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Raspberry Pis gain power to flash their own OSes with new network install function

Beta for now, but Pi from the cloud will eventually become a factory option

The minds behind the Raspberry Pi have revealed a beta version of its bootloader that allows network installation of an OS.

As explained in an announcement of the new feature, flashing an OS onto the micro SD cards that Pis use as their boot disk currently requires another computer on which you run the Raspberry Pi Imager or another card-flashing tool.

"But how do you get the operating system onto a micro-SD card if you don't have another computer in the first place?" the announcement asks, we assume rhetorically.

The answer is to first update your Pi by creating a card with a fresh OS and then run that so the beta bootloader is installed in the board's firmware. Once that's done, reboot the Pi with either no card or a blank one.

If connected to a keyboard, wired Ethernet and the internet, the new bootloader will kick in, run the Raspberry Pi Imager, and offer you the chance to retrieve and install the OS of your choice – once you add a drive for it to write, of course.

The update also adds an option to boot from the network if booting from the SD card fails.

The new tool only works on models 4 and 400, and the Foundation warns against using it in production. Naturally. Because it's a beta.

Once the beta of the tool ends, the Pi-makers plan to ship boards with the bootloader installed at the factory. It's unclear if the network install feature will be an option, or the default. Whatever the case, the update makes the Pi easier to deploy in many situations and will be welcome. ®

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