What is PIXEL for Raspbian Jessie?
Without any doubt, the Raspberry Pi is the most popular single board minicomputer available. This is because of the hard work and innovations of the amazing Raspberry Pi Foundation and the Raspberry Pi community. Raspbian is the official OS for the Raspberry Pi. Recently, it received the biggest visual and performance update. Raspbian now comes with a brand new desktop environment named PIXEL. So lets meet PIXEL, the newest Raspbian OS for the Raspberry Pi. PIXEL stands for – “Pi Improved Xwindows Environment, Lightweight”.
Amazing, isn’t it? Well before getting started, let me give you the console commands you need for these updates. If you want a fresh install, just download it from here. The download is about 4 GB in size. If you are running Raspbian Jessie (like I was) update is preferable. The download is around 350 MB in total. Just start the terminal and run the following commands in succession.
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install -y rpi-chromium-mods
sudo apt-get install -y python-sense-emu python3-sense-emu
sudo apt-get install -y python-sense-emu-doc realvnc-vnc-viewer
After everything finishes successfully, reboot the pi. This is important because lots of new changes won’t come into effect until you reboot.
In case you run into problems, check out the official blog post and raspberry pi help forums. While upgrading, I ran into some specific problems too, but they seem to have been patched by the recent updates.
New features in the PIXEL desktop environment
The new features that come with this version are:
The minimal splash screen during boot
During the restart, we will be greeted with the minimal pixel splash screen. All the text logs that used to display are gone. At the bottom left, the process names of the processes being initiated are displayed. At the bottom right, the version number will be displayed. So that we Pi owners can easily identify the OS version we are running.
Some naysayers might wonder whether the fancy new splash screen delays the boot up process. In my personal testing, I found PIXEL boot on my RPi 2 to be 1.7 seconds slower. Not a very big deal. According to some forum posts, some persons are getting greater delays. But it might be linked with the software and startup services they are running.
The new login screen
The new login screen features a full screen desktop background contrary to the white background. If you have the pi configured to login automatically (which is default), you will not see the login screen.
The awesome new desktop backgrounds
PIXEL comes with 16 new high resolution wallpapers by Raspberry Pi developer and talented photographer Greg Annandale. They can be found at the location /usr/share/pixel-wallpaper/. They are much better than the lone Pi logo centered on the screen. Now, I know we could change the wallpaper anytime in the Pi. But these come by default in all new Raspbian OS distributions from now on.
The revamped and redesigned icons
The new icons have a much crisp and cleaner art style. They look more professional and less cartoon-ish. All the category and common utilities icon for the start menu has been revamped.
New window style
The windows feature a soft blue color and rounded corners. Subtle, yet refreshing to look at.
The PIXEL comes with three new softwares – 1. VNC Server 2. SenseHat Emulator and 3. Chromium Browser.
For us who love to run our Pi in headless mode, i.e. without a monitor attached, the VNC Server is a much preferred option to the Microsoft Remote Desktop based xrdp. I am glad that now officially VNC server GUI based software is coming bundled with PIXEL. It will make it easy to SSH into Pi and run VNC right off the bat. Take a look at the attached screenshots for reference.
2. SenseHat Emulator
The SenseHat emulator is the native version of the SenseHat Web based emulator intended for persons who own a Raspberry Pi but not a SenseHat. Further information can be found in this official blog post. One immediate benefit is that this enables us to run this emulator on the older models of Pi which cannot run a web browser.
3. Chromium browser
PIXEL will have the Chromium browser as the officially supported browser. Epiphany, is old and sluggish and difficult to improve upon. It is being retired. This is purposefully customized for the Pi. It uses the Pi’s hardware to accelerate playback of streamed media. It comes preinstalled with two extensions. The uBlock Origin adblocker to block ads and the h264ify which forces YouTube to serve videos in a format which can be easily accelerated by the Pi’s graphics processor.
Now you must be thinking that chromium is more demanding and will be slow and sluggish. personally I felt it to be a tad faster than the unofficial version of chromium for linux. Also, in my Raspberry Pi 2, the Chromium for Pi browser plays YouTube videos in 1080p plays really well, compared to Epiphany or IceWeasel(firefox).
Other minor changes
1.The Roboto font and the font engine has been optimized.
2.Both WiFi and Bluetooth can now be completely turned off in their menu and from taskbar notification area.
3.New icons for warnings of undervolt, overheat and thermal throttling, instead of the confusing rainbow square box that popped at top right corner.
This used to be the old icon:
But now three different icons are displayed individually, depending on the situation. The first one is for unde-rvolt. The second one is for over-temperature in range of 80° C to 85° C. The third one is for over-temperature in greater than 80° C.
4.Bug fixes and performance updates to some existing softwares like Scratch, Node-RED etc.
For more detailed information, read the official blog post of the Raspberry Pi foundation.
For general users, this update was like a breath of fresh air. It also makes the Raspberry Pi a much more viable option as a portable home desktop replacement for newcomers. Although the oldest versions of the Pi may take a slight performance hit for the improved visuals. The lightweight version of Raspbian is more fit for older devices.
So, are you also happy with the new updates? Share your opinion in the comments. Make sure to ask me in the comments if you have any questions or if you have any suggestions to offer.
Disclaimer: Raspberry Pi, PIXEL, The Raspberry Pi logo(s) and any other trademarks mentioned in this article are properties of their respective owners.