The Raspberry Pi is one of the most eagerly-awaited computers of 2012. With more than 350,000 people on the Raspberry Pi waiting list, it's an enthusiasts' machine with mainstream appeal.
The computer provides exceptional value. It's a $40 computer with a range of intuitive programming tools and the capability of an average PC - browsing the web, running office software or playing HD video. The Pi is also suited to projects as diverse as controlling robots and building an in-car computer.
But in its present form novice computer users - weaned on the simplicity of Windows PCs, smartphones and iPads - may struggle to get to grips with the Raspberry Pi.
The difficulties that some noobs may experience stem from the nature of its operating system. Several Linux distributions are recommended for use with the Pi - Debian Squeeze, Arch Linux ARM, Fedora 14 and QtonPi - with Debian Squeeze suggested for first-time Linux users.
The Pi that was shipped to TechRepublic had Debian Squeeze with the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment, which provides a GUI based on windows and a start menu that will be familiar to most PC users.
However, lifelong Windows users are in for a surprise. Using the Pi means getting comfortable with typing commands, as the command-line interface of LX Terminal is essential for carrying out everyday tasks, from changing screen resolution to installing programs.
After a week of using the Pi, I'm more familiar with Debian and its commands, and none of these tweaks is particularly tricky. But I do worry that some people may lack the patience to learn how to control the OS - especially as the device is being sold as a machine for encouraging children to learn to code. If kids run into enough of these barriers just trying to use the machine, isn't there a danger that they'll lose interest?
The counter argument is that anyone interested in learning how to code will probably enjoy getting to grips with the Pi's OS. After all, one of the reasons for making the Pi was to give users control over a machine in a way that isn't possible with today's glossy, abstracted PC interfaces.
Also, the Pi has just come out and technically skilled early adopters are already tweaking the system and its software to make it far more intuitive for future users.
This gallery walks through the Debian OS and software running on a model B Pi, starting with the boot screen, seen here.
The Debian Squeeze system I used booted in just over 30 seconds to the LDXE desktop, and it had no problems recognising the mouse, keyboard or a variety of screens - connected via both HDMI and composite.
The first batch of Raspberry Pi computers ship as a bare board - although later boards will come in a case. For a closer look at the Pi's hardware and what peripherals you'll need to get it up and running, check out TechRepublic's Raspberry Pi unboxing gallery.
Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.
I agree with the comments, but ... I think we must remember that when we learned with Sinclair or other computers of his time, the offer was very limited. In the present day there are several competitors, from Blackberry to Windows Mobile to Android, so ... the kids now have several choices, think for a minute, a "normal" boy who has the oportunity to use Raspberry, or the other ones. Would you dare to bet? Even though the price is very attractive! ... maybe this is a piece of hardware whose primary market will be hobbysts, students, hardware designers, ... I don't know, but the experience has show to me that if the product is good, it will prevail. Cheers for everybody!
The initial release of the Pi is *intended* for developers and learners. The whole point of learning is to teach you something and give you expertise, point and click won't do that for you, and yes there is always a chance that if you tell someone to learn something even remotely difficult that some will give up, but that is an essential risk. This is fundamentally the difference between a linux distro like Ubuntu and something like Arch. Arch requires you to install the machine from the command line, edit text files, study documentation, and learn commands before you can finally get a usable operating system. The documentation in fact spells out what you should do and why you should do it, and in doing so you will learn from that one process more about the underpinnings of linux than you will in 3 years of using Ubuntu -- just like the Raspberry. Yes learning is hard, but that's the whole point.
...a lot of people saying we shouldn't be dumbing things down, but lets have some common sense. You don't shove someone off a boat in the middle of the ocean to teach them to swim. You can't hold every single child to your own experiences. I was putting together 386s at 9 and 10, but I wouldn't try to make this a standard for another child. That's just arrogant. If you want to teach young kids to code, you need to have an environment that focuses on coding, and has little barriers to getting to that end. If the kid has to learn vim, how to navigate a linux environment, etc before actually getting to the coding, they're going to get put off. This is especially true if they're not interested in it to begin with. I believe this is the primary reason why scratch is so successful. It presents the concepts of coding to children in a way that's straightforward, to the point, and the children get immediate feedback on what their doing. In less than an hour of playing with scratch (for the first time), I made a simple pong clone. I'm reasonably confident that my wife's 4th graders could do the same. Could the same be said about python? Obviously some things are "cookie cutter" in scratch, like collision detection, but the basics are there. Conditional logic, variables, etc. I think once a kid can get their head around those concepts, and how to use them, it's easier to transition into "real" languages and "real" coding.
