Pi-lovers? There are two fresh OSes for your tiny computers to gobble

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ support arrives in Alpine 3.8.0 and Raspbian gets an update for newbies


Owners of dimunitive Raspberry Pi computers rejoice! Alpine has emitted version 3.8.0 of its super light Linux distribution, with some special attention given to the latest iteration of the hardware.

While it has been possible to get Alpine on the Pi for some time – Raspberry Pi 2 owners have been able to get it working since version 3.2.0 – this is the first version to add support for the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ and also offer an arm64 (aarch64) image to ease deployment.

The Pi 3 Model B+ packs a surprising amount of power into a small package, rocking a 64 bit 1.4GHz processor and gigabit ethernet (over USB 2.0). The 1GB RAM (unchanged from the previous Model B) should give the slimline Alpine incarnation of Linux more than enough headroom, depending what else you decide to run.

Based on the 4.14 Linux kernel, the new distribution includes a swathe of updated components as well as support for the Pi. Go 1.10 and the Long Term Support (LTS) version Node.js (8.11) are among the updates included in the release.

Also appearing in latest release is support for netboot, with installs for all supported architectures.

Alpine’s frugal nature makes it appealing as an alternative to some of the more resource intensive distributions available for the Pi, with optimisations such as OpenRC replacing systemd as the init system. A minimal disk installation will only consume around 130MB and the maintainers claim a container only needs 8MB.

As well as being lightweight, and so finding a home in embedded applications, Alpine Linux uses a hardened kernel with all user space binaries compiled as Position Independent Executables (PIE) with stack smashing protection, going some way to ward off stack buffer attacks and ensuring that the executables are not necessarily in predictable locations in memory.

What better way could there be to spend a Monday than downloading a fresh distribution and diving into a cool, refreshing command line interface?

Raspbian update

Raspberry Pi owners also have a new cut of the Pi-specific Debian build, Raspbian, to ponder.

This update is aimed at making the OS less daunting for the first-time user.

Developer Simon Long explained the decision to give newbies a little more help here, writing that instead of the operating system's previous “unhelpful” behaviour on first boot, “whenever a new Raspbian image is booted for the first time, a simple setup wizard runs automatically to walk you through the basic setup operations.”

Those operations are the familiar localisation, password, Wi-Fi setup, and checking for updates before handing the user through to the desktop.

That's designed to take away a lot of the “fiddly bits” of set up – for example, users don't have to set localisation separately for timezone, keyboard, and Wi-Fi country (although they can access individual component localisation if necessary).

Bloat, a problem for any operating system, is especially pressing for Raspberry Pi users, so the developers have decided to strip out applications users mightn't need, instead replacing them with what amounts to a Raspbian store called “Recommended Software”.

It collects all the third-party Raspbian-compatible software in a click-to-install dialogue under the preferences menu, and Long promises the team will keep the package list up-to-date.

The “venerable” but also “fairly old and clunky” Xpdf viewer is replaced by qpdfView, the bundled Chromium browser version has been bumped up to 65, and the audio volume controls are expanded so as rather than only controlling a Raspberry Pi's internal audio hardware, they control any audio device the user selects. ®

Raspbian section by Richard Chirgwin

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