The Raspberry Pi is a truly marvellous computer, and the most exciting gizmo that I’ve owned since I got my Mac SE/30 back in 1992. Seriously, the little Pi is way more interesting than even my iPad.
To understand my love for the Pi, you also need to understand that my formative computing years were spent surrounded by ZX Spectrums, BBCs (although I only had an Elektron), Commodore 64s and the like. Computing was immediate in those days, and interesting too. If you had a computer you had to play with a programming language – there was no choice because, even if you didn’t want to code, the programming language was also the operating system. Such immediacy meant that there was almost no one with a computer who couldn’t resist the temptation to have a little fiddle – even if the fiddle was limited to POKEing Willy.
By the mid nineties, computing was close to being the most boring subject imaginable. Computing had almost entirely homogenised into Windows on IBM compatible PCs. The triumph of the runt. Stronger systems, like the Amiga and the ST had weakened under the onslaught of the clones – and the clones got more capable as the Amiga and ST withered on the vine. The Archimedes, despite its superior architecture and operating system, was dying by degrees. Apple delivered the best processor (PowerPC) on the market and forgot entirely about the OS, providing the poor beleaguered Mac users with Mac OS 7.5.x – an infamously bad operating system. NeXT gave up and sold out to Apple (Thank God, or there’d be no Mac OS X now), and BeOS barely managed to be still born. Depressing times.
Things began to look up in the early noughties. Windows was as bad as ever, but Linux was looking increasingly competent and provided an excellent alternative. Mac OS X showed that Apple was still possessed of vim and fire, and it set Apple on its meteoric rise to becoming the largest company in the world. BeOS started to stir from the dead (in the form of Haiku) and even the Amiga shows signs of life (in the form of MorphOS). Apple even managed to deliver a popular new platform – iOS – which quickly overtook Mac OS X in popularity.
None of these platforms, interesting though they may well be, are very democratic. The Mac is a wonderful computer – but it’s too expensive for anyone on a low income. For low income parents, anything other than a crapware PC is out of reach – and even that might be too much of a stretch. So, when teaching programming, what computer should a school choose? Choose Mac and half the children won’t be able to practice their skills at home because their parents can’t afford the requisite hardware. Choose Windows and, well, the average Mac user would rather eat worms than use Microsoft’s substandard operating system. Choose Raspberry Pi, though, and wonderful flowers may bloom. It’s cheap – cheap enough for anyone. It’s the second or third computer that’s within everyone’s reach. It doesn’t require an expensive monitor – a TV will do. The power supply can be borrowed from most modern cameras, from a telephone, from just about anything that takes its juice from USB. So the only extra components required are an SD card (a fiver), a keyboard and a mouse (a tenner) – which all adds up to a computer for forty quid. A bargain in anyones language. In short, it’s the computer that every family can afford, and that everyone’s family should afford – should rush out and buy now.