@tommy higbee I think I acknowledge your counter argument in my piece. However, there probably will be some who find the CLI offputting after years of using a GUI. My point is simply that if users have trouble operating the Pi there is a chance of them giving up on it before they get a taste for coding. You might argue those people don't want to learn anyway, but isn't the point of the project to cast the net as widely as possible - to be inclusive, not exclusive. @tom pasley As far as I understand it Moonlight is not compatible with the DRM used by Lovefilm and Netflix so can't be used with their streaming services. Be pleased if that isn't the case as I was hoping to use the Pi to stream Lovefilm to my TV.
The problem I have with the Raspberry Pi is that it doesn't really do anything we couldn't do 30 years ago. (And maybe I should declare an interest here, as the author of the ZX BASIC.) Recently I've been doing some development on Avnet's MicroBoard, which is under GBP70 and has a Spartan 6, flash, dRAM, Ethernet, and not much else. If you use their precompiled MicroBlaze configuration it's not that different from the Raspberry Pi (including needing some really clunky C code to make the peripherals work), and the free WebPack development tools don't let you build your own MicroBlaze-based logic, but I've been building my own processor (in VHDL, because so far I've been too lazy to look for something higher-level) and it really does push the envelope in a way the original 8-bit micros did. Maybe the new generation won't want to be building their own processors -- or maybe that's exactly the kind of thing they'd find exciting.
I'd disagree with your comment "...Microsoft Silverlight, which is currently incompatible with the OSes that run on the Pi." The problem is the implementations on the Pi, which presumably don't have Mono/Moonlight installed. I have run Silverlight "apps" at home on an Ubuntu (Debian-based) box, once I installed Moonlight.
Incidentally, I don't think Midori yet supports playing YouTube HTML 5 videos. You might try installing Chromium to see if you can get better results for that. I believe the command to do this would be: apt-get install chromium-browser or aptitude install chromium-browser
That is work, not Wok.....Damn wireless keyboards, Give me a softkey matrix Sp48k keyboard anyday! :)
I don't. Like some of the other commenters, I cut my teeth on machines with only command line entry, that was half the fun. Remember when you could not walk into "Smiths" (a UK Newsagent that sold Spectrum and ZX81) without finding some kid programming all the demo machines with: 10 PRINT "some rude word" - 20 GOTO 10. Or the clever ones PEEKing and POKEing the memory to lock the machine or fill the screen with random blocks. Give a kid with aptitude the tool and they will they will play around just to find out how it woks SB
The whole idea was to bring learning about how computers work back to school, like in the days of the BBC and Sinclair ZX80/81 (I was well past school by then) where we all learned to program. It made me take up computing for my second career, and I am still doing this after I have retired. Computers are fun but there is so much more than Facebook!
I love this machine. It will teach my kids the coding the way MSDOS and unix based systems taught me. My only complaint is that it won't be available in India soon enough. some people have all the luck and still crib......
"But I do worry that some people may lack the patience to learn how to control the OS - especially as the device is being sold as a machine for encouraging children to learn to code." - and it hurts only when they think.
I got into computing with Dos 3.3. Wordstar 4.0 was THE word processor. Computer accounting and spread sheets were far away in the future. Typing the same commands for repetitive work got me into batch programming which continues even today with Win 7. For getting things done without intervention, CLI is the only option. If one learns this on a case sensitive Linux platform one would be far better equipped to logically analyse and find solutions. This will hold them in good stead in life as well. For me Pi would be perfect solution for 24/7 solution to maintaining contact with 4 generations of family members spread across the globe. I would be saving a bundle in my utilities bill as well as a bonus.
