Can the Raspberry Pi save computing?
Posted on 20 Apr 2012 at 10:20
Media players, for example, are a natural fit for a tiny, low-power device that can decode 1080p H.264 video and run it at 30fps, and the powerful open source XMBC media player is one of the first major Linux applications to have been successfully ported to Raspberry Pi.
Finally, it’s easy to forget Raspberry Pi’s potential purely as a simple, low-cost computer. “When we got overwhelmed back in May, when we first talked about this,” explains Braben, “one of the things that surprised me was the number of people in the third world – charities and organisations – who said that this would be great, because PCs don’t survive out there, whereas there are TV screens everywhere.”
This, he notes, was the driving force behind the addition of a composite video output to the Raspberry Pi board. What’s more, it’s trivial to produce a variant with a VGA output, allowing Raspberry Pi to work with CRT and older flatscreen monitors that are creeping towards obsolescence.
Can Raspberry Pi succeed?
Eben Upton understands why people have doubts about the Raspberry Pi’s chances in a world of sophisticated smartphones, tablets and games consoles. Many companies and organisations, including the One Laptop per Child programme, have tried in the past to produce and sell small, cheap computers, and few have had unalloyed success.
“So many people have tried to do this in the past and it turns out that it’s really quite difficult. Even coming from this privileged position where we have trustees of the foundation who are well connected with the local business community, well connected with the local academic community, and privileged access to a chip manufacturer – even with all those advantages it’s extremely difficult to do.”
However, Upton feels that Raspberry Pi has plenty in its favour. For one thing, price. “There are two things you can do with Moore’s law. Either you can pick a price, and every two years double the performance that you get for that price, or you can pick a feature set and – in theory – ride that curve down. This, I guess, is an attempt to do that second thing.”
There are two things you can do with Moore’s law: either you can pick a price... or you can pick a feature set and – in theory – ride that curve down
Raspberry Pi offers an attractive level of performance at a price where enthusiasts will find it irresistible. This is something where rival products, such as Solid-Run’s CuBox, the BeagleBoard or the Rhombus-Tech Allwinner A10, struggle to compete.
Second, the developer board is only the beginning. The consumer-level product, which is to be released mid-year, will add a case at relatively little extra cost, and the foundation will actively encourage licensed clone manufacture, so that companies that want to build a Raspberry Pi computer can do so.
After that, and with everything tied down, there are plans to make the design open source, so that anyone can make one. “If this thing goes to plan, it really changes what cheap computers look like,” says Mycroft.
Cheap hardware may not be enough in itself. “One of the ambitions we have is to be able to give these away to kids, so that we could give them to a whole cohort or a whole year,” says Braben. “That would be my ambition; not to charge for them. It’s ambitious – but not totally out of the question.” Sponsorship, for example, could be one way forward.
In a way, Raspberry Pi brings computing back home. As Upton notes, “Cambridge University doesn’t have a computer science department, it has a computer laboratory – and this reflects a historical bias in Cambridge towards making stuff. This thing we’re trying to do here is positioned in that long line. It’s nice to be building computers in Cambridge again.” Amen.
Author: Stuart Andrews
Good, but no cigar....
I think this is potentially a great idea, and I'll almost certainly buy one. I very much doubt it will make much difference to Britain's IT 'skills gap'.
It's not just the UK, but Worldwide where consumption exceeds creation by a mile.
The popularity of the various igadgets confirms that people (worldwide) aren't that interested: they simply want to absorb the dross someone else has made.
Mrs Thatcher's 'consumer society' writ large. Who on earth thought the outcome would be different?
Prior to the 'consumer revolution' when we used to be 'patients', 'travellers', 'customers' before we all became mere 'consumers', people aspired to creating things. The maligned 1960's epitomised the transformation of society based on the creative optimism of those who came back from WW2.
The BBC IT projects (including the 'B') sprang from the optimism and enthusiasm of the post-war generation as we reached adulthood.
Then came the 90's.
