There has been considerable progress made since the last time I tried a variety of Linux distributions other than Raspbian on the Raspberry Pi, so I’ve given four of them another try.
It has been nearly two years since I tried Fedora, Manjaro and Ubuntu MATE on the Raspberry Pi 2 & 3, and there have been a lot of changes since then. Most for the better, such as the introduction of the Pi 3B+, but a few for the worse, such as the end of the Manjaro Pi development. So I think it’s time to take a fresh look at this.
But, first, why would anyone even want to do this, when Raspbian Linux is available, free, and supports all the special features, quirks and capabilities of the Raspberry Pi hardware?
Well; the most common reasons seem to be that users want to work with a “familiar” distribution, meaning one that they are already using on a PC, such as Ubuntu. Another common reason is that companies have “standardized” on a specific version of Linux for servers, desktops and laptops; this is frequently the case with SUSE and Fedora, for example. Yet another reason might be a specific use of the Raspberry Pi; for example, Kali Linux for penetration testing. Finally you might just be curious (or masochistic) like me, and want to see how (or if) all of this works together.
So, I have taken what I consider to be the four best-known or most popular Linux distributions which have Raspberry Pi ports available, and tried them out on a few of my Raspberry Pi systems. One thing that I am doing differently this time is that I have limited my testing to the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3 (including the 3B+). I learned the last time that even if you could get something running on a Pi Zero or 1, the performance was just too bad to be worthwhile.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Ubuntu MATE seems to be stuck at version 16.04 LTS. That’s well over two years old now. When it first came out, I assumed (well, hoped) that it would be updated along with the regular Ubuntu releases every six months. That didn’t happen when 16.10 came out, so I then hoped that it would at least be updated to the next LTS release. Alas, that also didn’t happen when Ubuntu 18.04 LTS came out.
It has, at least, gotten the point-updates for 16.04, but even those have not been incorporated into new distribution images. So if you get the image from the Ubuntu MATE Downloads page now, what you actually install is 16.04.2, and you then have to try to update from there
Oh, and before I forget to mention it, the Ubuntu MATE distribution images will not boot on a Pi 3B+. This is a “known problem”, because the boot code is different, and since the distribution images haven’t been updated, that’s not a big surprise.