You can always wipe the Os and install Windows XP. :-) [assuming you have a spare non-OREM copy lying around]
I remember sitting there before a "green screen" working my way through DR DOS. Later on there was MS DOS and then Windows. All the way up through 3.1 it was often necessary to drop back to the command line to things done and/or fixed. I submit that the kids today are way smarter than I. The major determinate in this or any other learning is "want to".
I won't knock this at all but one of my friends in Academia suggested that PIC chips now have amazing capabilities and learning to program them may an equally useful skill. Let's see how this develops....
Everyone who's missed the ENTIRE POINT of Raspberry Pi, please raise your hand. Ok. Jason. Thank you. Anyone else? ;^) I learned on a Zenith Z100 and sat and watched people a LOT smarter than me who could've learned a LOT more fail to learn because their newer, slicker "I'll just take care of that for you, in a least-common-denominator way" o/s's shielded them from problems which would have led to questions. And hunting for answers. (BTW, over the weekend, I hurled myself (? what? you can DO that?) into GIMP script-fu based on LISP-like Scheme. FEARLESSLY, mind you!!! Because after all, I cut my teeth on Z-BASIC! The outcome was a passing-fair mod to a script.) Back in the day I used to do impressions of operating systems: Apple: pats the user on the head; PC: from low self-esteem rushes frenetically to the left, to the right, up, down, then finally makes a wrong decision; Unix: condescendingly shakes head as user tries to find a command that isn't stupid. My take on Raspberry Pi?: enthusiastic agreement to anything the user wants to do, but with the also enthusiastic response: "I don't know--let's find out!" (Of course I'm 350,001 on the wait list...)
Its great to provide an environment that encourages and supports people learning to be "programmers" rather than "users", but is physical hardware really necessary to do this these days? Including the environmental negatives involved in building and shipping a physical product. I'd imagine the "Raspberry Pi" features and value could easily be delivered inexpensively, conveniently and flexibly via (emulator) software - running under Windows and/or such other popular environments as demanded?
The price is good and it sure looks like it has a lot of flexibility to do some interesting things from robotics to a net appliance. In my experience, it helps to have a "full" system that has all the parts to power and do all the I/O as well as a basic OS to get started. The Arduino is a small computer but very versatile, the Raspberry Pi could be a good next step after Arduino.
As far as I can see, you cannot use the R-Pi as it comes. I need to purchase: 1. Power supply unit - RS or ebay from 7 2. HDMI TV or old analog TV. 3. USB Hub (powered) - best I have seen is on Novatech about 10. 4. Wireless keyboard/mouse - 15 or USB Kb and Mouse 5. Networking device- USB Wireless client - 10? 6. SD card - 8GB - 6 ish I'll buy 2 so that I can try different things. Sundry cables. Anything else? (prices are in Pounds sterling, but pound symbol does not print)
Given the price point I can see numerous groups building software for it. Some will produce simpler interfaces.
> But in its present form novice computer users - weaned on the simplicity of Windows PCs, smartphones and iPads - may struggle to get to grips with the Raspberry Pi. Kinda the point, isn't it? If you're not interested in learning anything, then why would you be interested in a device intended to be programmable? And it's frankly a function that can't be as well served by expensive PCs, smartphones, and tablets. What's next? A review that says learning algebra requires way too much math?
"But I do worry that some people may lack the patience to learn how to control the OS - especially as the device is being sold as a machine for encouraging children to learn to code. If kids run into enough of these barriers just trying to use the machine, isn't there a danger that they'll lose interest?" Its being sold to encourage children to learn code. LEARN not have something presented on a plate that needs no intelligence or interaction. Good grief man lets get some children thinking for a change. Oh, by the way, you should never start a sentence with 'but'!!! Look it up in a dictionary .......
I learned about computers first on the 'Speccy' (Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48+) at home, then on BBC Micros at school. Neither of these had a GUI and both relied on typing commands to achieve absolutely anything. I remember having to RTFM to get started on the Speccy, and I was probably about 8 or 9 at the time. Spoon-feeding kids by making everything very easy is no way for them to learn about the nuts and bolts of computing, which is my perception of the Reaspberry Pi should be for. If they want a GUI there are plenty of options out there; if they want to learn to program they won't be able to do it cheaper than this.
