On the heels of this week's Raspberry Pi 4 launch, the makers of Raspberry Pi have released a new version of its Linux Debian-based Raspbian operating system.
Raspbian is one of several operating systems that can run on Raspberry Pi devices, but it is a popular choice as the one made by The Raspberry Pi Foundation for its tiny computers.
This release caters to the new Raspberry Pi 4 and is now based on Debian Buster, which will be released by Debian developers this July as the successor to 'Stretch'.
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The reason for jumping ahead of the official release date is the Raspberry Pi 4. The Raspberry Pi Foundation unveiled the new computer this week, which for the first time is available with three different memory capacities.
It still starts at $35 for the 1GB model, but will also be available 2GB of RAM for $45 and 4GB of RAM for $55. There's also dual-screen support.
Unlike previous models, the Raspberry Pi 4 uses the open-source OpenGL video driver by default, which is supported in Debian Buster.
"It would have been a lot of work to port everything required for it back on to Raspbian Stretch, so we decided that we would launch on Raspbian Buster – the only question was whether Buster would be ready before the hardware was," said Simon Long, a senior principal software engineer for the foundation.
"The official launch date for Buster is July 7, so we are a couple of weeks ahead. That said, Buster has been in a 'frozen' state for a couple of months now, with only minor changes being made to it, so the version we are releasing is pretty much identical to that which will be officially released by Debian on July 7."
Long assures users that Pi engineers have done "a lot of testing" with Buster on Pi and that it is definitely "stable and robust".
There aren't many feature updates to Buster and Long notes most of the changes are security related.
"In a sad reflection of the way the world is nowadays, most of the differences are security changes designed to make Buster harder to hack," wrote Long.
However, Pi software engineers have revamped the graphical user interface (GUI) of Raspbian with a focus on stripping back and decluttering it. The changes are similar to iOS shedding its skeuomorphic icons and Microsoft's recent design efforts on Windows with its Fluent Design scheme.
Buttons on the new GUI are a "plain box rather than something that resembles a physical button," says Long, adding that it has adopted a "flatter" design while trying not to go totally flat, which would have been boring.
"We've reduced things like the curvature of corners and the shading gradients, which were used to give a pseudo-3D effect to things like buttons," he notes.
If users don't like the new design, they can opt to enable the old desktop and UI theme.
The Pi Foundation has also added the Thonny Python integrated development environment (IDE) as the default Python editor in place of IDLE.
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For those using a Pi without Bluetooth, the Bluetooth icon is now hidden rather than grayed-out in the taskbar. The CPU usage monitor is also gone from the taskbar by default but can be added back, and there's a new CPU Temperature Monitor that can be added from the 'Add/Remove Panel Items' option.
The new OpenGL driver replaces the old driver and offers a new Screen Configuration tool that allows users to configure multiple monitors on the Raspberry Pi 4 and set custom monitor resolutions. Additionally, due to heat and speed reasons, 4Kp60 resolution over HDMI is disabled by default.
Long also had one warning for users running Stretch.
"We do not recommend upgrading an existing Stretch (or earlier) system to Buster – we can't know what changes everyone has made to their system, and so have no idea what may break when you move to Buster," he noted.