Test 15 different PinePhone operating systems with Megi’s latest multi-distribution demo image
Trying out different operating systems on the PinePhone is as easy as flashing a bootable disk image onto a microSD card, inserting it into the phone, and turning it on. The instructions for installing an operating system on the built-in storage are almost as simple.
Not sure which operating system you want to install? This is where a tool like Megi multi-distribution demo image can be useful. Instead of flashing a single operating system to a microSD card, this image lets you flash a whole bunch and then choose which one you want to run when you start your phone. The latest version was released a few days ago and contains 15 different operating systems including Arch, Fedora, Mobian, Sailfish, Ubuntu Touch and several different versions of postmarketOS and Manjaro with different user interfaces.
The entire image takes around 6.9GB of disk space to download, so it should easily fit on an 8GB or larger microSD card – although you may want a larger card if you plan to install apps, update any of the operating systems or do more than dig into any of the included Linux distributions.
Note that the image is also compressed using zstd, and some image flashing utilities like balenaEtcher and Rufus do not support this compression algorithm, so depending on the tools you are using you may need to extract the archive before flashing, in which case it takes up about 10 GB of disk space.
While you could theoretically use Megi’s tool to run any Linux distro you want indefinitely, the multi-boot image is really designed for people who want a quick way to try out a bunch of different operating systems without having to install and flash them individually.
This is because Megi modifies boot images so that they all use the same kernel, boot manager, and modem driver, among other things. Therefore, you may not get all the same functionality in these images as when running official versions of each operating system. You will not be able to install updates using normal methods. And the developers may not accept bug reports sent from these versions of their operating systems.
I took a look at an earlier version of Megi’s multi-distribution demo image late last year, but while the idea behind the new version is the same, the software is about 7-8 months newer. Developers of PinePhone-compatible Linux distributions have made many improvements over this time, with major updates affecting user interfaces, power consumption, camera functionality, and more.
Megi’s January 2022 multi-distribution image includes version 5.16.2 of megi’s custom Linux kernel, adds support for the PinePhone keyboard, and updates operating system versions including:
- Arch Linux ARM2021-11-20
- Arch Linux ARM / dreemurrs 20220124
- Fedora 0.6.0
- Moon OS 20220108
- Maemo Leste 20220123
- Manjaro / Phosh beta 21
- Manjaro / Plasma beta 10
- Mobian 20220116
- posmarketOS / Plasma Desktop 2022-01-07
- posmarketOS/GNOME 2022-01-07
- posmarketOS / Plasma Mobile v21.12-20220119
- posmarketOS/Phosh v21.12-20220119
- posmarketOS/sxmo v21.12-20220119
- Sailboat 20220112
- Ubuntu Touch2022-01-20
- Jumpdrive 0.8
Megi notes that the Sailfish had trouble booting into this disk image, so your results may vary.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this disk image is made for the original PinePhone and not the newer PinePhone Pro, which has a different processor and a few other key changes, meaning operating systems designed for the base PinePhone need to be changed before they can run on the more powerful PinePhone Pro.
Megi’s image uses its p-boot bootloader which loads almost immediately when you press the power button to turn on the PinePhone, and allows you to choose between different operating systems using the volume keys up and down to navigate and the power button to select .
The image also includes a shortcut that will let you boot from your phone’s built-in eMMC storage without first removing the microSD card, and another that lets you run JumpDrive, a utility that lets you connect the phone to a computer and process the eMMC. as if it were a removable drive. This provides a quick and easy way to flash software to onboard storage.
You can find more details of Megi’s PinePhone development work on its blog, and find more information about the multi-boot utility as well as download links on its multi-distribution demo image web page PinePhone.
You can flash the image to a microSD card or the PinePhone’s eMMC storage the same way you would any other disk image.
All of the images in this article show the June 2 version of the multicast image, but you can also see how it all works by watching my November 2020 video:
This article was originally published on June 6, 2021 and last updated on January 30, 2022.