Ubuntu MATE 16.04 LTS......
Yes, you can run Ubuntu on the Raspberry Pi, but does it offer a real alternative to the Raspbian distribution? Les Pounder takes it for a spin.
Les Pounder pops desktop Ubuntu on this Pi to see if it still starts and it does! He’s amazed.
Ubuntu has been with us for many years, but only since the Raspberry Pi 2 was released in 2015 have we seen Ubuntu appear on this small, single board computer. The wait was largely thanks to the ARM v7 processor and increased memory needed to run the popular distribution.
Now, with the Raspberry Pi 3’s more powerful processor at hand, we take a look at Ubuntu 16.04.2 using the lightweight MATE desktop environment —a continuation of the Gnome 2 project, which remains a popular desktop environment well suited to older and less-powerful machines.
Installation of the image is exactly the same process as you’d use for Raspbian, requiring that you write the image to a blank SD card. The Ubuntu MATE team recommends a class 6/10 SD card for best results.
Once installed and inserted into our Pi you enter the first boot and configured your user account. Once completed you’re presented with the desktop. It’s unremarkable but very professional looking, with the usual menu in the top left of the screen with shortcuts to applications and locations on our SD card and external drives. There are also Bluetooth and Wi-Fi menus in the top right of the screen. Ubuntu MATE is compatible with the Pi3 Wifi and Bluetooth packages, but we noticed a bug just after configuring the user account: the Wi-Fi menu wouldn’t list an SSID. A reboot remedied this, but it shouldn’t really happen.
What kept Ubuntu MATE in the shadow of Raspbian were little things such as Python requiring sudo access for the GPIO. But this was the first test on our list and we’re happy to say that you can code your Python projects using the IDLEPython editor in the same manner as you would with Raspbian. The popular GPIO Zero and Sense Hat Python libraries are preinstalled and work for Python 2 and 3; in fact the new Sense Hat Emulator is also installed and fully compatible with Ubuntu MATE, meaning you can play around with a virtual version of the scientific sensor platform. To make sure that Python was fully operational we also used the pip3Python packaging tool to install another library, GUI Zero, and this worked flawlessly.
Our next tests were with SonicPi and Minecraft. Both work well—with SonicPi there was a slightly annoying issue where the volume control was non-functional, but we just used the system volume controls instead, and Minecraft worked just as it does for Raspbian. We were able to write code to alter the Minecraft world with no issues.
Our next test was to use the official Raspberry Pi camera with Ubuntu. In previous releases this hasn’t been possible, but after enabling the interface using the raspi-config tool (another great addition from Raspbian) we were able to capture images and video using the terminal and via the Python library. As mentioned the raspiconfig tool is on board, and used to configure many different protocols and interfaces on the Pi. One of these is a one-wire interface, used with sensors such as the DS18B20 temperature sensor. We tested this with a Python 3 library and again it worked incredibly simply, just as with Raspbian.
Ubuntu MATE has finally stepped out of the shadow of Raspbian. Here we have a distribution that not only caters to the tinkerers and makers that make up so much of the Raspberry Pi community, but it also caters for the average user: someone who wants a cheap computer to fulfill a basic task. Raspbian is still the main choice, but Ubuntu MATE for the Raspberry Pi has finally come of age.
It looks and feels just like Ubuntu MATE on other machines, but what makes it different are all the Pi-specific features.