The Raspberry Pi team has served up yet another reason to prematurely unbox the Pi-under-the-tree with an update to the Debian-based Raspberry Pi OS.
An end-of-year refresh is always welcome, even if it means opening up that Pi-400 yet again to avoid a lengthy Christmas morning update (ours took around an hour to stutter its way to completion.)
A new version of Chromium, the addition of PulseAudio and better printer support all feature in the update as well as some extra hardware configuration options.
Least interesting from a technical perspective, but very handy for users is the arrival of version 84 of the Chromium browser. The update has taken a while, a delay blamed on the need to integrate video hardware acceleration with the browser. Playback in YouTube seems snappy enough and, it being 2020, video conferencing clients such as Google Meet and Teams all performed well in our quick test.
Flash hold-outs will, however, be disappointed to note that the Raspberry team has joined the chorus of disapproval for the swiss-cheese technology for which support ends on Brexit Day, and made this the last version of the OS to include Adobe's Flash Player.
On the theme of making the diminutive computer a better conferencing tool, the team has also popped the PulseAudio sound server into the distribution. Up until now the Raspberry Pi OS has used the Advanced Linux Sound Architecture (ALSA) which, while it has performed audio duties with aplomb over the years, is starting to show its age a little.
While hardly a spring chicken itself, PulseAudio should make a better fist of managing audio and, importantly, knows about Bluetooth devices. Handy when one has multiple input and output streams. The audio settings remain familiar from the user interface perspective aside from some extra options reflecting the new possibilities on offer.
As for why PulseAudio had not put in an earlier appearance on the Pi (it does, after all, feature in Ubuntu) the team delicately said "PulseAudio hasn't always been the most reliable piece of software," before adding, "but it has now reached the point where it solves far more problems than it creates."
The Pi makers have also finally added a way to connect to and configure printers, a surprising omission given the target market for the computer. While it has been possible to pop on the Common Unix Printing System (CUPS), configuring it through its web-based interface could be a little daunting for some. The gang has therefore opted to add system-config-printer as well as CUPS to the Pi OS, available in friendlier fashion via the Preferences section of the main menu.
Finally, a pair of hardware options round out the highlights. One is aimed squarely at Pi-400 (and others with a single status LED) users and will stop the power indicator flickering when drive activity is occurring. The second controls the case fan now available for the Pi 4.
It is a shame that this useful update did not arrive in time for those Pi-400s with a pre-installed SD card, awaiting a Christmas opening.
Then again, the innovations of recent decades has meant that waiting an hour or so for a gizmo to update is part and parcel of the festive experience nowadays.
Just like the Queen's speech and inevitable family row. Even the social distancing measures of 2020 will be unlikely to hold a racist or homophobic relative at bay. Best keep one's head down and
sudo apt update. ®