The whole concept of The Best for Desktop Usage is: what’s the best desktop application to use and why. This is a subjective preference and although it’s not objective, it’s something that can be discussed. This is because a lot of things can be better or worse in different situations.
A lot of people ask me about what’s the best for desktop usage, but I’m not a computer expert, and I’m not an expert about the computer industry at all. I have been in the computer industry for over 20 years, but it doesn’t mean I am an expert about everything. I just wanted to share my experience with some of the computer software that I’ve used over the years, either personal or at work. I also share a lot of my experience with the computer industry in general, if you’re interested in that.
Most of you should already be familiar with the Raspberry Pi operating system, as it is the default operating system on every new Raspberry Pi, but there are other options as well, and Ubuntu is the most popular of them. Especially for PC users: If you are used to using it on your regular PC, you might be tempted to use it on your Raspberry Pi as well. Is it worth it? We will cover that in this article, I have tested both devices and can share my impressions with you.
|Test criteria||Raspberry Pi OS||Ubuntu|
The best Raspberry Pi distribution for desktop use is the Raspberry Pi OS, which offers very good performance and is based on Debian, making it easy to customize. Ubuntu offers a better user experience, especially for those who are used to it, but also has some drawbacks such as performance and compatibility.
Anyway, I compare everything in this post and you will understand how I evaluated these criteria and chose this score for each of them.
Raspberry Pi OS vs. Ubuntu : Background
Before we begin, let’s do a reminder: Raspberry Pi OS and Ubuntu are based on Debian, which is one of the most popular distributions in the world. Debian is known for its stability and simplicity.
Since both the Raspberry Pi and Ubuntu operating systems are based on Debian, you will find many similarities in the basic system (for example, they both use APT as their package manager). However, in this article we will focus on the ease of use of the desktop replacement.
The Raspberry Pi operating system was developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to provide a robust distribution for the small computer. Since the main purpose is to use it in a school, it should be expected to be easy to use and well compatible, but perhaps too programmatic. We’ll see.
Ubuntu has the opposite, being relatively new to the Raspberry Pi (at least the stable version). They have been very successful on standard computers, but their version for the Raspberry Pi is a new derivative. Let’s see if they managed to keep the benefits of their system for the Raspberry Pi. Compatibility and performance will likely be a challenge, but the overall user experience should improve if it succeeds.
I won’t award points in this first section, but understand that, theoretically, the Raspberry Pi operating system is king here and Ubuntu is the challenger we will evaluate. I did a quick poll on YouTube, it confirms my impression, but we’ll see how it goes:
Raspberry Pi OS vs. Ubuntu : Image and compatibility
The Raspberry Pi operating system has been around since the release of the Raspberry Pi computer (in 2012). The first version was released almost simultaneously with the first Raspberry Pi model, it is well optimized for the Raspberry Pi and a new version of the RPI OS is usually released with each new model to ensure maximum compatibility.
Ubuntu has only had an official version for the Raspberry Pi for a few years and still has some serious issues to be fixed in the 2020 releases (no Wi-Fi support, no desktop version, etc.). In this article I will test the 21.04 version and see how it goes. At least they now have a desktop image, and it supports a 64-bit processor, something that is not yet available for the Raspberry Pi OS at the time of writing.
The Raspberry Pi operating system can be downloaded in three versions:
- Raspberry Pi OS with recommended desktop and software
- Raspberry Pi operating system with desktop
- Raspberry Pi OS Lite
As the name suggests, the Lite version is a minimal operating system with no interface. There is a GUI version and another with many applications so you can work directly with it.
Ubuntu has two versions for the Raspberry Pi:
- Ubuntu Server
- Ubuntu Desktop
The former is the counterpart of the Raspberry Pi OS Lite, with a minimal system (command line only), and the latter has a desktop interface.
In this article, I will compare the desktop and recommended software of Raspberry Pi OS with Ubuntu Desktop. After extraction, the two images are almost the same size, which won’t make a difference if you have a slow internet connection. Ubuntu just uses better compression to make the overall boot size smaller, but I don’t think you’ll choose a system on that criterion alone :).
I use a Raspberry Pi 4 and you can use Ubuntu on it, so no major compatibility issues here. Just be aware that the Ubuntu desktop image can only run on a 64-bit processor. Older models are therefore not compatible (unlike the operating system of the Raspberry Pi).
