Small is beautiful: Raspberry Pi's Linux comes to the x86 world

The minimal Debian-based Linux for Raspberry Pi, now available for x86-powered PCs, is a boot-and-run environment for Linux novices, students, and tinkerers

Pixel, the tiny but useful Linux distribution originally launched  in September for the ARM-powered Raspberry Pi, is now available in an experimental build for x86 architectures.

The current version is considered a prototype, not an actual point release, but it boots and runs on both PC and Mac architectures. By running Pixel on those platforms as well as ARM, the Raspberry Pi team hopes to garner a broader base of feedback for improving the distribution.

“We don’t just want to create the best desktop environment for the Raspberry Pi,” the team writes in its introductory blog post. “We want to create the best desktop environment, period.”

Pixel is based on Debian Linux (the Jesse edition) and comes bundled with an assortment of useful software in a 1.3GB ISO image: the LibreOffice suite, the Chromium web browser, and software development tools like the Geany IDE. Tools for Java and Python are also included, along with the Scratch programming environment for novices. New software can be added using Debian’s repositories, 

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Pixel for x86 provides LibreOffice, the Chromium browser, and a slew of programming utilities in a 1.3GB ISO. Just don't expect to install it natively on a PC -- it's only meant to be run from a CD-ROM or USB drive.

There is as yet no mechanism for installing Pixel on a system; it’s designed to be booted and run from a CD-ROM or USB flash drive. If you’re using the latter, though, Pixel can automatically save the state of the system to a “persistence partition” on the drive’s unused space. No changes are made to the rest of the system, although Pixel does come with the usual no-warranties disclaimer attached to most Linux distributions.

Aside from broadening the audience for Pixel, another reason its creators wanted to port the system to x86 was to give existing Raspberry Pi users a way to run the same OS environment on both the Pi and other hardware, “using exactly the same productivity software and programming tools, in exactly the same desktop environment.”

Pixel will likely appeal not just to Raspberry Pi users, but to those who’ve cut their teeth on earlier minimal distros, such Puppy Linux or Tiny Core Linux. Like Pixel, those distributions were made to run on low-end hardware, such as the current generation of low-cost Windows 10 PCs (e.g., the HP Stream). The biggest difference is that those projects are well-established, while Pixel on x86 is still provisional.

The Raspberry Pi team wants to determine if it’s worth the effort to commit to the project in the long run.