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June 8th, 2016

Raspbian Ups Its Game

Our Pi guy takes a look at the latest and greatest release of the Debian based distro Raspbian and finds much to like.

The Raspberry Pi Report

Not to be outdone by other Raspberry Pi operating systems, an update was pushed for Raspbian in the middle of May. I don’t use Raspbian that much anymore since Ubuntu MATE appeared, in large part because I’m not too wild about its “incompleteness.” That has changed with the latest update. After using it for a couple of weeks, I’ve been extremely happy and have informed other Raspberry Pi users, who like me aren’t too wild about using Raspbian, that they should give the OS another chance.

Here’s a roundup of what the latest update has to offer.

Improved Bluetooth: Ever since the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced that Raspberry Pi 3 would have Bluetooth, it seems like it’s been a rough start. Originally, the only way to use Bluetooth on the Raspberry Pi 3 was through the terminal, and while that did work, it was still a pain to get going. With this latest update, Raspbian has now been given a slick interface that encompasses using Bluetooth to make the Raspberry Pi discoverable for pairing it with other Bluetooth devices. Next to the Wi-Fi icon in the task bar, users will now see a new Bluetooth icon. While this doesn’t iron out all of the issues with the Raspberry Pi and Bluetooth — such as Bluetooth audio — it shows a very positive step going forward for Raspbian.

Geany: Like quite a few other Raspberry Pi users, I use my Raspberry Pi mainly for side projects and software development. Previously, Raspbian didn’t come with an IDE out of the box, and while you can get quite a bit accomplished through VIM or any given text editor, having a good IDE can go a long way. Raspbian has changed that by offering Geany in the latest update. While I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Geany, I’ll admit it’s a huge improvement from what was previously offered.

SD card copier: The OS that I run on my main laptop is Linux Mint. One of my favorite Mint features is the “USB Image Writer,” which allows me to easily copy an image to a USB flash drive or micro/SD card. Raspbian now provides this same functionality. This is a feature that I have wished many other Raspberry Pi OS’s contained. Every now and then, I need to copy over the entire OS and always needed another computer to make that happen. I really appreciate the Raspbian devs for putting this feature together and hope it catches on with other operating systems.

New kernel: Raspbian is now running on Linux kernel version 4.4. This is a major boost for users who want to stay up-to-date with the kernel or those who worry about security issues from an OS that is not using the latest kernel. This feature provides a big win all around for Raspberry Pi users.

The small things matter: Say what you will about the big feature items, but it’s always the small things that make or break a user’s experience. To make sure that users “have their cake and eat it too,” Raspbian has improved several small, but important features. Improved shutdown functionality, option to empty the wastebasket when it’s been right clicked, new keyboard shortcut to open a terminal window, and setting the delay between mouse double clicks. Another huge improvement is that the system will now automatically expand to use the entire space on the micro SD card when installing Raspbian for the first time.

What’s missing?: As more and more users flock to the Raspberry Pi, security is going to have to be front and center in the coming Raspbian updates. While I understand why Raspbian has a default username and password, I would love to see some functionality in the future that adds extra security to this concept. Also using the Raspberry Pi to surf the Internet in any shape or fashion can still be a painful experience, so an improved lite browser would be nice in future updates.

In addition to hosting a Raspberry Pi meetup in Washington D.C., Isaac Carter is a co-host on mintCast. He's also a software engineer who enjoys working with Java, JavaScript, and GNU/Linux. When he's not coding, you can find him reading on any number of subjects or on the golf course.

6 comments to Raspbian Ups Its Game

  • UncleEd

    Thanks for the article, Isaac. I keep getting more and more tempted to get a Pi, just because…because I’m sure there’s a reason I should have one. That they’re getting better at doing what people need and will use is an attraction, certainly.

    Somebody’s going to ask what I want for Father’s Day. I just know it. It’s between this and some new ties. Hard to choose. Even harder to remember the last time I wore a tie.

  • slu

    I agree that the most recent update of Raspbian takes away most of my rationale for using Ubuntu Mate. Still, I don’t appreciate loosing the choice to expand the file system, or not. Much of the time, I run a system with the / file system on a separate USB Disk and I would like to be able to clone the boot partition to smaller SD cards.

  • slu

    One additional b**ch about Raspbian is the lame *** Iceweenie browser. I guess Debian is about to wake up on that one in a future distro but in the mean time, if UMate can give us a real FF, why is it so hard in Raspbian?

  • Mike

    @slu

    It’s Mozilla that needed waking up, not Debian.

    Debian created Iceweasel to deal with Mozilla’s restrictive trademark terms which conflicted with Debian’s principles of Free Software. Iceweasel is Firefox in almost everything but name. The only reason Debian are considering including Firefox now is that Mozilla has relaxed its terms. Since Raspbian follows an older version of Debian, it’s unlikely to see them change before Debian does.

  • slu

    @Mike:
    Cart and horse discussion. The point is that Iceweenie is many upgrade cycles down and the new features of Firefox are worth having. If you are content with the lateness, fine for you. I am not. Linux is also about freedom of choice. Doctrinaire adherence to the religion of “Free Software” is also your choice. It is not mine.

  • Mike

    @slu

    > “the new features of Firefox are worth having”

    That’s not an opinion you’d hear from many Debian users; Or rather the dependability of a stable system is worth more. Not everyone is entranced by shiny new widgets.

    Freedom of choice is definitely a good thing, but disparaging Debian because of the choices they make due to the distro’s entire philosophy is pretty silly.

    Debian is built entirely around the principles of Free Software – much more so than most other distros. Asking them to set aside those principles so run some shiny new software is not a reasonable thing to ask.

    Raspbian follows Debian, so the same applies there.

    If you like new and shiny, it makes far more sense to use another distro than rail against one for essentially supporting its intended purpose.

    > ‘religion of “Free Software”’

    That’s a pretty condescending and ignorant attitude you have there. Free Software isn’t a religion any more than chasing the latest shiny glittery crap is.