Can you really use a Raspberry Pi desktop PC as your full computer? We recently set Rob Zwetsloot the challenge of using a Raspberry Pi for a week, and the result was a huge set of great tips for using a Raspberry Pi all the time.
The desktop computer is a dying breed these days, especially in the home. With the arrival of powerful laptops and convenient tablets, fewer people feel the need to have a dedicated desk computer taking up space or gathering dust in their house.
A good desktop computer can be useful, particularly for work-related tasks, but for many people space is at a premium. What better computer to turn to than the credit-card-sized Raspberry Pi? We’ve claimed several times that you can use a Raspberry Pi desktop PC, so it’s time to put this to the test and use a Raspberry Pi for a whole week – for science!
Rob built the basic hardware setup as described on the previous page. He downloaded and installed the latest version of Raspbian (you can do this via NOOBS, or follow our instructional video) and let it run through its automatic setup steps.
With that, he was ready to start using the Raspberry Pi desktop PC.
Raspberry Pi Desktop PC: set up software
If you’re using the Raspberry Pi for sysadmin or other kinds of IT management, you’re not going to demand much from it. The trusty Terminal will be your best friend, along with a quick peek at Google to check Stack Overflow. Rob says:
I’m treating my Raspberry Pi as an office desktop computer. For writing magazine articles, this means I’m about 95 percent covered by a word processor and an accompanying office suite, a web browser for general internet usage, and access to relevant chat protocols so I can coordinate with the rest of the team. These requirements will be the same for a lot of office workers. Let’s take a look at the tools you’re getting on Raspbian to help with this.
Office suite: LibreOffice
One of the most popular alternatives to Microsoft Office, LibreOffice includes a range of equivalent programs that are compatible with Microsoft Office files. Writer is your Word replacement, Sheets replaces Excel, Impress works with PowerPoint files, etc.
I really like the LibreOffice apps, and Writer is a perfect substitute for Word and other word processors. This version of LibreOffice has been further optimised to look and run better on the Raspberry Pi as well, so you won’t notice any performance issues.
Email: Claws Mail
A very lightweight email client that comes bundled with Raspbian. You can use it like any other email client.
Claws is fairly basic, but if all you really need to do is read and reply to emails, you don’t need much else.
Chromium tips for Raspberry Pi
We spend a lot of our lives online, accessing everything from email and search engines to news and social media, as well as web versions of popular software. Here are some of my top tips for making the most of your browser on Pi.
While I could access my Gmail through Claws Mail, I was interested in seeing whether I could get Gmail running in the browser. Surprisingly, Gmail takes up a lot of memory space while it runs. This increases as you add different accounts. Luckily, Google has a solution: switching to HTML mode while loading. Google claims that this is to help with slow connections, but it also drastically cuts down the memory footprint. It looks as if you’re using Gmail in 2002, but it’s worth it.
Skype on Raspberry Pi
We use Skype for chatting at The MagPi, and while there are other chat protocols that might be easier to tap into (such as Hangouts), we can’t change the way we work just for one person.
I decided to try web Skype, and while it wasn’t particularly kind to the memory resources, it did run happily in the background while I got on with other work. I turned off some of the chat features (including the giant animated emoticons), and I suggest that you do the same.
TweetDeck on Raspberry Pi
You may not use Twitter enough to need TweetDeck to manage all your accounts, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. It does use a lot of memory, but it runs just fine on the Pi, even when other programs are up and running.
The Raspberry Pi PC Challenge is in The MagPi issue 59. Click here to read The MagPi #59 and find out what happened when Rob used his Raspberry Pi for a whole week.