Here’s a list with some of the best alternatives to Raspberry Pi OS (formerly Raspbian), the official GNU/Linux distribution developed by Raspberry Pi Foundation for the Raspberry Pi computer.
If, for some reason, you don’t want to use the official Raspberry Pi OS on your Raspberry Pi computer, you should know that there are many alternatives out there. Some of these distros are derived from Raspberry Pi OS, which in turn is based on the Debian GNU/Linux operating system, but others are derived from Arch Linux, Gentoo, etc.
Raspberry Pi OS ships with its own desktop environment called PIXEL, which is derived from the very popular Xfce desktop environment, but optimized by the Raspberry Pi Foundation for its tiny Raspberry Pi single-board computer.
Each of the alternatives showcased in this article come with various other desktop environments, such as GNOME, Unity, Xfce, KDE Plasma, MATE, LXQt, and Openbox, which you may find out they better suit your needs.
One thing I want to mention is the fact that I’ve tested all these GNU/Linux distributions on a Raspberry Pi 4 computer and didn’t find any major issues when using them as your daily driver. So, without further ado, here are the top 10 best alternatives to Raspberry Pi OS.
Ubuntu needs no introduction, and since the latest release, Ubuntu 20.10 (Groovy Gorilla), comes with an official desktop flavor for the Raspberry Pi 4 computer, it’s probably the best alternative to Raspberry Pi OS because it’s user friendly, looks good/modern, and most things just work.
Like Raspberry Pi OS, Ubuntu is also derived from the Debian GNU/Linux operating system, so you’ll have access to mostly the same packages/applications. You can read my review of Ubuntu 20.10 on the Raspberry Pi 4 to get an idea about the quality of the distro.
On the downside, Ubuntu is only supported on Raspberry Pi 4 devices with 4GB or 8GB RAM. So if you’re looking for a Raspberry Pi OS alternative for your old Raspberry Pi 3 or 2 board, keep on reading!
2. Fedora Linux
Fedora Linux also needs no introduction, so if you’re looking for another quality distro on your Raspberry Pi computer that gives you access to all the latest and greatest GNU/Linux technologies and Open Source software, this is probably your best bet.
Fedora Linux is a versatile distro as it’s available in multiple flavors with the GNOME (Workstation) and Xfce desktop environments preinstalled, as well as Server and Minimal editions for tinkerers, and it’s supported on Raspberry Pi 2, 3, and 4 computers.
3. Kali Linux
Kali Linux is probably one of the best alternatives to Raspberry Pi OS, especially if you’re into ethical hacking and penetration testing. The ARM port uses the lightweight Xfce desktop environment by default and comes with an amazing collection of hacking tools, not to mention a very well made and high quality interface.
As you might know, Kali Linux is derived from Debian GNU/Linux, so that’s why I consider it the best alternative. It’s well made and you can also install it on Raspberry Pi 2, Raspberry Pi 3, Raspberry Pi 4, and Raspberry Pi 400.
4. Manjaro Linux ARM
Another rolling release distro that needs no introduction, Manjaro Linux ARM, is derived from the famous Arch Linux distribution. The Raspberry Pi (ARM) port works on Raspberry Pi 3 and 3+, as well as the newer Raspberry Pi 4 and 400 computers.
The best thing about Manjaro Linux ARM is that it offers several flavors with the Xfce, KDE Plasma, and MATE desktop environments pre-installed, as well as the i3 and Sway window managers.
Minimal flavor window a graphical interface if you want to build your own Manjaro Linux ARM distribution with different desktop environment and set of packages. You can check out my hands-on article to see in action!
SparkyLinux is a tiny distro derived from the stable Debian GNU/Linux repositories, but also using the Raspberry Pi OS (Raspbian) repositories. The ARM port only ships with the Openbox window manager, but the distribution is super fast and most things work out of the box.
The latest release, SparkyLinux 5.14, is powered by the long-term supported Linux 5.10 kernel series, it’s compatible with older Raspberry Pi models like Raspberry Pi 2 and 3, and is also available as a text-mode only variant where you can install a desktop environment of your choice.
You can read my hands-on article with SparkyLinux 5.14 on the Raspberry Pi 4 to see it in action.
6. Ubuntu MATE
Ubuntu MATE needs no introduction as well. It’s an official Ubuntu flavor featuring the lightweight MATE desktop environment. The distro works with a wide range of Raspberry Pi models, including the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, and Raspberry Pi 4.
Ubuntu MATE is one of the most versatile distributions for the Raspberry Pi computer since it’s available for both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures, and comes with two releases, a long-term supported one and an interim release featuring more recent GNU/Linux technologies and apps.
On the downside, Ubuntu MATE requires a full installation on the microSD card, which will take up to 10 minutes to complete. But it will worth the effort!
7. RaspEX Kodi OS
RaspEX Kodi OS is another Debian-based distribution for the Raspberry Pi. It contains “Kodi” in its name because it comes with the popular Kodi media center preinstalled, which might come in handy if you want to turn your Raspberry Pi into a HTPC to want movies, TV shows, or listen to music.
But if you don’t want to use Kodi, RaspEX Kodi OS is a very good alternative to Raspberry Pi OS and can become your daily driver on the tiny computer. It features the lightweight and modern LXQt desktop environment by default and comes with a great selection of software for all your needs, including programming.
8. Ubuntu Unity
If you’re a fan of the good old Unity desktop environment, than Ubuntu Unity is for you. It’s an unofficial Ubuntu flavor that aims to revive Canonical’s now dead Unity 7 interface. Due to the fact that it uses the Unity desktop, Ubuntu Unity requires a Raspberry Pi 4 computer.
It’s also compatible with older Raspberry Pi models, but the performance will be the slowest. Just like Ubuntu MATE, this distro requires a full installation on the microSD card, which will take about 10 minutes to complete.
Fans of the Gentoo Linux operating system would be pleased to learn that exGENT is one of the very few up-to-date live Gentoo systems for the Raspberry Pi. It’s built from scratch and optimized for the Raspberry Pi 4 models, which means it won’t perform well on older Raspberry Pi variants.
exGENT is created by the same developer behind RaspbEX Kodi OS and uses the lightweight LXDE desktop environment by default and comes with a minimal selection of software that includes the Vivaldi web browser, GIMP image editor, as well as the MPV and SMPlayer video players.
I find exGENT more suitable for tinkerers and advanced Linux users since not everything will work out of the box.
Q4OS offers a different approach to the Linux desktop on Raspberry Pi as it uses the Trinity Desktop Environment (TDE) by default, which a clone of the old-school KDE 3.5 desktop environment. I believe this distro is more suitable for those coming from the Windows operating system.
Like many distributions on this list, Q4OS is based on Debian GNU/Linux. The system is quite fast and provides you with a basic set of apps. The distro has good reviews on the Web and it’s supported on various Raspberry Pi models, including Raspberry 3 and 4.
OpenMandriva is also available for the Raspberry Pi computer, supporting Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (check out my first look article on the Raspberry Pi 4), and Raspberry Pi 400. It features a modern AArch64 (ARM 64-bit) port.
OpenMandriva comes with the KDE Plasma desktop environment by default, but you can also install the more lightweight LXQt, Xfce, GNOME, MATE, Cinnamon, Budgie, Lumina, LiquidShell desktops, as well as window managers like IceWM, i3 and Sway.
The popular MX Linux distro is coming soon to the Raspberry Pi too. I will add it to my list when the final version hits the streets. Until then, you can check out my first look article on the Raspberry Pi 4. MX Linux for Raspberry Pi will use the very lightweight Fluxbox window manager by default.
Last updated 8 months ago