I had been using the current official Debian "squeeze" image (debian6-19-04-2012) for awhile now, so I decided to try out some of the newer images last weekend. First off, I tried out the Debian "Wheezy" Beta image. It includes a great configuration tool called raspi-config which runs at first boot:
The expand_rootfs option will automatically expand the image to utilize the full size of your SD card. I think this is really handy for novice users:
The overscan menu item was another handy feature for me. I was able to quickly disable overscan so that the Pi would utilize the full real estate of my monitor (previously, I had to create config.txt in the boot partition and add that setting):
Here's a shot of the desktop once I've started LXDE via startx:
Hopefully you can tell, despite my poor attempt to photograph my monitor, that the browser isn't Midori. This Debian "Wheezy" image includes another browser in addition to Midori called NetSurf. I have to thank coder27 for bringing it to my attention:
The highlight of the weekend was when I realized the Arduino IDE is in the Debian Wheezy repository. I was able to easily install the arduino package via the typical sudo apt-get install arduino. An Electronics category was then added to the LXDE program launcher menu sporting a lovely Arduino menu item.
However, I did have to add my user, pi, to the group dialout and log back in. After that, I connected my Arduino Uno to one of the Raspberry Pi's USB ports (my keyboard and mouse are connected to a hub so uses only 1 USB port). And finally I launched the Arduino IDE and was able to upload one of the example sketches to the Uno:
I had read other posts about this on the web, but it was really quite eye opening to see in person that you don't need a "full" computer anymore to do Arduino projects!
Raspbian is an unofficial port of Debian Wheezy armhf with compilation settings adjusted to produce optimized "hard float" code that will run on the Raspberry Pi. This should provide significantly faster performance for applications that make heavy use of floating point arithmetic operations.
The port is necessary because the official Debian Wheezy armhf release is compatible only with versions of the ARM architecture later than the one used on the Raspberry Pi (ARMv7-A CPUs and higher, vs the Raspberry Pi's ARMv6 CPU).
Their official image hasn't been released yet, but there are a couple unofficial images. I first tried out Pisces image which takes its name from the hostname of project leader Mike Thompson's Pi. It has the LXDE desktop installed like the Foundation's Debian images. It also has useful packages like NetSurf and Arduino available to install. I didn't perceive improved speed due to usage of hardware floating point, but I didn't attempt to run any benchmarks yet.
What I most appreciated from Raspbian was the Pisces+MATE image. As I learned, MATE is a fork of GNOME 2 for those that don't like the UI changes in GNOME 3 (that would be me). I've been using GNOME on Linux as my primary desktop for 8 years, so I really felt at home when I booted this image:
It's comorting to watch my Pi's vitals via the Indicator Applet just like I do on my workstation. Although, it got me thinking the color for 'cache' on the memory indicator should really default to black, so novice users don't think that there's no free memory.
The installation process was interesting. I simply had to download a python installer script from their site. I ran it and specified the device for my SD card, and it wrote a small image to it. I booted the Pi with it and the installation process started up automatically and downloaded the rest of installation (this means your Pi has to be connected to the Internet).
After this installation process, XBMC launched, and I found XBMC easy to use just like with Liam's older image. It was simple to install the YouTube "add-on" via the menu system and watch clips from YouTube. Other online service "add-on's" can be installed, too. Audio and video files can also be accessed from the SD card, USB sticks/drives or network. Unfortunately, I didn't have any files handy, so I'll have to try that later on.
There is another distribution focused on XBMC called OpenELEC. I followed the instructions on the wiki, but I didn't have any luck with the 2012-June-23 image. I installed it on an SD, and it did boot. However, the OpenELEC splash screen would display followed by a blank screen. I see there is now a July 2nd image, so I'll have to give OpenELEC a try again.
I'm very interested to find out what other distros/images folks are trying out on their Pi's. Please leave a comment and let me know!