PIXEL for PC and Mac

Updates

1.If you find that the taskbar does not appear when the x86 image is booted, please see here for a workaround.

2.If you find the image doesn’t boot on a Mac, you can try the fix here

Our vision in establishing the Raspberry Pi Foundation was that everyone should be able to afford their own programmable general-purpose computer. The intention has always been that the Raspberry Pi should be a full-featured desktop computer at a $35 price point. In support of this, and in parallel with our hardware development efforts, we’ve made substantial investments in our software stack. These culminated in the launch of PIXEL in September 2016.

PIXEL represents our best guess as to what the majority of users are looking for in a desktop environment: a clean, modern user interface; a curated suite of productivity software and programming tools, both free and proprietary; and the Chromium web browser with useful plugins, including Adobe Flash, preinstalled. And all of this is built on top of Debian, providing instant access to thousands of free applications.

Put simply, it’s the GNU/Linux we would want to use.

The PIXEL desktop on Raspberry Pi

Back in the summer, we asked ourselves one simple question: if we like PIXEL so much, why ask people to buy Raspberry Pi hardware in order to run it? There is a massive installed base of PC and Mac hardware out there, which can run x86 Debian just fine. Could we do something for the owners of those machines?

So, after three months of hard work from Simon and Serge, we have a Christmas treat for you: an experimental version of Debian+PIXEL for x86 platforms. Simply download the image, burn it onto a DVD or flash it onto a USB stick, and boot straight into the familiar PIXEL desktop environment on your PC or Mac. Or go out and buy this month’s issue of The MagPi magazine, in stores tomorrow, which has this rather stylish bootable DVD on the cover.

Our first ever covermount

You’ll find all the applications you’re used to, with the exception of Minecraft and Wolfram Mathematica (we don’t have a licence to put those on any machine that’s not a Raspberry Pi). Because we’re using the venerable i386 architecture variant it should run even on vintage machines like my ThinkPad X40, provided they have at least 512MB of RAM.

The finest laptop ever made, made finer

Why do we think this is worth doing? Two reasons:

  • A school can now run PIXEL on its existing installed base of PCs, just as a student can run PIXEL on her Raspberry Pi at home. She can move back and forth between her computing class or after-school club and home, using exactly the same productivity software and programming tools, in exactly the same desktop environment. There is no learning curve, and no need to tweak her schoolwork to run on two subtly different operating systems.
  • And bringing PIXEL to the PC and Mac keeps us honest. We don’t just want to create the best desktop environment for the Raspberry Pi: we want to create the best desktop environment, period. We know we’re not there yet, but by running PIXEL alongside Windows, Mac OS, and the established desktop GNU/Linux distros, we can more easily see where our weak points are, and work to fix them.

Remember that this is a prototype rather then a final release version. Due to the wide variety of PC and Mac hardware out there, there are likely to be minor issues on some hardware configurations. If we decide that this is something we want to commit to in the long run, we will do our best to address these as they come up. You can help us here – please let us know how you get on in the comments below!

Instructions

Download the image, and either burn it to a DVD or write it to a USB stick. For the latter, we recommend Etcher.

Etcher from resin.io

Insert the DVD or USB stick into your PC or Mac, and turn it on. On a PC, you will generally need to enable booting from optical drive or USB stick in the BIOS, and you will have to ensure that the optical drive or USB stick is ahead of all other drives in the boot order. On a Mac, you’ll need to hold down C during boot*.

If you’ve done that correctly, you will be greeted by a boot screen.

Boot screen

Here you can press escape to access the boot menu, or do nothing to boot through to the desktop.

Spot the difference: the PIXEL desktop on a PC

Please note that this initial experimental version is only available as a live image to boot from USB or DVD. In future releases, we may create an installer so it can be permanently installed on your computer’s hard drive, but for now this is can only be temporarily booted for trial purposes.

* We are aware of an issue on some modern Macs (including, annoyingly, mine – but not Liz’s), where the machine fails to identify the image as bootable. We’ll release an updated image once we’ve got to the bottom of the issue.

Persistence

If you are running from DVD, any files you create, or modifications you make to the system, will of course be lost when you power off the machine. If you are running from a USB stick, the system will by default use any spare space on the device to create a persistence partition, which allows files to persist between sessions. The boot menu provides options to run with or without persistence, or to erase any persistence partition that has been created, allowing you to roll back to a clean install at any time.

Boot menu

Disclaimer

One of the great benefits of the Raspberry Pi is that it is a low-consequence environment for messing about: if you trash your SD card you can just flash another one. This is not always true of your PC or Mac. Consider backing up your system before trying this image.

Raspberry Pi can accept no liability for any loss of data or damage to computer systems from using the image.