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Raspberry Pi Operating Systems

‘Tux’, the Linux mascot

There is a choice of operating systems for the Raspberry Pi, most of which are variants of Linux. Apparently there is work being done to make the Android OS and other operating systems available for the Pi, however these aren’t yet complete.

The operating system you choose to install will depend on how you intend to use your Pi. I wanted to be able to access Youtube from my Pi, but the recommended Debian based operating system doesn’t support Flash, so I had to look for an alternative. I found RaspBMC which is a version of Linux with a media centre add-on called XBMC, which allows access to music, video and image files. However, the media centre limits the functionality and I couldn’t figure out how to browse the web or do any non-media centre activities with RaspBMC.

In the end I got two SD memory cards, one with RaspBMC installed and one with Debian ‘wheezy’. If I want to watch videos or listen to music I boot up with the SD card containing RaspBMC, and if I want to do web surfing, e-mail, programming and productivity tasks, then I use the SD card with Debian ‘wheezy’. It’s not an ideal situation, but since Linux is open source and constantly being updated I’m sure someone will come up with something better.

Installing RaspBMC

I downloaded the Windows installer from the Download section of the RaspBMC site, inserted a SD card into my computer and ran the installer. It was that simple. However, when I booted the Pi I got a string of networking errors and it ended up at a command prompt instead of booting into the Graphical User Interface. I later found out that you MUST connect the Pi to the Internet for first install, as it connects to the Internet and updates automatically. I wish this had been explicit in the instructions.

After installing I had to install Add-ons to use various features such as Youtube. Installing the add-on for Youtube was simple – all you do is choose it from a list and it installs automatically.

I had heard there was a BBC iPlayer add-on, however it wasn’t listed in the Add-Ons, and I still haven’t been able to find out how to install it or even where to get it.

RaspBMC worked fairly well, but was a bit sluggish. When I used with with an underpowered power supply (5 volts, 0.4 amps) I found that the mouse pointer disappeared occasionally and the Pi crashed a lot. This was fixed by using a 5 volt 1 amp power supply.

Also, when running the Youtube Add-on when connected to a TV with the RCA connector I found that the video signal turned into static and I had to reboot the Pi. I never successfully got a video to play when connected to a TV with the RCA. However the HDMI connector worked perfectly. I have since read that an update to RaspBMC may have resolved this video problem, but I have yet to try it.

One big drawback of using RaspBMC seems to be the inability to do anything outwith the ‘media centre’ – so it’s not easy to use office applications or a web browser. Perhaps it is, but I just haven’t found how to yet.

Installing Debian ‘wheezy’

Installing the ‘recommended’ Debian Linux was fairly simple too, but not as easy as RaspBMC. First I had to download a disk imager (Win32DiskImager) and the zip file containing the disk image. The SD card was inserted into the computer and after running the disk imager I selected the disk image and the appropriate drive. The files copied over and I was able to boot up the Pi with ‘Debian Wheezy’.

During first boot-up I was prompted for information such as the time zone, etc and whether I wanted it to start the GUI automatically. If you don’t start the GUI automatically the Pi boots to a command prompt and you can enter startx to start the GUI.

The GUI itself, called LDXE looks very much like Windows and most people will be able to navigate their way around and start applications.

The web browser that is provided is called Midori, and I found it to be quite slow and not capable of viewing some complex sites containing HTML5 or Flash content.

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  1. Bosstiger
    August 31, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Reblogged this on Gigable – Tech Blog.

  2. September 6, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    To load iPlayer and 4 and 5 on demand follow the instructions at http://djb31st.co.uk/blog/catch-up-tv-on-raspberry-pi-raspbmc-bbc-iplayer/

    Alternatively I believe you can download the files mentioned there onto a usb stick and plug that into your Pi and install the add ons from there. Or for that matter from any network drive Raspbmc can access.

    Raspbmc runs on Raspbian which is a linux optimised for the Pi baed on Debian. I am wondering if it possible to make a Rasbian SD card that boots into Raspbian and then have the choice of starting Raspbmc or a brower and switching between the two.

    • colinmaxwell
      September 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      Thanks for that. I’ll give it a try.

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