Raspberry PI Operating Systems (OS) – Which one to use in 2020?

Raspbian, OSMC, OpenELEC, Windows IoT Core, RISC operating system? If you’re new to the Raspberry PI, chances are you’re wondering what are all these. These are the commonly known OSes, with some being provided by NOOBS.

You may be wondering about the ones I’ve listed, which is the best for you? In this guide, I’ll cover the ones on NOOBS and other commonly known OS. I’ll also provide recommendations to make your decision an easier one.

This guide will cover the following components:

  • Raspbian, OSMC, LibreELEC, Windows IoT Core, RISC OS: What are they?
  • Comparisons
  • What about others: RetroPie, Ubuntu
  • Recommended OS for Raspberry Pi 4, 4B
  • So which one?

Understanding what you’re using the OS for

To select the most appropriate OS to use, you must first understand what’s your intended purpose. For some, it’s being able to execute basic tasks with a computer while for others it may be media creation/consumption.

To help find your intended purpose, I’ve listed out the common usage purposes with its recommended OS for comparison

For New Users: Raspbian, RISC

What it isOfficial Operating System of Raspberry Pi
Based on Linux-OS Debian
Standalone OS that isn’t built on Linux
Single-user system, with a single app having the ability to take over the whole OS
Main UsagesOffice suite, web browsing, programming, DIY projectsRunning of single applications
Recommended forNew UsersNew Users
CompatibilityAll Raspberry Pi ModelsARM hardware devices
ProsRegular updates
Includes LibreOffice, an office suite for web browsing, emailing etc.
Ease of installing/uninstalling apps with built in app store
Ease of finding guides and troubleshooting as it’s widely adopted
Lightweight, takes up little storage space in your sd card (fits in a 16MB card)
Provides a simpler user experience, easy to learn
Provides BBC Basic programming language
ConsMay be confusing if you’re new to LinuxOne user system limits the ability to multitask and depth of project one can work on
Slow pace of development as compared to other OSes

Verdict: Raspbian or RISC?

With Raspbian being the official OS for the Raspberry Pi, it’ll be a better choice for new users to start with due to it being so widely adopted. With the wide adoption, you can easily find any solutions online if issues are encountered.

For turning your Raspberry Pi into a Media Center: LibreELEC or OSMC

What it isMedia Center Software based on Kodi
A linux distribution that ships Kodi as the main application
Media Center Software based on the Linux Kernel
OS made to run Kodi as the main application
Main UsagesMedia Creation/ConsumptionMedia Creation/Consumption
Only running Kodi
Recommended forUsers that prefer versatility, something apart from just KodiUsers that just prefer using Kodi
CompatibilityAll Raspberry Pi models
Vero (OSMC flagship device)
Apple TV
Raspberry Pi
Odriod Computers
WeTEK hUB and Play 2 media boxes
ProsExpansive, based on Debian
Multi-purpose, allow for other usages/software applications apart from Kodi
Includes a fully functional OS underneath
High Effeciency when running Kodi
ConsRequires more processing power, older hardware may result in lagLacks expansionary capabilities as it’s limited in running Kodi, not that applicable for other software usages

Verdict: LibreELEC or OSMC?

If your sole purpose is to run Kodi, LibreELEC is a better choice for you with its efficient and smooth installation process. However, if you’re looking at a more complete/other usages, OSMC is the one for you.

For Developing and Prototyping on the Pi: Windows IoT Core

Windows IoT Core
What it isDevelopment platform for prototyping internet connected devices
Main UsagesPrototyping and development
Recommended ForDevelopers, coders, programmers
CompatabilityRaspberry Pi, Pi A+, B+, 2, 3
ProsTies into Visual Studio, allow for ease of developing programs.
ConsLacks full compatibility with latest Raspberry Pi Models
Doesn’t provide a full similar Windows desktop experience as it’s incompatible with Pi’s ARM-based hardware

Grove Kit for Win10 IoT Core & Azure Platform

For quick understanding and learning on how to use Windows 10 IoT Core and Microsoft Azure services, this Grove Kit not only provides some Grove hardware modules that are designed for Microsoft Azure services, it contains a guide book as well.

Product Features:

  • A guide book for five scenarios
  • Support Azure IoT Hub and Azure Functions
  • Based on Raspberry Pi and Windows 10 IoT Core

What about others?


  • Purpose: Gaming Applications
  • Builds upon Raspbian, EmulationStation, RetroArch, etc. to enabling gaming capabilities
  • Over 50 Retro gaming systems supported, including Atari Lynx, Game Boy Advance, Gamecube, Nintendo 64, etc.
  • Installable from Raspbian, RetroPie SD


  • Purpose: Gaming applications
  • Lightweight and free OS run on libretro core
  • Automatic joypad recognition, rewinding, netplay, and shaders
  • User-friendly interface that resembles the PS4, Xbox, and Nintendo
  • Support commonly known gaming systems, including Atari, Nintendo 64, Sega, etc.
  • Installable on your SD card, able to run it live

Kid-friendly choice: Kano OS

Do the Icons look kid-friendly? This is the Kano OS, planned and designed for kids!

  • Purpose: Teach kids how to build a computer, code apps/games
  • Open-source OS
  • Uses computer kits based on current trends to help you get started
  • Applications such as web browsers, Minecraft, Youtube are available
  • Many resources and instruction videos are available on their website
  • Installable on a microSD card, Kano walks you through the process as well

Open Source Desktop Experience: Ubuntu

  • Purpose: Cloud Computing (supports OpenStack), Developing and Prototyping
  • Provides a similar PC OS experience
  • FREE, open-source Linux distribution based on Debian developed by Canonical

Able to run on various platforms like:

  • Desktop
  • IoT
  • Cloud
  • Servers
  • Containers
  • Supports all Raspberry Pi models apart from 3A+

For security applications and high computational power: Alpine Linux

  • Purpose: Building security network projects with apk tools
  • Independent Linux distribution
  • Small, simple, and secure; doesn’t occupy more than 50mb of storage
  • APK management tool for easy building and upgrading of apps
  • Able to work on XDCE, Firefox, and Linux software as well

Recommended OS for the Raspberry Pi 4, 4B

If you’re using the Raspberry Pi 4, or 4B, this portion of the blog is the one to look out for. I’ll be recommending the OSes that you can adopt.

Ubuntu 21.04

Ubuntu 21.04, also known as Eoan Ermine, is the latest release of Ubuntu which features new hardware support for AMD Navi GPUs, new ARM SoCs, ARM Komeda Display and Intel Speed Select on Xeon servers. This update brings compatibility with the newest models of Raspberry Pi.


Raspbian being the official OS for the Raspberry Pi does support the latest iteration. Users are required to download one of the following Raspbian images for it to work:

  • Raspbian Buster Lite: A minimal text-only (CLI) version.
  • Raspbian Buster with Desktop: Includes the Raspbian Pixel graphical desktop
  • Raspbian Buster with Desktop and Recommended Software: Includes the Pixel desktop and some additional larger software packages

In Summary, which one is for you?

Based on my recommendations with their download links:

Ultimately, picking which OS is the one for you ultimately comes down to what kind of projects/applications you’re looking for. I’ve provided my recommendations for your consideration. However, with that said, there are still other OSes in the market that you can take a look at.

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October 2019