I last wrote about the Raspberry Pi NOOBS software package in mid-May, when version 1.3.7 was released. At that time I said that I thought another release would come along pretty quickly, because they had just missed including a major update of the openELEC Media Center software.
It has taken considerably longer than I expected, but a new release is finally here — and the good news is that not only does it pick up the latest openELEC, it actually includes updated releases of everything except Pidora. Hooray!
The NOOBS package can be downloaded from the Raspberry Pi Downloads page (duh). It is only 1.4GB, which is pretty impressive when you consider that it contains six separate operating system images. Setup instructions can be found in Getting Started with NOOBS, also on the Raspberry Pi website.
It is important to remember that if you reinstall the Raspberry Pi operating system, and you have bought either or both of the video codecs, you have to either backup and restore the configuration file containing the activation keys, or you can simply add the keys to the new configuration once the installation is complete. It's not a big deal, but make sure that you are able to do one or the other before starting the reinstallation.
For general-purpose, educational and hobby/tinkering use, Raspbian is probably the most commonly used operating system for the Raspberry Pi. This NOOBS release includes a new Raspbian release, dated 20.06.2014. The Raspbian Release Notes are terse, to say the least. According to those, the most interesting changes are that the Python camera and serial modules are installed by default, and various firmware updates and kernel bug fixes (apparently including "major USB improvements").
There are two Media Center distributions included in the NOOBS package, both of which have been updated in this release. This is because both are based on XBMC, and it has recently gone through a major update (12.x-13.0) and a minor update (13.0-13.1).
OpenELEC has been updated to 4.0.5 in this NOOBS release. In addition to the XBMC update (which is undoubtedly the most important change), there are lots of security fixes and general bugfixes — some of which were specific to the Raspberry Pi version, so this is particularly good news for RPi users. It also includes support for some more WLAN chips, updated Raspberry Pi firmware, and it even updates the Linux kernel to 3.14.7, which is even newer than what is included in the Raspbian distribution. Good stuff.
Because of a quirk in the timing, the Raspbmc release in this NOOBS actually includes both the May and June Raspbmc updates. That means it is a big improvement for Raspbmc, because there have been a lot of improvements in XBMC between 13.0 (included in Raspbian in the previous release) and 13.1 (included in this release). In addition to that, it also has security updates and bugfixes (of course), and it switches from the F2FS (flash-friendly) filesystem back to ext4 as the default.
The Arch Linux distribution has also been updated, to the 2014-06-01 image. Because Arch Linux is a fully 'rolling distribution', this is not likely to be nearly as important or interesting to existing Arch users, because if you are sufficiently knowledgeable and dedicated to be running Arch on the Raspberry Pi, then you are almost certainly also keeping it up to date. This updated distribution is important to new users who want to try out Arch, because it means that there won't be a huge number of patches and updates that have to be installed after booting this release.
Please keep in mind that the Arch Linux ARM distribution for the Raspberry Pi initially boots to a text console (CLI) only. You can then install and configure the desktop and graphic options of your choice — but you have to choose and install them, there's nothing there to begin with. It is a great way to learn about Linux, but it is also a good way to get scared to death if you boot it expecting something like Raspbian or Pidora.
The RISC OS distribution is also updated in this NOOBS release, to a 2014-06-04 Beta development snapshot. I wish that I had more time to look into this non-Linux operating system, but so far I have not. If anyone else is using it, and would like to comment on what it is like and what they are doing, I would love to hear about it.
That's it for the NOOBS release. Get it, try it, and have fun. But I can't write a Raspberry Pi post of any kind without mentioning some of the amazing and interesting things that are detailed in the Raspberry Pi Blog. How about the Joytone, a new kind of musical instrument with joysticks rather than keys? What would you call that, a "stickboard" rather than a "keyboard"?
Then there is the Binaudios, which are basically binoculars for sound rather than vision. But I guess you won't put a strap on these and hang them around your neck... and I wonder what they might do at an opera?
The prize winner, though, at least for old guys like me, is PiFox. This is a rewrite from scratch of the old Star Fox (or Starwing) game for Super Nintendo from the early '90s. Written in ARM assembly code! Including 3D object rendering, sound, and even input from a Nintendo controller. This just totally blows me away. Check the link, watch the video of the gameplay. My favourite bit comes at the end: "You have died — maybe you should go back to Mario?".
So there you have it. A new NOOBS release is always good news, not only does it improve and extend the software for the Raspberry Pi, it also gives me an excuse to look at the fascinating and amusing happenings in the Pi Blog. Not that I need much of an excuse, since I generally check in there at least a couple of times a week. Try it. You'll like it!