Open Source

Why the Raspberry Pi is relevant

Jack Wallen offers up his take on just why the Raspberry Pi is of any signifigance in an age of bigger and faster. Open source has yet another notch to add to its +5 belt of success.

Recently, a tiny piece of hardware was released that will not re-invent the way you work, won't make you more social, won't crunch your numbers, doesn't handle multi-touch, and probably won't make you more popular or sexy. But the Raspberry Pi will serve a purpose — and it's one I hope we can all learn from.

First, what is the Raspberry Pi? Simple — it is a tiny Linux box that will set you back $25 to $35. This tiny Arm-based, Fedora-powered computer offers the following specs:

  • Broadcom BCM2835 700MHz ARM1176JZFS processor with FPU and Videocore 4 GPU
  • GPU provides Open GL ES 2.0, hardware-accelerated OpenVG, and 1080p3D
  • H.264 high-profile decode GPU is capable of 1Gpixel/s, 1.5Gtexel/s or 24GFLOPs with texture filtering and DMA infrastructure
  • 256MB RAM
  • Boots from SD card, running Raspberry Pi Fedora Linux Remix
  • 10/100-BaseT Ethernet port
  • HDMI port
  • USB 2.0 port
  • RCA video port
  • SD card slot
  • Powered from microUSB port
  • 3.5mm audio out jack
  • Header footprint for camera connection
  • Size: 85.6 x 53.98 x 17mm

So you have a tiny Linux-based computer that can be attached to a HDMI-connected monitor, offers an SD card slot for saved files, is networkable, and much more. The company even offers a version of Debian that can be loaded on an SD card for use.

This all came about, really, thanks to the mobile world. As the power of mobile hardware inversely grows in proportion to its size, it is becoming easier and easier to create smaller and more powerful systems.

But what exactly does this all mean? Why is this even remotely important? In a world where the power of home systems have far exceeded the needs of the user...

Oh wait, there's something to that. Right? Exactly. We live in a world where the consumerist market would insist the average user needs an i7 processor with 4GB of RAM and a solid state hard drive. These are the same average users who are using those systems to check Facebook, send an email or two, listen to some tunes, and maybe (just maybe) write a paper or create a slide show.

With a CPU containing 7 cores.

And yet, here we have a tiny Linux-based computer with a single core 700 MHz processor that can actually function and function well. No, this is not going to power NASA systems, run Wall Street, or play video games. But this tiny computer should serve as a reminder that need and want are two very different things.

But that's not the only importance I place on the Raspberry Pi.

These tiny systems could effectively be used to help impoverished nations, or place PCs in locations where a standard PC isn't feasible. Although the Raspberry Pi was intended for the educational environment, the broad scope of its use is pretty incredible. Even down to the DIY hobbyist, who would like to do things such as embed a PC into a desktop or power the next new invention that could bring about world peace... the Raspberry Pi has them covered as well.

I know, I'm really dreaming here. But seriously... this little device should prove as a powerful reminder of both the silliness of our desperate need for bigger and faster as well as just how diverse, inspiring, flexible, and useful open source software is.

Think about it this way — if it were not for open source, projects like the Raspberry Pi probably wouldn't exist. Instead of having to not only create the hardware for their project, they'd also be building an OS from scratch.

I don't know about you, but I plan on purchasing a Pi or two — if for no other reason than to see just what I can do with them. What about you? Does the Pi inspire you? If so, how?

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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