Sometimes doing things the hard way doesn't teach you any more than doing them the easy way; it may even teach you less because you get less done. Menus and dialogue boxes (if done properly, which is distressingly rare) can lead the student to delve into things that they might never find with a command line interface.
Kids will learn just as much. It's just that the Raspberry Pi is more capable of things that we couldn't do so easily. Do you know how much easier it will be to interface the Pi to some robotics or to make an environmental web server/controller. The idea is to start a movement in stimulating kids to do what we did 30 years ago.
"I love this machine. It will teach my kids the coding the way MSDOS and unix based systems taught me." - fortunately, without the MSDOS part :)
It's got an ARM processor. It will never run Windows. (Assuming it's not powerful enough to run Win8 RT)
You lucky so and so!! We never had Dr.Dos! We had to use CP/M on a PC that looked like it was built from Mecano. But my first experience was with a Pet with 6502 machine code editor. You were lucky to have an OS. Of-course I was only 11 years old at the time and it didn't occur to me what it would end up like.
Funny that. My son-in-law gave me a STAMP PIC system for Christmas. It had a CD with it and a windows 3.1 application. to interface to the chip via the serial port and a 'motherboard'. [ He had had it around for awhile and never used it] It does have a lot of capabilities, and I built a couple of things with it. I notice that a STAMP PIC is more expensive than the R-PI. Perhaps that is why my son and daughter bought me a Raspberry-Pi for my Birthday. They don't want to see the old mind atrophy.
My 11 year old daughter will be happy to know that I have all of that just sitting around at home. Actually, I really do have all that stuff, which makes it so cheap for me. My daughter went crazy for my old ZX Spectrum 48k MkI and I don't see that this will be any different. However, the only thing that my Speccy had which may be missing here, is a good manual for her to get started. I remember that my dad didn't have the faintest idea and learning to us my Speccy was ALL up to me. I only hope we'll see magazines with pages of program listings once again where they can get their debugging experience at an early age just like I did.
trial and error. Actually writing programs was a lot about trial and error. At that age a Speccy or a Raspberry is ideal for teaching trial and error.
Some may quit and some may succeed despite whatever obstacles they encounter. It is a winnowing out of the chaff from the grain.
If you hand your average tech-savvy kid a Pi, will he know what to do with it? I think, especially with kids, there needs to be something to get them motivated to try it. The learning curve is not a problem. Interest is. If there are classes with a well-designed syllabus, that's a great start. If there is a community (ala Arduino) that shows off tons of cool and interesting projects, kids will duplicate them and then tweak and expand on them. Once you have someone interested in programming, their own imagination is their limit. The price argument is strange to me. Most kids have access to a full PC these days. I'm not sure the limitations of a Pi are worth the fact that you can get one for $40, since full-fledged computers are so ubiquitous. Where's the need for a dedicated device? I can see benefit in being able to cheaply outfit a classroom. (Or for developing nations.) Is it cheap enough that a school with no technology budget can afford to do it? Will those resources be available to students long or often enough to be useful? The real advantage I see is for those already into programming or hardware hacking. Hobbyists. You can afford to dedicate these boards to a project. Or, to look at it another way, afford more projects with dedicated boards. Cheap luxury toys may not be quite as noble, but it seems more likely.
When I was 11 I had already spend the last 4 years taking push-bikes apart and reassembling them, usually with cow horn handle-bars upside-down. I had already made numerous carts from rubbish that I found on the local rubbish tip and recycled several prams that either got from neighbours or found on the rubbish tip. My daughter has never experienced anything like that. Although she has travelled a lot with me and speaks fluently 2 foreign languages, it would have been nice for her to get dirty while making things like I did. Raspberry pi is just what is needed.
It's been pointed out that if you experiment with the family computer and it becomes unbootable, you can get in big trouble. On the other hand, if you experiment with the Pi and it becomes unbootable, it's not a big deal, and you just have to insert a freshly imaged SD card and you're back in business.