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Raspberry Pi

$25 computer could help create the techies of tomorrow

It’s always great to see efforts to bring young people into the world of computers and programming. It keeps the public sector and industry alike from worrying about not having enough new people to carry the torch.

Along those lines, one of the most innovative projects in recent years has been the Raspberry Pi,  a single-board computer that can be purchased for just $25. There is also a kit that is a little more expensive, but allows the entire computer to be constructed from scratch, sort of like a modern day Erector Set.

If only they had something like that when most of us were growing up. How cool would it have been to find a Raspberry Pi underneath the tree on Christmas morning?

The Pi is impressive because of its ability to bring young people into the world of computing -- the Raspberry Pi Foundation promotes it for teaching basic computer science in schools -- as well as the potential for parental bonding, but it’s also a surprisingly robust computer.

The Pi runs on a 700 MHz ARM processor that can be overclocked up to 1 GHz. The overclocking is one experiment you can perform with it that doesn’t void the warranty.  It also has 256M of RAM, upgradable to 512M. To save money, the Pi doesn’t have a hard drive, using an SD card for booting and storage. You can easily attach a portable drive and use that as your storage medium if you want.

It can run on a variety of operating systems, including its own Raspbian, plus Debian GNU/Linux, Fedora, Arch Linux ARM, RISC OS and FreeBSD. Basically, you just attach a mouse, keyboard and monitor and you have a pretty neat little computer that you can fool around with, experiment on, or actually use productively.

The unit is selling quite well by all reports, but perhaps the biggest measure of success is that just before the holiday, the foundation announced the grand opening of the Raspberry Pi App store.  The store can be accessed easily though the Raspbian OS or through a standard browser on a non-Pi computer. Most of the apps are free, though some have to be purchased. They include productivity suites, utility programs and even games.

This will add yet another element to the educational value of the Pi, encouraging users to program their own apps, which can then be distributed or sold in the store. In addition to professionally programmed titles like the “Storm in a Teacup” game  from Cobra Mobile, I’ve already seen news reports about modern-day lemonade stand-type businesses being setup by kids who plan to create and sell their wares within the Pi community.

I’ll tell you the truth: I was a little skeptical when plans to create the Raspberry Pi were announced. But I’m really pleased that it’s doing so well. I wonder how many children will get a Raspberry Pi as a gift over the holidays, and how many of those kids will go on to become the great hardware makers and software programmers of tomorrow? Government has worried for years about a coming IT talent drain. Maybe something like the Pi can help. Good luck, kids! I’ll look for your apps in the store.

Posted by John Breeden II on Dec 21, 2012 at 9:39 AM


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