The Raspberry Pi is one of the computing success stories of this decade so far. If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year or so then you may be wondering what I’m talking about. The Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer board which retails for around £35 and it’s been designed as a starting point to programming – a toolkit, if you like.
The initial launch around a year ago exceeded everyone’s expectations. 1 million devices were sold last year, and shortages at launch led to a large scale ramp-up of production to try and fulfill the exceptional demand.
To give you some idea of what the little device is capable of, a good starting point is this article on 10 amazing Raspberry Pi creations (opens in new window).
The other night, a friend and I were reminiscing over the old days of home computing. He had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128k while I had a lowly ZX Spectrum 16k with rubber keys. However, the main topic of conversation turned to programming. We both had vivid memories of typing in commands into our micro-computers, initially copying programs from magazines and later trying out our own ideas. At school, we had BBC Micro computers and again we would ‘play’ on these by writing simple programs, or controlling the robotic turtle (remember those?) to draw a picture.
The thing that stuck out was that, in those days, the computers didn’t offer you instant gratification. Sure, you could load a program (and wait a few minutes while odd colours flashed and noises chimed), but you didn’t have the flashy graphics and interfaces we now take for granted. This meant that a generation of us, who liked the computer and it’s mystical ways, all learned at least some programming skills -and like a language, once you learn the basics then you’re set for life.
In later years, the command prompt has been pushed into the background behind all the spit and polish of the latest graphical operating system – negating the need to get into the nitty gritty of commands, scripts and programming. Sure, children today are quick on the keyboard and can whizz around the latest software like they’ve been using it for years, but do they have the same desire to tinker and play, or the desire to understand why the computer does certain things?
That’s where the Raspberry Pi comes in. Part of the initiative is to get children to learn how to program a computer in some way, and I think this can only be a good thing. The fact that the system is already so popular helps matters, as there is a huge library of exciting ideas and completed projects to show what can be done.
It also encourages some great creative thinking – just what can be done with this little computer?
The other great thing about the success of the Raspberry Pi is that all of the closet geeks, part time enthusiasts, and old BBC Micro programmers are getting hold of these little circuit boards and making amazing things happen. It’s like the nation’s passion for garden shed inventing has been re-invigorated by this fruity little machine… and that can only be a good thing for all of us!