This shouldn’t be a problem, since you probably won’t be using the Raspberry Pi Zero for desktop use, but keep an eye on it. Also, minor compatibility issues with Ubuntu are still to be expected, so I can’t give this distribution a higher rating:
|Raspberry Pi OS||Ubuntu|
|Compatibility with Raspberry Pi||5/5||3/5|
Message: The compatibility criterion is especially important if you want to use the GPIO and HAT pins in the Raspberry Pi. I don’t mention it because it’s generally irrelevant to computing, but consider it in your final choice: Raspberry Pi OS will always be more compatible than any other distribution.
Raspberry Pi OS vs. Ubuntu : Release and update cycle
In mainstream computing this is often one of the main differences brought up when comparing Debian and Ubuntu, let’s see how it goes in this case.
Raspberry Pi OS
Raspberry Pi OS follows the Debian release cycle. This means that there is a major update about every two years, and security updates appear in the repository as soon as they are available. The pace is quite slow, but it helps to maintain stability.
In addition, the Raspberry Pi Foundation adds other updates depending on the version of the hardware and the problems it encounters. So we have an update for each new model and often other updates for specific purposes (Raspberry Pi overheating problem, firmware for booting from an SSD, etc).
In general, upgrades are slightly more frequent than in Debian, but they always follow the same cycle for major releases:
|Raspberry Pi operating system version||Release date|
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One of the main goals of the Ubuntu project was to change that. They are now working on a schedule of two major updates per year: the first in April, the second in October. By the way, the version numbers follow a rule: 21.04, for example, is the April 2021 version.
The benefits are that you get new versions of the software faster. For example, at the time of writing, the Raspberry Pi operating system uses Python 3.7 (released in 2018) and Ubuntu ships with Python 3.9 (2020). You will notice a similar difference in most applications.
On the PC, you also get better driver support under Ubuntu than Debian, but this is not the case on the Raspberry Pi, as the Raspberry Pi operating system is vendor-specific.
In general, Ubuntu is ideal if you need new applications and frequent updates, while the Raspberry Pi’s operating system is often more stable and updated less frequently. In this case, it is a personal choice that largely depends on how you want to use your system.
I’ve worked with Ubuntu on a PC for many years and I can tell you that an upgrade or update that breaks everything is very annoying, so in this case I prefer the Debian approach. You can always find a way to download and install the latest version of a particular application, but I don’t want automatic updates to ruin everything!
I am not giving an estimate here because it is up to you to decide, these distributions are not designed to be used under the same conditions. You will often use the Raspberry Pi operating system for servers and Ubuntu for smaller computers. But it’s up to you, do what you want, but I prefer the Raspberry Pi OS update system.
Raspberry Pi OS vs. Ubuntu : First boot
Raspberry Pi OS
The Raspberry Pi operating system is booted directly from the default session. The default user is pi. The first time you boot up, a Welcome Wizard will appear to guide you through the initial setup steps: Language, password, screen, Wi-Fi and updates.
This tool is easy to use and fairly quick to execute, you can even skip it all if you want to start right away and configure the system later. As a Frenchman, I would like to see a way to set the keyboard layout in this wizard, but it is not possible (except in the US/UK), you have to do it afterwards (even if it asks for the password at the next step…).
Ubuntu also has a welcome wizard that appears on the first boot. You can change the language, keyboard layout and time zone, but you also need to create your first user. It’s an extra step over the Raspberry Pi operating system, but it’s a good thing from a security standpoint (it’s better than using the same user/password for everyone).
The biggest problem is that this master will take a lot of time. Looks like he needs your answers to set up the system. It sets the language and keyboard layout and configures the hardware – all over the USB. For those who are used to it, it is the same as on a desktop computer.
Updates are mandatory, so you should wait to download and install. Again, not a big deal if you have a good internet connection, but a little annoying if you’re not so lucky :).
The whole process will take 10 to 15 minutes. The Raspberry Pi then reboots and displays the full interface. Another wizard is available to help you set up Internet accounts, privacy, etc. But this time, it’s not mandatory.
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In general, the Raspberry Pi’s operating system works faster because everything is already pre-installed on the SD card. The Ubuntu distribution takes a little longer, but it includes security measures, which is a very good thing. I still give it a speed penalty, but if you plan on using Ubuntu as your primary operating system, 15 minutes for the initial boot isn’t so bad.
I don’t give either of them the highest rating because I think we can do better. The Raspberry Pi operating system always uses the default username and password, and neither allows detailed configuration of the display (resolution, dual screen, etc.). For newcomers, especially beginners, having to go to settings after the first pass is a bit frustrating.
|Raspberry Pi OS||Ubuntu|
|First Download Experience||4.5/5||3.5/5|
Raspberry Pi OS vs. Ubuntu : Interface
Do not expect to find the same interface after booting the system. Although both are based on Debian, they do not include the same desktop environment. The Raspberry Pi operating system uses Pixel, a modified version of LXDE, and Ubuntu uses GNOME. The choice here will probably depend on your preferences, but we can take a look anyway.
