In order to install an Operating System onto the Raspberry Pi, you will need another computer with a slot for an SD Card. As mentioned before, you will need an SD Card with a capacity of 2GB or higher.
There are several choices of operating systems when it comes to the Raspberry Pi: all are Linux distributions, but they all vary slightly.
This is the recommended distribution of Linux by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Since it is the easiest to use (plus most other tutorials are based on Raspian), this is the distribution we will be using. It is based on the Debian Operating system which means you can download programs from the Debian repositories.
Since the RPi was designed with children in mind, Raspian comes with a Python and Scratch programming environment already installed. This is another reason we like it so much: very little Linux knowledge is required to use it.
Arch Linux was designed for more advanced users with a lot more Linux experience than most. It is well designed and allows users to understand how the whole system works. Unlike Raspian, it does not have much software preinstalled (it doesn’t even have a graphical interface) and so will require a lot more work to get setup: but in doing so, you will learn a lot about the inner-workings of Linux.
An official version of Android has been released for the Raspberry Pi but it is still under development. On the whole it isn’t as nice as the other distributions but it is apparently getting better with each new release.
Pidora is a distribution of Linux based on the popular Fedora operating system. It was designed to work around the ARM processor on the Raspberry Pi and like Arch Linux it is more complicated than Raspian. Again we don’t recommend you use this distro unless you know what you’re doing when it comes to Linux. It does have a large repository based on the official Fedora repository and so finding software won’t be a problem.
RISC OS was first released in 1987 by the computer company, Acorn (based in Cambridge, England). It was specifically designed for ARM architecture and has since been ported to the RPi and is now available for free. It has a very nice look and feel to it and like Pidora and Arch Linux, it requires a bit or prior knowledge to use it (again we don’t recommend it for beginners).
If you want a comparison of all the different operating systems available, Tech Radar wrote a very interesting article that is worth a read.
Once you have selected your distribution, head on over to the Raspberry Pi website to download the image. We will be downloading Raspbian “wheezy”.
Once we have our image, we then need to use Win32 Disk Imager to copy it to the SD Card. You need to use this, rather than just extracting the image and copying the files. You can download it from here.
…or do a search.
Open up Win32 Disk Imager and select the downloaded image.
Then select the device from the drop-down box on the right. If you are unsure which device your SD Card is, go to ‘My Computer’ and see which letter Windows has assigned to your card.
When you are ready, click Write and wait until it’s done.
Once it has completed, simply removed your SD Card and you’re ready to go.
Mac OS X Installation
To install your Operating System onto your SD Card from on Mac OS X you must first download a program called RPi-SD Card Builder which can be downloaded here.
Open up the SD Card Builder and select your Operating System image once prompted
You will then be given the option of which drive to install it on.
Ensure only the checkbox next to your SD Card is checked then click OK.
Since you need to be an Administrator to perform this action, enter your Mac OS X password. Usually most users are administrators when using a home computer.
Finally click Continue and wait until the SD Card is ejected. The window will disappear whilst it is being written to and once it is complete a window will popup confirming the write has complete. Then simply remove your SD Card and you’re ready to go.