Raspberry Pi: Why I think it’s important.

Everyone should have heard of the Raspberry Pi by now. a cheap bareboard computer the size of a packet of fags, which is more than capable of running a variety of Linux ports, and other OSs besides.

The history is, the guys wanted a computer that was to “inspire children”.  An easy to produce, easy to get up and running small footprint computer to use in the classroom.

What we got, was a lot more than that, in my opinion.  What I think we got was a computer cheap enough to bring us towards more ubiquitous computing, that allows for rapid, low powered deployment, and has the facility to connect to electronics in a way not as convenient before now.

Don’t get me wrong; long ago, Java was forwarded as an “embedded” language, to run on chips, and very small devices, and there have been lots of other cheap bareboard devices like the Pi, designed to be programmed by a PC and then let loose on the world. And then there have also been some set up to run Linux or other OSs in various forms.

But the raspberry pi has altogether come up with something superior, either just by the publicity and campaign set up around it, or by the sheer low price of the thing.

Now, I’m going to put aside the various eduction arguments here.  I’m not that fussed about that, although I’m sure that some schools are using it.  What I’m interested about is potentials.

  1. Cheap.  At something between £20 and £35 depending on where you go, it’s ridiculously cheap.  and you can have more than 1 for the cost of a decent android phone, or tablet.
  2. Portable.  Plenty of power packs, even down to and including cheap USB power packs designed to keep your phone going on the move.  Power is via mini-USB.  Depending on how you’ve configured it, you may not need a screen for the purpose you’re putting it to.  There are now Solar Panel rigs for running them in concert with batteries for days on end.
  3. Connectible.  As standard, the B and B+ models come with Ethernet as standard and from 2 to now 4 (on the B+) USB sockets.  If you include the fact that a multitude of USB Wifi Dongles now exist with both promiscuous mode (good for sniffing/scanning) and Access Point functionality, it can be a router, access point, wireless mesh node, and simply  a computer to get on the net.
  4. Hardware connectible.  Although I haven’t the foggiest when it comes to real electronics, the Pi was designed with accessible headers for attaching electronics to, and not just as inputs, but also as outputs.  The possibilities are endless, and are supported by various third party suppliers.  From temperature sensors to pressure sensors, to motor control.
  5. Low resource requirements.  Apart from the low power requirements, and with new versions such as the B+ promising more power efficiency than so far, you can simply jam in the biggest SD memory card you can find (with again, the B+ now accepting micro-SD) and everything will run off that with no requirement for additional USB attached storage.
  6. A Variety of Operating Systems.  Raspbian is leader of the pack, a port of the Debian flavour of Linux, but there are others, including one made by google for simple web coding education.  OSs of interest include a Kali port, which is designed for network penetration, and ArkOS, which is a personal website/cloud system.

At this time, a recent kickstarter has resulted in a tiny TFT touch screen set up to wire directly onto the Pi board, obviously, with the right modification of the OS/command line, and with a USB keyboard, one could make this into a very powerful handheld/portable unit for all sorts of toys.

So, the hobbyists have taken the Pi to their hearts, and ported a variety of really cool shit to it.  As I expand on my decentralisation posts, I’ll attempt some installs on the Pi and report my results.  Even if this sort of thing wouldn’t normally interest you it’s worth buying one, just to see a tiny computer hooked up to your HD TV (video output is HD as standard, not VGA) and doing things you’d normally be expecting of a desktop (within reason, although here’s a Youtube video of Quake 3 running on it)

Expect to pay about 20-30 quid for the Pi, and then another 20 quid for stuff to run it with.

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