Build a Raspberry Pi Desktop with an Ubuntu heart

Rhys Davies

on 22 October 2020

On the 22nd October 2020, Canonical released an Ubuntu Desktop image optimised for the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi Foundation’s 4GB and 8GB boards work out of the box with everything users expect from an Ubuntu Desktop. It is our honour to contribute an optimised Ubuntu Desktop image to the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s mission to put the power of computing into people’s hands all over the world.

The right hardware

Since the Raspberry Pi Foundation began its mission, users have been using their boards to run everything in their lives. Whether that’s making DIY devices, learning to code or building products, it was made possible by Raspberry Pis. But running a full-featured, LTS desktop that can handle the expectations of everyday users, without technical knowledge, wasn’t really possible. Until recently.   

The Raspberry Pi 4 debuted with the graphics, RAM and connectivity needed for a Linux workstation. Users finally had the hardware to make a Raspberry Pi into a viable primary PC. But there were still issues. Most importantly, a lot of the desktop options either required a non-zero amount of technical knowledge or weren’t suited for long term use. Usually because of a lack of upstream support or running unmaintained, niche software.

Canonical, the company that publishes Ubuntu, is and continues to be a long term fan of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Together, our missions to make technology more accessible to people all of the world aligns, and both organisations understand the value of an active and trusting community. So, when the Raspberry Pi 4 launched with the capabilities to run a full-fat Ubuntu Desktop, we didn’t blink.

An engineering collaboration

The Ubuntu Desktop team, the Foundations team, and the Kernel team got to work. While they were cooking, we reached out to the Raspberry Pi Foundation to strengthen our relationship and express our appreciation for their work. One thing led to another, and seeing the value in collaboration; we began to work together on some common projects. One of which is this full Ubuntu Desktop for Raspberry Pi

After months of work and plenty of collaboration, the Ubuntu Desktop image for the Raspberry Pi is here! On a Raspberry Pi 4 (with 4GB or 8GBs RAM) you can do everything the average desktop user would expect. Surf the web, watch the latest films, develop new software, read the news, or do your shopping. All from the comfort of a Raspberry Pi. 

This joining of Raspberry Pi, the incredible maker and educational hardware, used in schools, factories and robots alike, and the Ubuntu Desktop, best known for its leading cloud and desktop offerings, delivers not only a low-cost, versatile desktop experience but also a gateway to all of open source software. The Ubuntu Desktop on Raspberry Pi comes with committed long term support and a deepening collaboration upstream which, we hope, will only continue to flourish.   

The open source ARM workstation

Ubuntu on Raspberry Pi is not only a great place to start with Ubuntu, and Linux in general, but is already used and favoured by inventors and entrepreneurs, too. Start learning to code, develop applications or take it production, all from one board, with one operating system (OS).

Not only that, the Raspberry Pi is an ARM computer, like Android or iOS phones. You can build and test apps for ARM on a low-cost board that is still powerful enough to orchestrate workloads, manage virtual machines or run a micro-cloud.

What all this means is that a Raspberry Pi with Ubuntu is a path into the world of ARM computing, ARM development and ARM-based products. Both at the edge, on workstations and in the cloud. Most IoT devices out there already run ARM. The Raspberry Pi is a tried and tested ARM board that is the brains of countless devices. In people’s homes as a hobby, and in production as enterprise-grade products. Ubuntu is there too with its embedded version, Ubuntu Core. Ubuntu optimised to work on the Raspberry Pi to give users an industry-standard, secure, minimal OS from production. 

But this has been the case for some time. What’s new is that Ubuntu Desktop on Raspberry Pi delivers a more accessible and more familiar experience to get going with ARM. With Apple announcing their ARM-based Mac intentions, and the likes of Amazon’s Graviton2 making high-performance ARM compute cost-effective, we will soon see companies and app developers across industries move to ARM. Or risk losing out.

Get it

To get the Ubuntu Desktop from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, download their Raspberry Pi Imager application. The app is available on macOS, Windows and Linux, and the new Ubuntu Desktop image is baked up inside. To get the image straight from Canonical, head to the website and look atop the Ubuntu Server and Core images.

To find out more about the benefits of the image go to the website and have a read. Or, watch this video where Martin Wimpress, Director of Engineering for Ubuntu Desktop and I, Product Manager of IoT and Makerspace initiatives talk through the whole process.

Then, once you have the image, know all the context, and know-how to get going, there’s always more. On the Desktop itself, start using it and Tweet @ubuntu whatever it is you’re using it for. Or, fill out this form for a chance to win some free stuff. We’d love it just to see that you’ve got it up and running. Then, head over to our community forum to leave any comments or feedback you have too. 

Or, if you’re interested in getting more out of Raspberry Pis, there are plenty of more options too. For cloud enthusiasts, you can try MicroK8s Raspberry Pi clustering, to orchestrate and manage workloads and practice your Kubernetes. Or for embedded/IoT device developers, take a look at Ubuntu Core. Build a portfolio of appliances, that turns your Raspberry Pi into a dedicated device to do one thing, perfectly.

To conclude

The full Ubuntu Desktop is now available for the Raspberry Pi. With it, users have access to a full Linux workstation on the world’s most versatile and popular single-board computer. This development paves the way not only to a more practical Raspberry Pi desktop experience but also to the new world of cloud computing and applications running on ARM. We have a deep admiration for the Raspberry Pi Foundation and look forward to working with them and their technology more in the future.

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