Raspberry Pi OS
The main purpose of the Raspberry Pi’s operating system is not its design, and you’ll realize that as soon as you boot it up for the first time. There is a main menu where everything is sorted by category. You’ll be able to find any application you’re looking for quickly (maybe not the first time, but it won’t take long ^^).
The main thing that bothers me about the Raspberry Pi operating system is that the style has barely evolved since the beginning, leaving us with a desktop interface that looks like a Debian from the 2000s. It’s not the main selection factor, especially since you can customize everything to improve the look, but it’s a little rough on first impressions.
However, in Raspberry Pi OS, you can certainly find any option related to your Raspberry Pi in the configuration options. As I mentioned in the previous section, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is working hard to make all of its models compatible and optimized, so you won’t have any problems here. Advanced configuration can be done in the Raspberry Pi configuration tool, in the Settings section.
If you use the desktop computer to program or create electronic circuits, the operating system Raspberry Pi has a distinct advantage in this case.
Ubuntu has no old-fashioned menu, and design seems to be the company’s main concern. The main shortcut panel is on the left, and the icon list shows all installed applications. This is similar to what you can do, for example. B. on your phone.
You have an easy-to-use search engine that allows you to quickly find any application or tool installed on your system.
Overall, you can expect a modern interface. There is no compromise because of the Raspberry Pi platform (at least, I haven’t found one yet). For example, the control center is the same as on the PC, everything is in one application:
In general, the default user experience is better in Ubuntu. A nice design and a generally more modern interface that works well. Moreover, users are often more used to this interface (when working with Windows, macOS or Linux distributions on a PC), so I think it suits everyone. The Raspberry Pi’s operating system remains simple, but at the expense of the overall look and feel.
Remember, you can change the desktop environment and themes on both platforms, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t like the default. But when I evaluate the default interface, I can only give Ubuntu top marks.
|Raspberry Pi OS||Ubuntu|
Raspberry Pi OS vs. Ubuntu : Annexes
The system is installed and the first check is done! Now it’s time to look at the standard applications. Remember that both the Raspberry Pi and Ubuntu operating systems are based on Debian, so they will often have access to the same applications, but in this section we will focus on the standard applications.
Raspberry Pi OS
The Raspberry Pi operating system comes with the most important applications pre-installed:
|E-mail client||Claw Post|
In addition to these basic applications, the Raspberry Pi’s operating system contains mostly programming tools: Java and Python IDEs, text editors, Scratch, Sonic Pi and Wolfram. There are also a few games and accessories (calculator, PDF viewer, archiver, etc.), but nothing extraordinary about the operating system.
To install a new application, you have two options: the Add/Remove Software tool (this is the APT GUI) and Recommend Software, which displays all recommended applications for the Raspberry Pi. This second tool has almost everything already configured, so you won’t use it much.
This is what the Add/Remove Software tool looks like:
The applications are sorted by category, but in each category you get all the available packages. Everything is mixed up: Applications, dependencies, language packages, etc. It’s really not a good experience for beginners. Good luck if you don’t know the exact name of the package. There is a search engine, but as you can see in the example, even when searching for something like firefox, you get a huge scrollbar with hundreds of available packages.
On Ubuntu, the main applications are :
|Music player||Rhythm Box|
These solutions are the same as those used on the PC. Unfortunately, Firefox is not the best choice as a web browser on the Raspberry Pi (regardless of the operating system used), and I believe there is a similar problem with Thunderbird (I don’t use an email client). It would be better to adapt the standard applications to the Raspberry Pi hardware, but as explained above, they just duplicate their distribution to run on the Raspberry Pi, it’s not specially optimized for it (at least not as much as the Raspberry Pi OS).
Also included are common tools such as a calculator, calendar, disk usage analyzer, Remmina (for remote access) and Transmission (torrent client). There are also some basic games installed.
However, Ubuntu’s strength lies in its application catalog, similar to your smartphone’s app store, where you can easily find and install new programs. It’s a little slow on first launch, but then you have access to different categories where you can see the most popular apps with reviews and some screenshots.
We will return to this in the next chapter. This tool is a bit slow on the Raspberry Pi, but the user experience is still great, as you can quickly find the applications you’re looking for even if you don’t know their names.
Message: To be clear, not all applications are available in this tool, so you may need to use apt (or snap, which may also be of interest on Ubuntu). For example. B. VNC and SSH servers are not enabled by default and are not available in the Ubuntu software.
