Most Popular IoT Linux Distros
4 MOST POPULAR IOT LINUX DISTROS: WHICH IS BEST FOR YOU?
What are IoT Linux distros?
Some of the most popular IoT Linux distros:
1. Ubuntu Core
Ubuntu Core offers a secure, modular, immutable container-based OS built on snaps. Updates to connected devices occur several times a day automatically and atomically using deltas that can be instantly rolled back if a buggy update is installed or if the update process is interrupted. Ubuntu Core currently supports container runtimes and orchestrators such as snapd, Docker, LXD, AWS Greengrass, Azure IoT Edge, and Kubernetes.
However, Ubuntu Core’s minimum requirements include a 500Mhz single-core processor, 256MB of RAM, and 512MB storage, making it a nonviable option for low-spec IoT devices with severe hardware limitations.
Yocto is based on the OpenEmbedded project and employs a development model dubbed the “Layer Model.” A layer in Yocto is a repository that contains related sets of instructions telling the build system what to do. Layers can override previous settings or instructions, allowing you to repurpose community-built layers for your own embedded systems. By separating a build into modular layers, Yocto also makes it easier for you to reuse code and add future customizations to your distro. Yocto releases are pushed out every six months with exhaustive documentation.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of Yocto is the amount of time developers need to spend on acquainting themselves with the project and learning how to use it before they can create their first build. It can present quite a challenge to developers who are still green around the ears.
Buildroot can generate extremely lightweight distros for embedded devices at the lowest end. Furthermore, in contrast to Yocto, Buildroot is easy to master and use. The only major drawback is that its minimalist approach makes it hard to customize.
4. Raspberry Pi OS (formerly Raspbian)
Raspberry Pi OS has been used to power a range of Raspberry Pi-based projects ranging from digital cameras to ventilators for COVID-19 patients. It is slowly finding use in home automation and industrial automation IoT projects.
Unfortunately, since the OS is developed almost exclusively for Raspberry Pi hardware, its use in other consumer hardware devices is severely limited, restricting its spread into the embedded market.
A quick word about Android Things
In its initial release in 2018, Android Things powered smart-home devices that supported Google Assistant, especially smart speakers and displays. However, in 2019, Android Things stopped supporting low-spec hardware and instead refocused on smartphone-class devices. In December 2020, it was announced that the project would be shut down and that all project data would be deleted by January 2022. Despite its failure, Android Things remains a significant milestone at maximizing the capabilities of devices with extreme hardware constraints.
How do you choose the right Linux distro?
1) Device RAM and storage: Ubuntu Core is immediately out of the picture when you deal with low-spec IoT devices since it requires at least 256MB RAM and 512MB storage space. Yocto and Buildroot may be more helpful when looking to build lightweight distros at the low end.
2) Time to market: A shorter time to market means that a readily available, standard Linux distro such as Ubuntu Core may be the best option. Yocto may be more appropriate for developers who have the time and leisure to experiment with building and testing their own customized distros.
3) Requirements of the embedded project: Raspberry Pi OS may not be the most popular distro among manufacturers, but it has found a niche to fill among hobbyists. Embedded devices that cannot be bricked under any circumstances (for example, life support machines) may require frequent, atomic updates and stellar security, so a modular, containerized distro like Ubuntu Core may be more appropriate. For simple projects that require a minimalist, lightweight, monolithic distro, Buildroot could help. Yocto is ideal for embedded projects that necessitate customization since it allows developers to strip away any components that are irrelevant to a device’s function and purpose.
The bottom line is that no single distro can meet the requirements of every embedded Linux project. Each project may require a different approach and an IoT Linux distro that matches that approach. Several developers may go “distro hopping” before settling on an ideal distribution, and there are several tools to help you test and choose the best distro.
Hiva IoT Technologists Company has been operating in the field of Linux since 2018, utilizing the knowledge, expertise and experience of capable people in the field of Linux and Internet of Things.