Raspberry Pi: Hands-on with the updated Raspbian Linux

I have installed the new Raspbian 2018-10-09 release from scratch on some systems, and upgraded existing installations on others. Here are my experiences, observations and comments.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I wrote last week about the new Raspbian Linux release, but in that post I was mostly concerned with the disappearance of the Wolfram (and Mathematica) packages, and I didn't really do justice to the release itself. So now I have continued with installing or upgrading it on all of my Raspberry Pi systems, and this post will concentrate on the process and results from that.

First, the new ISO images are available from the Raspberry Pi Downloads page (as always), and the Release Notes have been added to the usual text document. I have only downloaded the plain Raspbian images, I don't bother with the NOOBS images much any more -- but the new ISO is included in those as well of course.

Please note that the SHA-256 checksum for the images is given on the web page, so be sure to verify that before you continue with the file that you downloaded. If you prefer stronger (or weaker) verification, you can find a PGP signature (and an SHA-1 checksum) on the Raspbian images download page.


The zipped image is 1.3GB, which is about 300MB smaller than the previous release. As mentioned in my previous post, this is mostly due to Wolfram/Mathematica not being included in this installation image.

As always with Raspbian, this release is compatible with all versions of Raspberry Pi hardware. I have personally confirmed this on most of them; the only ones that I don't have (yet) are an original Model A, and a Model A+. I have completed installation or upgrade on everything from the original Model B to the latest 3B+, and the original Zero and Zero W.

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In order to install this image, you have to unzip it, and then copy it to an appropriate SD or microSD card. Of course, this brings up the question of what is "appropriate" for an SD card; the installation image expands to about 3.5GB, so you could get by with an 8GB SD card. It used to be possible to start with a 4GB card, but that's just not enough space any more.

If you have a Linux system handy, the unzip and copy can be done all at once with a command like this:

unzip -p 2018-10-09-raspbian-stretch.zip | \

dd bs=4M of=/dev/sdX iflag=fullblock oflag=direct status=progress

For those who might not be familiar with the Linux commands or the specific flags used here:

  • unzip -p uncompresses the image and writes the raw data to its stdout (which in this case is a pipe to dd)
  • dd is the linux raw data copy program
  • bs= specifies the block size, 4MB in this case
  • of= specifies where the data should be written. Make sure that you have the correct name for the device where the SD card is located; getting this wrong can have extremely unpleasant results! The linux blkid command should give you enough information to figure this out.
  • iflag= specifies input processing flags, telling dd to read full blocks in this case
  • oflag= specifies output processing flags, telling dd to use direct output in this case
  • status= specifies the level of information dd should give as it works, in this case it will give a running count of bytes transferred

When these commands have finished, the SD card is ready to use, just insert it into a Raspberry Pi and power it up.

SEE: Inside the Raspberry Pi: The story of the $35 computer that changed the world (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

The initial disk layout has a root filesystem which is just large enough to hold the base system; the first time you boot it, that will be enlarged to use all of the remaining free space on the SD card. If you would like to have more sophisticated partitioning of the SD card (for example a separate /home partition), you should set this up before you boot it the first time. Oh, and a word of advice on this, in order to leave space to work and possibly install additional packages (such as the missing Wolfram, perhaps?), you should expand the root filesystem somewhat before creating any others on the card.

When you boot the SD card, you will get the Pixel desktop, as shown towards the top of this post. The first-run setup wizard starts automatically, and presents the the series of six screens shown below.


The Raspbian Linux First-Run Configuration Utility

Image: J.A. Watson

These screens will walk you through configuring the country, language and timezone; setting a password for the pi user account; selecting a WiFi network, and installing the latest Raspbian updates. Each of these steps is optional, so you can skip over any or all of them.

A short comment about the country configuration. This utility seems to use some predefined country/language groupings, which don't always match real-world situations (such as mine), and which I couldn't find a way to override. So once I chose Switzerland as the country, I couldn't have English as the language. Sigh.

Image: J.A. Watson

So I just ignored this screen, and after the first-run utility was complete, I went back to the old Raspberry Pi Configuration utility (found in the desktop menus under Preferences), and then on the Localisation tab I could separately specify each value, as shown here.

Once this configuration is done, you're basically ready to go with Raspbian. But go back to the screen shot at the top of this post, and look at the top panel. Uh-uh, there's no Mathematica or Wolfram icons there.

As mentioned in the Raspbian Release Notes, and in my previous post, the Wolfram software packages have been removed from this release image. But don't despair, if you want/need them, they are still available from the Raspbian repositories, as well as from a download link on the Wolfram Raspberry Pi web page.

To install them directly from Raspbian, just use the following command:

sudo apt-get install wolfram-engine

This will download and install all of the necessary packages and dependencies. You won't actually see the changes until you reboot (or logout/login, I suppose), but then you will have the Mathematica and Wolfram icons in the top panel again, and in the desktop menus under Programming.

That's about it for installing this Raspbian release. If you want to upgrade an existing installation, rather than re-installing from scratch, you can use these commands:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

sudo apt-get autoremove

If you're into the whole brevity thing, you could use this:

sudo sh -c "apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade && apt-get autoremove"

Finally, I will just briefly mention that I ran into a problem with pairing a Logitech m720 Triathlon Bluetooth mouse. When I go to Bluetooth / Add New Device, the m720 shows up in the search list, but when I then click to pair it, the pairing request times out.Then it gets worse... after this failure, the m720 is forever stuck in the Bluetooth search list, even if you turn the mouse off... it still shows up. Even if you reboot, it still shows up... omg, it's a zombie mouse! In fact, if you put the m720 into pairing mode again, and then go back to the Raspbian Bluetooth search list, you will see the m720 listed twice! Yikes! I puzzled over which one to choose, until I realize that neither of them would work, so it didn't matter. Sigh. Well, at least it doesn't add a second zombie to the list.

Could it get even worse? Well, yes, actually it could. When I then got out my trusty old Logitech Bluetooth Travel Mouse and tried to pair with it, Bluetooth management on Raspbian appeared to break down completely (probably crashed), because the Bluetooth icon in the panel went dark and nothing showed in the search list any more. I tried stopping and starting Bluetooth, but that didn't help; I had to reboot to get it working again.

Whatever this problem is, it seems to be limited to the m720 mouse; after rebooting, I was able to pair the Bluetooth Travel Mouse and a Logitech k380 keyboard with no trouble at all. It's really too bad, because both the k380 and m720 can pair with up to three different systems, so I had these dreams about having both of them paired to the Zero W, the 3B and the 3B+, and then just being able to switch between them on the fly, but alas that won't be possible quite yet.

So that's it for this new release of Raspbian. But my adventures aren't over, because doing all of this got me thinking about other Linux distributions for the Raspberry Pi, specifically concerning the Model 3B+. I'm now looking at the latest developments in openSUSE, Ubuntu MATE and Kali LInux, so I should have something to post about that in the next few days.


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