Here we are! The first Ubuntu Desktop experience on the Raspberry Pi has arrived with Ubuntu 20.10 and it turns out to be quite amazing. In this review, I’m going to tell you what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to be improved.
Canonical released Ubuntu 20.10 (Groovy Gorilla) at the end of October 2020, and it’s the first release of the popular GNU/Linux distribution to offer an Ubuntu Desktop image for Raspberry Pi computers, supporting only Raspberry Pi 4 and Raspberry Pi 400 models.
Ubuntu was already available for the Raspberry Pi, but only as a server, supporting Raspberry Pi 2 and later models. Now, Canonical gives us the opportunity to turn our tiny devices into versatile office or home office computers that can do pretty much anything you throw at them.
You can see that Canonical has put a lot of effort into offering us the best out-of-the-box Ubuntu Desktop experience on the Raspberry Pi from the moment you download and install Ubuntu 20.10 on the Raspberry Pi.
Installing Ubuntu 20.10 has to be the easiest Linux OS installation on a Raspberry Pi I’ve seen so far, and that’s because of distro’s availability on the Raspberry Pi Imager, Raspberry Pi Foundation’s open source imaging utility for writing Linux-powered distributions and other related software on the microSD card of your Raspberry Pi.
So, to write Ubuntu 20.10 (or any of the supported Ubuntu versions for the Raspberry Pi) on a microSD card, all you have to do is run Raspberry Pi Imager on your Linux, Mac or Windows machine, select the operating system/microSD card, and the utility will take care of the rest.
The awesome Ubuntu Desktop experience on the Raspberry Pi starts once Raspberry Pi Imager finishes writing Ubuntu 20.10 on the microSD card and you power on the tiny computer (with the microSD card inserted).
You will be greeted by a first-time installation/configuration wizard that asks you to choose a language, location, and set up a default user. In a few minutes, Ubuntu 20.10 will be permanently installed on the microSD card and you can start using it on your Raspberry Pi 4 (4GB and 8GB variants are supported) or Raspberry Pi 400 computer.
If you are familiar with the Ubuntu desktop on your desktop or laptop computer, let me tell you that nothing will change when you run Ubuntu on a Raspberry Pi board. In fact, if you mostly do home office work (write documents, surf the Web, watch videos, etc.), you can even replace your desktop PC with a Raspberry Pi, which will save you a lot of money on energy bills.
You’ll get the same apps, the same GNOME-based Ubuntu desktop experience, and even a bit extra as Ubuntu 20.10 for Raspberry Pi comes with a unique selection of default wallpapers you won’t find anywhere else (OK, you can download them from here).
Since Ubuntu 20.10 was released in October 2020, you will have to update the system, of course. There are quite a few updates to apply, including a new firmware for Raspberry Pi 4, so go ahead and do that as soon as you fire up the operating system if you want to have the best possible experience and up-to-date apps.
I’m using Ubuntu 20.10 (Groovy Gorilla) on a Raspberry Pi 4 with 8GB RAM and the system is very fast, even after several hours of usage. The desktop and apps render very well and everything is snappy. The memory usage didn’t go above 2GB usage even when watching Full HD videos. Start up RAM usage is at around 1.5GB.
What works? Wi-Fi 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks work, Bluetooth works and I was able to connect my TaoTronics wireless earbuds with a single mouse click, Full HD (1080p) YouTube videos work in both Mozilla Firefox (default) and Chromium web browsers (installed as a snap), and Full HD (1080p) video playback works flawlessly too.
What doesn’t work? Of course, 4K YouTube or local video playback doesn’t work, but that could be considered a hardware limitation. On YouTube, you can see the Quad HD (1440p) and 4K (2160p) quality options on both Firefox and Chromium, but playback is very slow on 1440p and non-existent on 2160p. Local 4K videos won’t even play in VLC or MPV (both installed from the archives).
Running Ubuntu 20.10 on the Raspberry Pi 4 was the best ‘Linux on Raspberry Pi’ experience I’ve had so far. However, there are a couple of tiny things that need to be improved in future releases. For example, if you change the default wallpaper to anything else, you won’t be able to get it back.
Also, the About page in System Settings doesn’t show CPU and disk capacity info, and the GNOME version isn’t in sync with what’s installed on the system. But other than that, congrats to Canonical and the Ubuntu Desktop team for an awesome Ubuntu Desktop on Raspberry Pi release!
Last updated 1 year ago