In general, the Raspberry Pi operating system contains the best default applications for the Raspberry Pi, but Ubuntu offers a better user experience when searching for and installing new programs. A mix of both would be better, but it’s affordable :).
I still give Ubuntu a slight edge, because you will probably need to install new applications in both cases, and that will be easier with Ubuntu.
|Raspberry Pi OS||Ubuntu|
Message: Ubuntu can also offer proprietary software in its repositories, which is more than can be said of the Raspberry Pi operating system. From the user’s point of view, it is often better to have more choices, but some of you may be attached to the philosophy of free software.
Raspberry Pi OS vs. Ubuntu : Benefits
You now have a better idea of what to expect from each system. The last thing to look at is overall performance. We know that the Raspberry Pi operating system should be better optimized for the Raspberry Pi, but let’s see how it performs in real-world use.
Raspberry Pi OS
In terms of performance, the Raspberry Pi’s operating system provides an excellent user experience. We’re regularly reminded that this is a Raspberry Pi and not a gaming PC, but for desktop use it’s pretty solid.
|Examination||Results with RPI OS|
|Access time to the website (Wikipedia)||13s|
|Time to open LibreOffice Writer||15s|
|Experience on YouTube||Navigation is a bit slow (probably a hardware limitation).
The visual experience is excellent, even in HD.
No crash in full screen mode.
These results are meaningless without comparison, so let’s see how Ubuntu runs the same tests.
The excellent user interface and desktop environment that Ubuntu offers comes at a price: Performance will not be as good as the Raspberry Pi’s operating system. They also don’t spend as much time as Foundation to optimize their system on the Raspberry Pi, and it shows in the results:
|Access time to the website (Wikipedia)||23s|
|Time to open LibreOffice Writer||11s|
|Experience on YouTube||Slow navigation.
Some crashes in full screen and HD, but compared to older versions of Ubuntu, these are great improvements.
So, at first glance, the two main problems here are load time and the default browser. If you are patient until the first boot (or if you leave the Raspberry Pi on all the time) and replace Firefox with Chromium, that should solve these problems.
Also remember that Ubuntu is a 64-bit operating system, and can take advantage of that when working with certain applications, even if the overall experience isn’t very good.
Overall, the Raspberry Pi operating system is faster than Ubuntu in terms of performance. So if speed is important to you, this may be the best choice.
I still find these results a bit slow, the Raspberry Pi 4/400 should probably perform better. And one way to do this is to use an SSD instead of an SD card (as explained in my bootcamp course). Load and response times are generally better. I highly recommend it for computer use.
|Raspberry Pi OS||Ubuntu|
|It’s time to open a website||4/5||3/5|
|Time to open the application||4/5||4/5|
|The user experience on YouTube||3.5/5||3/5|
Raspberry Pi OS vs. Ubuntu : What should I choose?
Choosing between Raspberry Pi OS and Ubuntu is often a personal decision, and this article should have already answered most of your questions. You should now be able to make your choice based on everything you have read in this comparison. I’ll try to give you my recommendations anyway.
The Raspberry Pi operating system is a great solution for new Raspberry Pi users who don’t want to deal with configuration and performance issues. If appearance is important to you, you should make an effort to customize and find applications that meet your needs. But since there is a big community here, it shouldn’t be a big problem and you will find help quickly, especially on this site :).
For example, check out my guides on changing the look of your desktop and the best applications to install.
Ubuntu has made a big effort in recent months to challenge the Raspberry Pi’s operating system. The user interface is almost perfect, with a nice default design and useful tools like the application catalog and control center. It still has some performance issues, but this should improve quickly with 64-bit support.
If you are used to using it on PC and the load times are slow, you can try it.
|Compatibility||Raspberry Pi operating system|
|Updates||Raspberry Pi OS for stability, Ubuntu for the latest versions|
|Installation||Raspberry Pi operating system|
|Applications||Raspberry Pi OS for default applications, Ubuntu for application management.|
|Speech||Raspberry Pi operating system|
The verdict from this table seems pretty clear, but I still think Ubuntu is a good choice in some cases, and will probably be better in future Raspberry Pi models.
Note that there are many other distributions on the Raspberry Pi (mentioned in this article) and I know many of you prefer Manjaro for desktop use, but it was not a competitor in this article, maybe in the future I will make the same comparison with other operating systems, let me know if you are interested :).
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is best configuration for desktop?
Best configuration for desktop is to have one monitor.
Which desktop is best for home use?
The best desktop for home use is a desktop with a large hard drive, a high-end graphics card, and a powerful CPU.
What is the best desktop computer to buy in 2020?
The best computer to buy in 2020 is the Acer Predator 27 X.
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