23 April 2012

Will Raspberry Pi see history repeating itself?

Readers of a certain age will be able to cast their minds back to the early 1980s and recall the impact of computers such as the BBC Micro and the Sinclair Spectrum.

It was an era of spectacular growth in the availability of computing to the ordinary person. Machines such as the Atari 400, the Commodore PET and the early Apples were changing the world. Access to affordable computing – and, importantly, computing at home – allowed people to explore new worlds. No matter that you had to plug the console into your tv or that data was stored on a cassette recorder, these devices meant users had to learn programming languagues such as BBC Basic. This started many people on the road to a new career and made some of them into pioneers of the gaming industry.

The question we should be asking now is whether the Raspberry Pi will have the same impact. The UK designed and developed Raspberry Pi is a credit card sized computer. Just like its 1980s forebears, it can be plugged into a tv, courtesy of its HDMI interface, and data is stored on an SD card. But where the BBC Micro cost something like £200 in the early 1980s, a Raspberry Pi will set you back £35 or so – if you can get hold of one. Once you've hooked the device up to a screen and attached a keyboard, you're off. And there is a nod to history as it supports BBC Basic.

Just like the BBC Micro, the ARM based Raspberry Pi is intended to encourage school students to take an active interest in computer science – it has been called BBC Micro 2.0 by some. The Raspberry Pi Foundation started developing the board in response to a decline in applications to study computer science at UK universities. How many of the first batch of 10,000 devices will end up in the hands of school students remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see its impact.

Author
Graham Pitcher

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