Raspbian GNU/Linux: New release includes installable x86 image

Raspbian GNU/Linux 2017-06-21 is available now, for both Raspberry Pi and x86 platforms.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor on

The Raspberry Pi 3 in its official case.

Image: Raspberry Pi Foundation

A new release of Raspbian GNU/Linux came out last week. Along with some nice additions like a new version of Scratch and a new Python IDE (Integrated Development Environment), this release follows up on the Raspbian for x86 released in January.

The response to that release was far higher than the developers expected (you would think by now that the people at the Raspberry Pi Foundation would have learned to raise their expectations).

The initial Raspbian PIXEL x86 release was intended to be used as a USB Live-Boot-Only distribution, but lots of people immediately began clamoring for an installable image - and several resourceful people came up with creative ways to actually install that Live image. The Raspbian developers took that feedback to heart, and added a customized version of the Debian GNU/Linux installer to this release so it can now be installed to your hard drive.

The release announcement includes details on these and a few other changes, so as always it is worth taking a few minutes to read through them. The Raspberry Pi image can be downloaded from the usual downloads page, where you can select either the Raspbian stand-alone version, or the latest NOOBS version.

The x86 image doesn't have its own download page yet, but you can get it directly via HTTP or Torrent via these links. I haven't found a checksum or signature file for the ISO image yet, which makes me a bit uneasy.

Installation on the Raspberry Pi is the same as for previous releases. First, if you already have Raspbian running, you can simply install the latest updates, and then if you want the new Scratch and/or Python IDE, install them:

apt-get update; apt-get dist-upgrade; apt-get install scratch2 python-thonny

If you want/need to make a fresh installation, unzip the image and copy it to an SD card (8GB or larger):

unzip -p Image | dd of=/dev/sdX bs=4M iflag=fullblock oflag=direct status=progress

I have upgraded all of my Pi Zero/1/2/3 systems - I decided that I didn't need any fresh installs for this release - and I didn't have any trouble at all on any of them.


Raspbian PIXEL - Raspberry Pi 3

Image: J.A. Watson

The first thing I wanted to test with this release was my recently acquired Logitech M720 Bluetooth multi-computer mouse. When I tried this recently I found that it didn't work properly with the Raspberry Pi, because after pairing Raspbian said there were "no services which can be used" with it. I was hoping that problem might be fixed in this release - but those hopes have been dashed, it still doesn't work, and gives the same message.

The x86 version can be prepared just like any other Linux ISO image - just dump it to a USB stick. When you boot it, you will see the new menu options:

  • Run with persistence
  • Run and reset persistence
  • Run without persistence
  • Install
  • Graphical Install
  • Advanced options...
  • Install with speech synthesis

A quick explanation of those - "persistence" means running as a Live system from the USB stick, with a separate partition where data can be saved so you don't start from absolute zero every time you Live boot. "Reset persistence" is the same, but wipes the persistence partition during boot, so you can start over. "Without persistence" is what you would most likely use just to boot and test Raspbian on your hardware before installing.

Don't get up any high hopes for that "Graphical Install" option, it is a copy of the same option from the Debian distribution, and basically all it does is give you a slightly prettier version of the text-mode install, and lets you use a mouse to select options.

One thing about this that took me by surprise was that the Live image doesn't seem to have an installer included, either on the desktop or in the menus. That means you can use the Live image to see host Raspbian looks and runs on your hardware, but at the end of that if you want to actually install it to the hard drive, you have to go back and reboot to get to the Install options.

Because it uses the Debian installer, it handles both UEFI and MBR boot systems, and it handles disk partitioning and multi-boot configuration without problems. I have installed it on my Acer Aspire V notebook, which has UEFI firmware, alongside a number of other Linux distributions. The only minor hardware glitch I have seen so far is that audio doesn't seem to work, and I haven't had time to look deeper into that yet.


Raspbian PIXEL x86 - Acer Aspire V

Image: J.A. Watson

Other than the audio, everything else seems to work. Wireless networking connected with absolutely no problem, and the touchpad works - although I haven't been able to figure out how to enable tap-to-click yet.

If you compare this x86 screen shot to the Raspberry Pi version above, you will see that the Wolfram and Mathematica icons are missing from the top panel. Those are packages which the Pi Foundation only has licenses to distribute for Raspberry Pi hardware, so they had to be removed from the x86 distribution.

Raspbian includes Chromium as the default web browser, which is not to my liking. It was no problem to install Firefox-ESR using the Add/Remove Software utility, or more simply with the command "apt-get install firefox-esr".

Those who are familiar with the Debian release cycle might have noticed something a bit "odd" about this Raspbian release. Although Debian 9 (stretch) was released a week or so ago, this Raspbian release is still based on Debian 8 (jessie). The release notes for this version mention this, and say that work on a Debian stretch-based Raspbian release is underway, and will hopefully be released sometime this summer.

I will wrap this post up by addressing the most common question asked about Raspbian x86: why?

With all of the high-quality Linux distributions available today, I believe that the most common reason that anyone would use Raspbian x86 would be if they were already using Raspberry Pi systems, and they wanted to have a consistent user experience on other computers. I can say from experience that changing desktops, and trying to remember what is loaded where, and where things are located in different applications menus, is no fun.

Considering the breadth and varying tastes of Linux users, I assume there will be some who install and use it just because they like it, especially the PIXEL desktop, but probably not that many. To be honest, if you are looking for a good general-purpose Debian derivative, I think there are a number of better choices available - Sparky, SolydXK and Linux Mint Debian Edition spring to mind, for example.

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