Apr 102012

If you have not heard of the new Raspberry Pi yet, then you surely will soon enough. The new budget computer has just passed its Conformité Européenne testing, so now it can be stamped with the commonly seen CE mark and sold throughout Europe. A limited number of units were sold before the device was certified, and distribution was halted until the Pi passed the quality control tests. The distributors of the Raspberry Pi also took the time to make sure that the device meets all the regulations enforced by Australian, Canadian, and US supervisory bodies. So now the new Raspberry Pi, starting at the mere price of $25, is ready to be unleashed upon the world, but what does this mean for Linux users and developers?

Quite a lot actually, because the Raspberry Pi has been designed to use with Linux operating systems. The people behind the development of this cheap but powerful device always wanted it to be as accessible to the masses as possible. They knew an open source operating system was the only way they could keep the costs down, but there was a bigger reason behind their support of Linux. Their ambition with Pi is to get kids interested in computer programming again.

The demise of new computer programmers

Back in 2006, a chap called Eben Upton, and his buddies Rob Mullins, Jack Lang, and Alan Mycroft, were working at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory when the idea hit them. Over a discussion about the decreasing number of students applying to study computer programming, they realised something was missing. During the 1990’s the students applying to study computer programming were often already programming as a hobby, but by the next decade applicants had often just dabbled with web design. The era of computers like the BBC Micro, Spectrum ZX, and Commodore 64 had been superseded by expensive Windows PC’s and games consoles. Children nowadays don’t have the opportunity to experiment with programming on these expensive devices, and the emphasis in education seems to be on using software rather than developing and improving it. With a computer that doesn’t cost the majority of their parent’s best saving account, maybe children would be allowed to play and experiment a little bit more.

The idea to make a computer that could be a catalyst for getting more children interested in computer science and programming was born. Soon the Raspberry Pi foundation was setup, and six years later the first complete single-board computer is ready to be released. Making the computer versatile, including a wide range of functionality, and minimal costs were all weighed against each other during development, and the result truly is something to admire.

New Linux distribution just for the Pi

So now the credit card sized computer is ready for people to buy and use, Linux developers are giving the Pi the attention it deserves. Now the Raspberry Pi Foundation has tested the new distribution developed for their creation, and it has become the ‘recommended’ operating system for people using the Pi. Named the ‘Raspberry Pi Fedora Remix’, the new Linux distribution was designed by Chris Tyler, and was officially released on March 8th.

The entire operating system comes as an SD memory card image. The Raspberry Pi doesn’t have a hard drive, and instead uses an SD card to boot from. The operating system provides both text-mode and graphical interfaces, and a whole range of applications to get would-be programmers up and running. Open source applications for web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, and image editing are all included, as well as programming editors like vim, a text mode editor, and gedit with a plugin for python console, a graphical mode editor.

How things could change

It’s not just the new Raspberry Pi Linux distribution that can be used with the device. Other GNU/Linux systems, like Debian, Fedora and Arch Linux can all be used. So the Raspberry Pi is ready to change the way children interact with computers, but are the children ready? It’s tough to know exactly what sort of effect this new Raspberry Pi will have on the next generation of computer programmers, but it surely won’t have a negative one. The initial response from buyers has been positive, and the first batch of 2,000 sold like hot cakes. The government of one Middle Eastern country has already shown interest in buying a device for every schoolgirl in their country. Only time will tell whether the next generation of computer programmers and users will advocate Linux enough be able to challenge the hegemony of Windows on the desktop.

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