Multi-installer NOOBS for the Raspberry Pi

Lead Image © John Takai,

Piece of Pie

The NOOBS boot manager helps beginners try out Raspberry Pi operating systems. It also lets advanced users dig into the structure of the systems and adapt them as they like.

The Raspberry Pi was created with the goal of acquainting children and young people with the subject of programming. This goal has been at least partially achieved because Rasp Pi users must explore various aspects of its hardware to become acquainted with the small computer board.

As it turns out, the Rasp Pi sold rapidly in large numbers to members of this target group, as well as to a great number of users outside that group. Many of the 2 million units that have been sold are in the hands of users who have little previous experience with hardware or with Linux. As a result, many users have felt overwhelmed by the first contact with the Rasp Pi because they don't exactly know how to equip it with software.

This is where NOOBS [1] comes into play. The "New Out Of Box Software" is designed to help novices over the first hurdles of installing one or more operating systems. The software was written by the same developers who previously introduced BerryBoot [2], which is a solution for easily installing and administering several operating systems on an SD card.

The current release of NOOBS 1.3 includes these and other functions while still retaining the ease of use and the well-arranged user interface of BerryBoot. For the beginner, NOOBS counts as the best solution when working with the Raspberry Pi. By comparison, the BerryBoot installer also functions on the Cubieboard [3], which is another single-board computer (SBC).

In contrast to BerryBoot, though, NOOBS 1.3 allows each system to administer its own kernel, which lets you install RISC OS simultaneously with Raspbian, for example. The software is subject to the three-clause BSD license, which is compatible with the GPL. For its software foundation, NOOBS uses a minimal Linux system with BusyBox, along with an adapted version of Enlightenment for a desktop and Qt5 for the graphical framework.

Download Options

When downloading, you can choose between two versions of NOOBS. If you have a stable and sufficiently fast connection to the Internet, you can download the complete version. This version includes all of the operating systems that can currently be installed on the Rasp Pi, but it is 1.2GB in size.

If you would prefer to install the operating systems individually, then NOOBS Lite, at 20MB in size, is recommended. After its initial launch, NOOBS Lite offers you the option of separately downloading and installing the operating system images of your choice.

However, for purposes of installation, you will need access to the Internet via Ethernet cable. NOOBS Lite does not yet support a WLAN connection. When starting up the installer, NOOBS Lite might not recognize the network card because of a defect that has yet to be fixed. If this should happen, the developers recommend that you repeat the launch.

Both NOOBS versions are available for direct download or as Torrent files on the operating systems page of the Raspberry Pi Foundation website [4]. Additionally, commercial distributors offer SD cards with NOOBS preinstalled, which may be purchased alone or in combination with a Rasp Pi.

The Right SD Card

The project recommends an SD card with at least 4GB of storage when working with NOOBS. Practically speaking, that amount is barely enough. NOOBS itself occupies some 1.2GB, and a Raspbian installation takes up around 1.6GB. Thus, if you want enough space for more than one operating system, as well data, an 8GB card would be preferable.

Even if you have bought a brand new SD card, it should always be formatted before you use it. On Windows [5] or Apple Mac OS [6] systems, the Raspberry Pi Foundation recommends the use of the software that has been developed by the SD Association for this purpose. After installing and launching the formatting software under Windows, select the option FORMAT SIZE ADJUSTMENT. Under Mac OS, you should choose Overwrite Format.

When using Linux, the use of the Parted utility or its graphical equivalent, GParted, is recommended. Before installing NOOBS, the entire SD card should then be formatted to the FAT filesystem.

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