If you follow the tech and gadget press—and perhaps even the “regular” media’s technology supplements—you may have got wind of a British-initiated IT project which has garnered a considerable amount of interest in recent months… and has now grabbed my attention too :-)
The product in question is the Raspberry Pi, and although it is officially aimed at schools and the education market, the device already has computing and Linux fans straining at the leash to get their paws on one.
Judging by the coverage, the reasons are not hard to understand. In short, the Raspberry Pi is a functioning computer, with (on the “Model B”) an ARM processor, 256Mb RAM, a OpenGL-capable graphics system with HDMI and component video output, audio out, 10/100 Ethernet, USB and 5V micro-USB power… all built onto a circuit board the size of a credit card, and likely to cost around UKP25. Initially, the device will be sold “as is”, without a case or enclosure, though from what I have read, there is no shortage of enthusiasts stepping up to design custom cases, or suggest alternative enclosures (an empty tin of Altoid mints seems to be a popular one!).
There are plenty of news sites picking up on the potential of a device like this. To pick one out at random, The Guardian has given the Pi some attention in its Education section, focusing on the avowed aim of the project to revitalise the teaching of computing in schools (and perhaps even inspire a new generation of coders and ‘hackers’ (in the non-criminal, inventive sense of the term)).
OK… so why am I posting on my Eee blog about the “R-Pi”? One reason is that I’ve always been interested in small and inexpensive computers, from the Psion Series 3x and Series 5mx I owned in the late 90s, through to the Eee 701 itself, and the Raspberry Pi looks like it packs a lot of functionality into a very small and cheap package.
Furthermore, as a leaf through this very blog should reveal, I am a keen Linux “tinkerer” when it comes to my Eee, and the R-Pi provides ample scope for experimentation, with HDMI, USB and Ethernet connectivity in a low-power device. There are a number of prominent Linux distributions which have been ported to the ARM processor family, including Debian and Fedora, but most of interest to me is Arch Linux ARM, as I could hopefully “port” my experience with Arch’s x86 sibling to the R-Pi.
Finally: quite simply, my imagination is fired by the idea of a usable computer which could fit in a pocket. Any HDMI display could be used as a monitor, as well as just about any keyboard or pointing device with a USB interface—even a combined one with a wireless “dongle” should work—so the device should be usable wherever you could find a “spare” TV or HDMI-equipped monitor. I’m not the only one thinking that the R-Pi could make an extremely affordable “media centre” computer, and look forward to seeing how that pans out…
The word is that the Raspberry Pi will be made available to purchase from their Web site from the end of this month (January 2012), and I for one will be keeping an eye on this very closely.