Guest Column: Apple, Blackberry… and Raspberry?

David Rabinowitz

The Raspberry Pi, an extremely thin, bare-bones computer, launched at the end of last month to the delight of tens of thousands of people. Consumers around the world had been anxiously waiting for its release for six years, and the computer sold out within hours.

So what’s all the hype? The main appeal is the price: the Model A Raspberry Pi is only $25 and the Model B is $35.

The Model A Raspberry Pi packs a 700 megahertz processor, 256 megabytes of RAM, a USB port, an SD card reader and an HDMI port. The $35 Model B also comes equipped with an Ethernet port for a wired Internet connection and an additional USB port. All this is amazingly crammed into a credit card sized computer, which consumers then connect to a separately-purchased monitor.

Although it certainly has mass appeal, the computer wasn’t designed for the general public. Instead, co-founder Robert Mullins told CNN “the primary goal was to build a low cost computer that every child could own, and one where programming was the natural thing to do with it.”

The Raspberry Pi Foundation, the non-profit charity which created the Raspberry Pi computer, aims to help children who are unable to afford regularly priced computers to obtain one. The founders hope increased access to technology will help improve young children’s education, specifically in the fields of computer science and programming.

Eben Upton, a former computer science prof. at St. John’s College of Cambridge University, started the Raspberry Pi Foundation in 2006. Upton was disappointed at the declining number of computer science applicants for his department. He said young adults know how to use computers, but often do not know how they work.

According to the foundation’s website, the founders also said they noticed the same problem.

“… [C]omputers had become so expensive and arcane that programming experimentation on them had to be forbidden by parents,” they said.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation’s founders said they hope the inexpensive nature of the computer will allow children the freedom to experiment with the technology.

To have the price so low, the designers had to make a few compromises. There is no data storage included, for example. The operating system has to be saved on an SD card, or on an external USB hard drive. Also, the operating system is a free version of Linux, not the more popular Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X.

These compromises, however, have not prevented consumers from recognizing the Raspberry Pi as an incredible device. The inclusion of an HDMI port, an RCA video port and an audio jack means buyers can hook it up to a monitor or TV and stream HD video and music.

The Linux operating system also supports many of the same functions which Windows or Mac OS X provide. Users can run word processing applications, surf the Internet or play 3D games.

Many of the current buyers are technology enthusiasts, but the foundation hopes the computer will soon reach children, improving their intellectual engagement with this cutting-edge technology.

Cavalier Daily, U. Virginia via UWIRE