet, and then upload it 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 to childhood! I choose to place the Retropie distribution in the top 3, because it’s a good one and it allows Raspberry Pi to be discovered by a lot of players, and therefore to make it more known.

4. Kali Linux

Kali Linux is the best penetration testing distribution with a lot of security tools for all kind of purposes :
                 Wireless attacks
                 Passwords cracking
                 Web apps attacks
                 Network sniffers
                 Vulnerability scanners

5. OpenMediaVault

If you want to create a network drive easily and at low cost, OpenMediaVault is probably a good choice. OpenMediaVault is based on Debian, and provide 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 very well on Raspberry Pi. You can add a larger SD card or an external hard drive to increase capacity and store all kind of files. (movies, backups).

6. Gentoo

Gentoo is a lightweight distribution that you 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. The big difference between Gentoo and other distributions is that packages are compiled locally in your computer. If you choose to install 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 will get.

7. Kano OS

As you can see on the picture, Kano OS is a distribution dedicated for kids Kano is a manufacturer selling computer kits for school or kids, to teach them how a computer works. But they also provide a free open-source operating system to install on a Raspberry Pi. After the installation, a wizard will help you to create a user account, that will become a real character in the adventure. Then you can jump into the Story Mode to discover all the stuff provided with Kano OS.

8. Rokos

Rokos is a Raspberry Pi dedicated distribution, to turn it into a Bitcoin miner node. The primary goal of this distribution is to help people to create their first node and learn more about Bitcoin.

9. Minibian

As the name suggests, Minibian is a minimal version of Raspbian without GUI and unneeded software. This distribution takes advantage of the stability and support of Raspbian while proposing a lighter system for embedded systems. You can boot a Minibian image in seconds from a 512MB SD Card. Then you will benefit from the same repositories and binaries from the Raspbian project, and so the same advantages as listed in the first paragraph.

10. Windows 10 IoT

Microsoft designed Windows 10 IoT (Internet Of Things) for small smart devices. Although the name contains “Windows 10” this has nothing to do with the operating system of desktop computers. If you are a developer of Raspberry Pi, you should take a look at this operating system. This is the only non-Linux based system in this ranking, but it deserves to be here. The target of Windows 10 IoT is smart devices like:


This is the end of this ranking, which was intended to make you discover the 10 operating systems that are worth using on Raspberry Pi. If I had to do a synthesis, I would say that for beginners and in most small projects, Raspbian is the best choice. And then the other distributions are more chosen for a specific purpose. If I forgot some that you think should be here, do not hesitate to post them in a comment, I’ll take a look.
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