What better way to spend the holidays, and prepare for the New Year, than with a new release of Raspbian (Debian GNU/Linux specifically for the Raspberry Pi), and a new NOOBS package?
For those who don't have a Raspberry Pi (or more than one) already, or might have just gotten one for Christmas, the foundation has posted a Got a new Pi article. I also wrote a number of Hands-On with Raspberry Pi posts last Christmas, which include a lot more detail and lots of screen shots.
The new Raspbian release (2014-12-24) and a new NOOBS package (1.3.11) are available for download in the usual ZIP format on the Raspberry Pi downloads page. The NOOBS image also includes Pidora, Arch Linux, openELEC, RaspBMC and RiscOS.
Please keep in mind that if you are going to (re-)install from these images, you will be wiping the existing SD cards, so you need to back up your own files first. Important to note: it is particularly easy to overlook/forget the MPEG-2 and VC-1 license keys if you have them. I can tell you from experience that it is a lot easier to copy and save the information from the config.txt file than it is to have to go back and look for the original email containing the license info.
I have to admit that I have been rather lazy with my Raspberry Pis, they have been doing what I needed very well, and with no significant problems, so I have not been following new releases as closely as I normally would. So I got a pleasant surprise when I booted the new Raspbian release and saw that the desktop has been improved. It is much cleaner, and better organized than before.
The more commonly used items (Mathematica, Wolfram and the browser) have been moved from the desktop to the LXDE panel, and the less commonly used desktop icons have just been removed. So the only thing left on the desktop is the trash can - if you are a fan of uncluttered desktops, this one should be near the top of the list now.
There is also a CPU Usage Monitor and a clock at the right end of the top panel. I find the CPU monitor particularly useful and informative when the poor RPi CPU is off grinding away at something I'm trying to do.
Late breaking news- a new post just showed up in the Raspberry Pi Blog, Changes to the Raspbian User Interface, which gives a lot more information about the who/what/why/how of the desktop changes. It's interesting reading, and it makes clear that this is not the last of the desktop changes, more are on the way. That's good news.
If you already have a Raspberry Pi and don't want to reload from scratch, but would like to have the new desktop look, check the end of the Got a new Pi article, it gives the 'sudo' commands to get the UI updates.
The LXDE menus have been cleaned up and simplified as well, so the overall impression is much more orderly, and things are generally easier to find. The LXDE menus are also dynamically updated with new installations, so after I installed 'synaptic' (yeah, I know, I'm lazy...) it showed up in the 'Preferences' menu, and when I installed 'shutter' it showed up in the 'Accessories' menu.
Speaking of shutter, I'm still really pleased with it. It's the same situation here as when I stumbled across it not long ago while installing and writing about Fedora 21 LXDE. There is no screen capture utility included in the LXDE base distribution, and while 'scrot' is easy to install and works ok, it is a bit tedious to use.
This release includes the Epiphany browser (also shown in the screen shot above), which has been customized and optimized for Raspbian on the Pi. The browser has been available for a while, as can be seen from the original release announcement on 1 September, but I had not picked it up yet on my systems, so this is a nice holiday treat. It is so much better than the old Midori browser in pretty much every way - speed, capability, features and compatibility - that there is really no comparison.
There is an interesting blog post from Marco Barisione describing some of the details of the work, and listing the main achievements they made in adapting Gnome Epiphany to Raspbian on the RPi. My favorite bit is when he says that they improved video playback from 640x360 at 5fps to 1280x720 at 25fps. That's impressive.
Again, if you already have a Raspberry Pi running and don't want to reload, check the release announcement cited above, it gives the sudo commands to install the new browser.
There have also been new releases and improvements in both openELEC and RaspBMC which have not yet made it into the NOOBS distribution. Not to worry, after you load and boot those they can easily be updated.
In fact, RaspBMC notices itself that it is out of date on the first boot, and it goes off and updates to the latest release automatically. It updates to the latest version, which is based on Kodi 14 (the new name, following XBMC 13).
On openELEC you have to go into the menus and tell it to check for updates, then it will download and install the latest version as well. That will take you from openELEC 4.0.5 to 4.2.1, which is still based on XBMC 13.2. The next release, openELEC 5.0, will be based on Kodi 14.
More late-breaking news: I have just seen the release announcement of openELEC 5.0, which is built on Kodi 14. At this point I am assuming that going to the openELEC update menu on the RPi will download and install this update, but I have not been able to try that and verify it for myself yet.
I have installed NOOBS 1.3.11 on both of my Pis, the original Type B with a 16GB SD card, and the new Type B+ with an 8GB MicroSD card. It is possible to install everything from the NOOBS bundle on the 16GB card, but it won't all fit in 8GB. The NOOBS installer program, which boots automatically the first time after you copy the NOOBS package to the SD, shows the amount of disk space required and available, and it won't start the installation if you have selected more than will fit on the card.
Finally, I can't write about the Raspberry Pi without mentioning some of the fun going on in their blog. At the top of the list is fruit drums - if you've never seen anyone playing bananas and oranges while demonstrating capacitive touch detection on a Raspberry Pi, you're in for a treat. If that doesn't tickle your fancy, there is a Christmas Light Sequencer... or if you want some help getting through the year on Santa's good list, there is a Naughty or Nice machine.
If you're more on the serious side of things, it's nice to know that the Raspberry Pi Foundation is sponsoring this year's Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, which will be broadcast on BBC December 29/30/31. The point is, as always, with the Raspberry Pi and the Foundation, great fun, and it's frequently serious fun. If you find yourself getting caught in what the Americans call the "rut" and the Swiss call the "January Hole" (das Januarloch), you can always find something interesting, entertaining and educational in the Raspberry Pi Blog. I honestly don't think anyone could spend five minutes looking through there and not end up smiling.
So, Happy New Year to one and all, and thanks for reading and commenting as always.