Raspbian Lite vs Desktop

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People new to Raspberry Pi ask themselves what OS use in their new board. When it comes to Raspbian, the second question is what between Lite and Desktop version. This article will show main differences between Raspbian Lite and Raspbian Desktop.

Raspberry PI 4 model B image

Raspbian Naming Notes

When you go to official Raspbian download page you can note that OS name is composed by some terms. At the date of this article (Sept 2019), you can find these 3 available download options:

  • Raspbian Buster Lite,
  • Raspbian Buster with desktop,
  • Raspbian Buster with desktop and recommended software.

Beside Raspbian (OS name), the second term (“Buster”) indicates which kernel release is based on. Infact, Raspbian is based on Debian Linux, so it takes it releases names from its source kernel naming.

Each Debian release has a version based on increasing integer number, but releases has often also a codename which identify it.

Raspbian Lite Features

Raspbian Lite is a minimal OS. It fits the needs for very light OS with a minimal set of packages. It is suggested only for experiences people able to se ssh connections and remote management with a Command Line Interface (CLI), without Graphical interfaces or Desktop Environment. You can figure Lite version as a Server Operating System. In this version you will need to type in Linux commands to control RPI services.

For this reasons, Lite version requires a very low amount of RAM and CPU usage.

Raspbian Lite can become a Desktop version by installing required packages with built-in aptitude package manager.

Rasbian Lite doesn’t require a keyboard or monitor attached: you can install and use it doing all operations from remote.

Installation procedure can be found in Install Raspbian Buster Lite in your Raspberry Pi.

At installation procedure finish, you will see something like the following image:

Raspbian Desktop Features

Raspbian Desktop versions come with a defaul Graphical User Interface. It is a Desktop Environment designed to be light and to run fastly in your Raspberry Pi. The desktop version includes all the scripts to display the icons, all the tools to configure your environment and utilities to interface other programs/applications. Command Line interface is still available using terminal window. Like all Desktop environments, even if optimized it requires anyway addicting packages and software, so RAM and CPU usage will result increased if compared to Lite version.

Software installation can be performed with synaptic package manager, which offers a Graphical Interface to manage application addition or removal.

Raspbian Desktop requires keyboard, mouse and monitor, at least untill you will configure remote desktop service.

At installation procedure finish, you will see (after login) something like the following image:

Raspbian desktop logged in

Beside Desktop version, you can also install the Desktop version with some preinstalled software (Raspbian Buster with desktop and recommended software). This version is suggested for people who want an environment ready to use, as it includes some free application like office programs. However, you can also opt for simple desktop version and install preferred software via Synaptics GUI.

Raspbian Desktop vs Lite: Final Considerations

Raspbian is the default choise with Raspberry Pi hardware. Supported by Raspbery Pi Foundation, it is always compatible with RPI hardware. Opting for Lite or Desktop version depends on your needs and your Linux Skills:

  • if you want an environment easy to use for Linux non-experts and ready to start, then you should use Desktop version
  • if you want the best from you RPI performances and use it to expose services to other computers, the you should use Lite version