Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

Have yourself some Raspberry Pi

When Acorn won the contract to produce the ‘BBC Micro computer’ I’m fairly sure they never knew what influence their creation would have on the generation of kids that had these as their first computer, either at home, a friends place or in school.

History is about to repeat itself, but on a much larger scale.

The BBC Micros sold for a whopping 2000 guilders when I was a kid, it took me months and months of really hard work to be able to afford one, sans disk drives (that took a bit longer still).

Now, a good 30 years later, the Raspberry Pi is about to be unleashed on the world. At a price-point of roughly 2% of the original BBC, and targeted directly at just about everybody that wants a computer to program but that does not have the money as well as primary and secondary education it is the best thing that I’ve seen come along in many many years.

Forget OLPC and other similar efforts. All of them too complicated and too lofty in their goals. Raspberry Pi is as simple as it is direct, a $25 (or $35 for the expanded version) computer on a single board. Basically the whole thing is a break-out board for a system on a chip designed by Broadcomm with some IO thrown in to make it more mainstream. Normally Broadcomm ships their chips by the millions, but a sweetheart deal between Eben Upton and his employer Broadcomm makes it possible for a small upstart charity to redefine the world of personal computing.

Think about it for just a second: for a little over the price of two movie tickets you get a fully functional computer. Obviously there is plenty of hacking potential here, at that price you can expect them to be stuck on, in and under just about anything that will hold still long enough, and plenty of things that don’t (think car computer). The real change will be in education, especially in the third world where computers of any power are few and far between (unless you count smartphones but they’re geared towards consumption, not creation).

This little computer will level the playing field considerably, and will hopefully succeed where OLPC failed its mission. By concentrating on the hardware instead of making a fully integrated and packaged computer with a pile of fancy one-off software to go with it the Raspberry Pi people have the right idea.

Get the hardware out there and the software will follow. Based off Linux you can bet that a small army of tinkerers and programmers will move the software side of it forward faster than any formal committee driven entity ever could.

Things like the Raspberry Pi make me immensely happy and specifically happy to be alive right now. I really hope that this will succeed. One worry I’ve got is that they’re selling them too cheap. If there is not enough margin then I fear that Raspberry Pi as an entity will not survive due to overhead, after all, even a non-profit needs a little bit of money to operate.

If the volume is there and the shipping costs are paid by the buyers then maybe it will work.

But it would be better a bit more expensive than unavailable.

Regardless of what the final prices will be (and I’m assuming the Raspberry Pi people know their basic arithmetic and have thought this through), I have a couple of ideas involving this board and I can’t wait until they become available.

Right now they’re busy with the final board design, 50 alpha boards have been assembled and are being used by the people that port the basic software distribution to it based on debian Linux. Once that’s done and the final board is ready they will go in to volume production with the first batches of finished boards expected around November.

If you’re in education or if you’re a kid with a bee up his or her bonnet about programming computers and mom or dad won’t let you abuse the home computer get yourself some Pi. Even on just washing cars you could do this.

You can read all about the Raspberry Pi on their website: http://www.raspberrypi.org/