February 29 is a great day for a product release and the Raspberry Pi has been anticipated for months. It’s a mini PC about the size of a credit card. The cost: $35. You read that correctly; a fully-functional PC for the price of a decent lunch. There’s even a model for $25 if you don’t require an Ethernet connector.
Admittedly, you’ll require a case, TV/monitor, keyboard, micro USB power cable and SD card to do anything with it, but the 700MHz ARM processor and 256MB RAM and is capable of running Linux, office applications and full-screen video.
The device has been developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK charity promoting the study of computer science, especially at school level, which hopes to put the fun back into computing. In essence, they want kids and hobbyists to experience the excitement of IT enjoyed during the late 1970s and early 80s. 8-bit computers may have been basic but they encouraged programming and experimentation.
Various editions of Linux are available for the Pi. It’ll happily run a web server, PHP, Python, Ruby, node.js and most other languages. Add a few browsers, MySQL, GIMP and decent text editor and you have a fully-fledged environment for budding web developers. It’s a great way to learn the techniques:
- the tools are free
- it won’t matter if you trash the software or hardware
- it’s far better than the tedious Microsoft Office skills taught by most schools.
Hopefully, the knowledge will help tomorrow’s developers avoid the mistakes we’re making today.
It’s not only kids who’ll benefit from the Raspberry Pi. The devices may be ideal for:
- testing your application in different environments e.g. you could install PHP5.3 and MySQL 5.0 on one Pi, and PHP5.4 and MySQL 5.5 on another
- testing multi-server set-ups for MySQL replication or parallel processing
- automating back-ups
- running source control systems
- performing long-running data analysis tasks
- demonstrating applications in locations without internet access. You could even leave Pi devices with potential customers for further evaluation.
I want one. I’m sure you do too. Unfortunately, so do many other people and both online shops crashed within minutes of the launch at 6:00 UTC this morning. Did you manage to grab a slice of Raspberry Pi?
For more information, refer to www.raspberrypi.org
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.
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