More flavours of Ubuntu for your Raspberry Pi. Does the Pi provide enough power for them, though?
If you’ve been following Raspberry Pi long enough, you may know that early on in its life there was a call for Ubuntu to be used as an operating system for it. As one of, if not the most popular, version of Linux for home users, this distro was wanted by many seeking something familiar for their new tiny computer. It never came to be. However, as Ubuntu is based on Debian, Raspbian was basically the next best thing.
The full article can be found in The MagPi 42. Ubuntu Pi was tested on the Raspberry Pi 2 before Raspberry Pi 3’s release
When the Raspberry Pi 2 came out, this changed with the release of Ubuntu MATE for the Pi, and this opened the door to more ‘versions’ of Ubuntu – or, at least, different desktop environments running on Ubuntu. Ubuntu Pi Flavour Maker is one of the results of this.
At its core, Flavour Maker is a series of scripts that allow you to build a slightly custom version of Ubuntu for the Raspberry Pi. It uses the all-important armhf build of Ubuntu that’s optimised for the type of chip running on the Pi 2, giving you options for different software and desktops, and even the choice between server and desktop versions depending on your needs.
That may sound a little complicated for some more novice users, but don’t worry – the kind folk who make the software have created a series of images you can install to an SD card, much like any Raspberry Pi operating system. On tap are two versions of Ubuntu Server: one a very minimal install for maximum speed, and a regular install if you need more software. There are also three ‘spins’ that use different desktops: LXDE, Xfce, and MATE. LXDE and Xfce are common lightweight desktop interfaces used on low-powered PCs; Raspbian has used LXDE, or at least a version of it, since it came out.
How do they actually run, then? Much like the normal Ubuntu, there are a few setup steps on your first boot, although the main installation has already occurred so it’s a little truncated. Settings such as locale and keyboard are sorted before booting you into the desktop, although this does take a few minutes to actually occur. Each successive boot is much faster, though, albeit nowhere near the speed of booting into Raspbian.
The OS is presented in a very different way from Raspbian. Whereas much of Raspbian is optimised for the Raspberry Pi, with a lot of educational tools in there as well, the Ubuntu spins are more a traditional desktop – no programming tools installed as standard, and using normal programs as well.
A novelty compared to Raspbian is the addition of a graphical package manager. Both Software Centres and classic Synaptic are available, giving users a way to search for software they may want, which Raspbian currently doesn’t let you do easily. As this is based on Ubuntu armhf, the selection isn’t as broad as in the full version of Ubuntu, but it’s still very good. A lot of major software is available, with the only real limit being the power and performance of the Raspberry Pi 2 running Ubuntu.
Due to its use of more standard software, Ubuntu can lag a bit on the Raspberry Pi 2. Firefox is the default browser, and while a lightweight alternative like Midori is available, it’s not always fast and responsive. It feels like how the browser used to be on the original Raspberry Pi – functional, but a little frustrating to use after a while. Video on YouTube seems right out as well, if you want to watch anything larger than 360p.
It’s not all slow, though. With the right selection of packages and the right use case, it can be just fine. Ubuntu is a slightly more resource-heavy base than Debian as it is, so for anything requiring the extra power, it was never going to be the operating system or distro of choice. The Xfce version does run the best out of the three, but Raspbian is still better in terms of performance.
As a desktop system, though, it’s better. With a few modifications to the default apps, it’s perfectly usable as one, and looks a bit more the part than Raspbian as well. For projects and more niche uses, however, it looks like Raspbian is still king.
It was never going to be as quick as Raspbian, but it’s a fantastic effort that adds some more variety to the operating systems available for the Raspberry Pi.