Raspberry Pi: Ubuntu installation and setup

For a long time, it wasn’t possible to use Raspberry Pi with Ubuntu. Only since the powerful processor Raspberry Pi 2 was launched is it possible to download a current image of Ubuntu and flash it to the SD card of the Raspberry Pi. Meanwhile, installing and configuring Ubuntu on the Raspberry Pi is much easier – thanks to Ubuntu20.04 LTS Focal Fossa, which is officially certified for Raspberry. This means that Ubuntu has now become an official alternative to other Raspberry Pi operating systems, but above all Raspberry Pi OS – previously known as Raspbian.

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Why should you use Raspberry Pi with Ubuntu?

Raspberry Pi OS is the standard operating system for Raspberry Pi. It is perfectly adapted to the minicomputer and almost all of its main uses (media center, retro gaming console, etc.) are based on the operating system. Beyond this, there are further good reasons for using Raspberry Pi with Ubuntu.

  1. Security updates: Ubuntu LTS versions have a fixed release cycle, unlike Raspberry Pi OS. Anyone who sets up a Raspberry Pi system with Ubuntu knows that it will be provided with security updates for five years. This provides safety while planning.
  2. Familiarity: All users that work with Ubuntu will find the same familiarity when working with Raspberry Pi.
  3. Up to date: The focus of operating systems like Debian or Raspberry Pi OS is the stable performance of the Raspberry Pi. For this reason, older program versions often run on it. Ubuntu focuses a bit more on the up-to-dateness of the packages without losing stability.

What do you need for a Raspberry-Pi-Ubuntu installation?

Ubuntu 20.04 is available for the Raspberry Pi versions 2, 3, and 4. Starting with Raspberry Pi 3, a 64-bit version can be used, whereas the 32-bit version runs on all Pis. Beyond that, you only need a microSD card. Everything else is standard equipment: power supply, case, mouse, keyboard, SD card reader, as well as a HDMI adapter should a Raspberry Pi 4 be connected to a screen.

Download and install Ubuntu 20.04 LTS for Raspberry Pi

The first step is to play the current Ubuntu version on a microSD card. Ubuntu 20.04 LTS is available in the Raspberry Pi Imager, which makes the installation to the microSD card very easy.

The Raspberry Pi Imager must be installed on the computer beforehand if it hasn’t already been installed. The program is available for free for Windows, macOS, and Linux, and can be found in the downloads area of Raspberry Pi projects.

Now, the microSD card needs to be taken out of the Raspberry Pi and placed into the computer’s card reader before launching Imager.

Note

The installation of Ubuntu 20.04 deletes all files on the microSD card. If you have important files on the file carrier, backing up is recommended.

In the Raspberry Pi Imager, click on “Operating Systems”. Here, you will find various operating systems for the Raspberry Pi, including Ubuntu. Besides the already mentioned 32-bit and 64-bit versions, Ubuntu Core, a core system for IoT projects, can also be found there. The right version to use for Raspberry Pi with Ubuntu is Ubuntu 20.04 LTS – currently, the 32-bit version is still recommended, as it has proven to be stable.

Now, select the microSD card of the Raspberry Pi to start the transfer of Ubuntu. The installation process usually only takes a few minutes. When it is finished, the microSD card can be inserted back into the Pi before being booted.

Raspberry Pi: Ubuntu configuration

We recommend preparing the Raspberry Pi for Ubuntu before booting and connecting it to the network via Ethernet cable. Once the Raspberry Pi is booted, you can log in to Ubuntu via the command line.

The username and password are both “ubuntu” by default. After the initial login, a personal password must be set, otherwise all users from the same network will have access to the Pi.

Note

Ubuntu 20.04 is a server version of Ubuntu, which means that a user interface hasn’t been installed. This can however be completed later.

Once you’ve set up the new password, check for any available updates with this command:

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y

If all updates have been installed, the Pi should be restarted:

sudo reboot
Note

Accessing Raspberry Pi SSH differs based on the operating system. SSH access on Ubuntu servers is active as standard, which isn’t the case with Raspberry Pi OS. So, if you want to administrate Raspberry Pi with Ubuntu via SSH, you can start right away.

Changing the system language

The default language of Ubuntu is English. You can change the entire system language or just the keyboard language. If you want to change the system language, language packages must first be installed by using the following command:

sudo apt install language-pack-de language-pack-de-base

To install the language:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure locales

This opens a list of all available languages. To activate the new language setting, the system must be restarted.

Changing the keyboard

If you only want to change the keyboard layout, you can do this with the following command:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure keyboard-configuration

Here too, the system needs to be restarted after making the changes.

Accessing Raspberry Pi and Ubuntu with SSH

The SSH server is installed and activated by default. If you don’t know the IP address of your Pi, you can find out what it is with the following command:

ip a

You can also find the IP address in the router or DHCP server. Now the Raspberry Pi can be accessed via SSH.

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User interface for Raspberry Pi: Ubuntu reinstallation

If you want to work with screen, mouse, and keyboard on the Pi, you need a desktop environment. There are various user interfaces to choose from for this, which can be installed quickly and easily.

Ubuntu’s standard desktop is Gnome Shell. This is known to most users and is easy to use, but also eats up a big chunk of the system resources. That’s why it’s not as suitable for a Raspberry Pi. Other options include:

  • Xubuntu (Xfce)
  • Lubuntu (LXDE)
  • Kubuntu (KDE)

The desktop environments are installed with the following code:

sudo apt install xubuntu-desktop
sudo apt install lubuntu-desktop
sudo apt install kubuntu-desktop

Towards the end of the installation, you will be asked which display manager should be configured. If you have previously chosen Lubuntu as your desktop, the display manager LXDE is recommended for Xubuntu Xfce and Kubuntu KDE. The display manager of Gnome gdm3 is installed as standard, no matter which desktop environment you have chosen before. However, Gnome slows down the Pi so much that it’s hardly possible to work with it.

That’s why you should select the resource-saving LXDE or Xfce in the user login after a reboot. To do this, simply click on the cogwheel symbol in the bottom right and select your desktop.


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