The Raspberry Pi Foundation has updated its lightweight Linux for 32-bit PCs.
When the first Raspberry Pi launched just over a decade ago, the Raspberry Pi Foundation offered an ARMv6 version of Debian 7. It worked, but it had a problem. While the Pi 1 had a hardware floating-point unit, the ARMv6 version of Debian couldn’t use it. FPU support needed the ARMv7 edition.
Fortunately, Mike Thompson and Peter Green rose to the challenge and created Raspbian. Later officially adopted by the manufacturer and renamed the Raspberry Pi OS. It started out as a seriously cut-down edition of Debian, recompiled for ARMv6 plus
hardfp support – because the fairly feeble SoC in the early Pi needed all the help it could get.
Both the Raspberry Pi and its OS have been huge successes, and both the hardware and software are regularly upgraded. What gets less attention is that for five years, there’s also been a PC OS version. It’s called the Raspberry Pi Desktop. Barring a couple of Pi-native components, such as Mathematica. It’s the same set of customizations applied to the x86-32 edition of Debian.
Now the PC edition has received an update to the same Debian 11 basis as the Pi edition. However, unlike the Pi edition, it hasn’t gone 64-bit: this is still a 32-bit OS for 32-bit PCs (and elderly Intel Macs). And it doesn’t use the fancy 3D Mutter window manager.
Most mainstream distros are now 64-bit only. Ubuntu, for example, dropped 32-bit support in 2019. The ones that still support the architecture are often more technical distros for more skilled users, such as Debian and the minimal Alpine Linux.
The Rasberry Pi Desktop is a welcome exception.
It asks almost no questions during installation and has very few options to tweak. There’s no choice of desktop or components, the only thing you can adjust is the disk partitioning. You get the PIXEL desktop environment. Which is a lightly customized version of LXDE and some basic tools: the Chromium browser, Claws email, LibreOffice, and some educational and programming-related tools.
Although the installation program hasn’t been branded – it still says Debian everywhere – the resulting OS has. It’s rather simpler than the default Debian installation process. It configures a Raspberry Pi-themed graphical startup screen and so on, and once installed, a first-run wizard automatically starts which installs updates, creates a user account and finalizes the config.