It's largely a 'philosophical' problem and it really is rooted in attitudes spawned in the 1980s. The get rich quick \ greed is good values of the City are now embedded in our consciousness. Why create something when you can parasite off someone else's efforts?
Having said all that, hopefully many kids WILL get to play with one of these and many will likewise be spurrred into new ways of seeing. But it won't, on its own, cause any sort of rennaisance. Sadly.
By wittgenfrog on 20 Apr 2012
Are the statements in the article correct?
"This is something where rival products, such as Solid-Run’s CuBox, the BeagleBoard or the Rhombus-Tech Allwinner A10, struggle to compete."
So I googled one of these.
"The Allwinner A10 CPU has been developed in, and is sold in, the People's Republic of China. Its mass-volume price is around $7, yet it is a 400-pin highly feature-rich 1.2ghz ARM Cortex A8 with a MALI400 GPU. It has the distinction of having the highest bang-per-buck ratio of any SoC available at the time of writing, by quite a margin. Its price and features is causing massive disruption of the tablet market in China (a minor recession was caused by widespread cancellation of prior committments to other SoCs!), as every factory in Shenzen scrambles to compete with hundreds of other factories for the same end-user market: tablets and PVRs."
By FrancisKing on 20 Apr 2012
Whilst their ambitions are honourable, I can't help but reiterate their many failures.
Their first failure came from not identifying the meteoric popularity of the device on the run up to when they opened the pre-orders.
On the first day their website went into meltdown and didn't have any way of producing anywhere near the quantities demanded.
Secondly, they went with RS and Farnell in an attempt to resolve the fulfilment issues for full scale production. Whilst a great idea on the surface, it very soon materialised they couldn't handle the demand either, the RPi has been likened to an Apple release in its sheer scale and the two companies just couldn't cope, also suffering website problems and administrative failures.
Thirdly, the foundation failed to ditch RS and Farnell when they failed to realise it needed CE certification, and poor handling of the Ethernet connector fiasco.
These are things you would have thought RS and Farnell would have been totally capable of carrying out quickly and efficiently, being their business, but they have never needed to fulfil orders of this magnitude and again aren't geared up for it.
Fourthly, the foundation failed to find any way of prioritising pre-orders for those who had genuine educational, experimental and electronic tinkering interests in the device, as opposed to the vast majority, who just wanted one for an extremely cheap media centre system.
Fair enough, the foundation can't expect to be up there with the likes of Apple in terms of production rates and so forth, and Apple have themselves been quite poor at meeting expected demand in the past, but lessons learned, Apple have improved, and were a great example for the foundation at the time of preorder - it's not like the whole internet wasn't abuzz with RPi excitement, what with its home theatre PC capabilities for such a small price.
The foundation could even have scored a production and distribution hit with China, Foxconn themselves instead of RS/Farnell.
To this day I find it incredible that Apple got an Ipad 3 into the UK, in my hands, a single week after their announcement at San Francisco, whilst I still await my RPi, as pre-ordered on the third of March, having been given an August to September delivery date! I can't help but feel extremely bitter about it all.
By Heliosphan on 22 Apr 2012
Sorry, not impressed
Thinking back to if I were 15 or 16 now, what would I do?” says Braben. “It would actually be very difficult to get into programming, because even if I had a PC at home I’d have to beg, borrow or steal a compiler and get it set up. Unless I have a well-motivated parent, this is actually a big challenge.”
On Windows, what about installing Microsoft's excellent and completely free "Express" range of development tools? Or even fire up notepad and you can start coding in vbscript, no extra installs required?
Or on non Windows platforms, what about java? PHP, C++, BASH, Perl? Etc, etc
The solution to schoolies not having a clue about computer programming? Change the dumbed down curriculum so you don't get an A* in ICT just for doing a couple of Excel macros and typing a CV into Word.
Cheap and wonderful though I'm sure it is, this device is NOT needed.
By poke36879 on 4 May 2012
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