Will a descendent of the BBC Micro usher in a new golden age of home computing?
With the Raspberry Pi about to be released, a new golden age of home computing is set to grip enthusiasts who grew up during the BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 home computer era. The first golden age of home computing ran for about a 10 year period between 1982 – 1992; it should be noted that the first 8 bit home computers appeared in 1977, with the Commodore Pet, Tandy TRS-80 and Apple II in USA, although the price of these machines were out of reach for many people.
Although the BBC Micro ran to about 1994 with the Commodore 64, these 8 bit micro computers were superseded by 16 bit home computers in the guise of the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST. The popularity of 16 bit home computers followed on from the demise of the 8 bit micro in 1995 and ran for approximately 8 years for the Atari ST and up to the mid 90′s for the Commodore Amiga in the guise of A1200 and A4000 models.
While I was sad to see the demise of the 8 bit and subsequently 16 bit home computer, their ghosts live on strongly in emulation software such as Fuse. Over the past 16 years, home computing was taken over by the power of the Personal Computer (PC). Personal Computers come in many flavours these days, from desktops, laptops and net-books running a variety of operating systems. The main power houses in the noughties are arguably Microsoft, Apple and a variety of *NIX (UNIX and Linux) Operating Systems (OSes) ranging from FreeBSD, Solaris, Red-hat, SUSE, Fedora, Ubuntu, to name a few flavours and distributions.
Exciting times lie ahead for those of us who remember the home computing revolution. While I remember the ZX Spectrum as being king amongst the 8 bit micro home computer revolution of the 1980s, followed by the 16 bit home computer Commodore Amiga in the 1990s, the Raspberry Pi foundation is set to ignite a whole new revolution in home computing. Beyond home computing and computing hobbyists, our very culture could be about to have a radical dynamic shift in better education opportunities.
Arguably for the past 15 years, most schools in the UK have taught Information Computer Technology (ICT) skills. While these skills are important in a modern office environment, they do not empower school, college or university leavers with the raw computer science skills that are required for a modern 21st Century information age. This is where the Raspberry Pi foundation has stepped in, with an attempt to provide a low cost home computer for children to learn more than just ICT skills at school and home. I would also add that the Raspberry Pi palm sized ARM microprocessor will also enable those who have lost out on a computing revolution to gain some traction into learning fundamental computer science skills.
The Raspberry Pi computer will come in 2 models, A and B. Model B will have in addition to model A, ethernet networking and more memory stacked on the processor. Model A is set to retail for $25 (£16) and model B for $35 (£22). The early releases during the first quarter of 2012 will not come with a case, they will be exposed computer broads, however cases will be available later for both models. A keyboard and mouse will be required as well as a TV with coaxial or HMDI input; the Raspberry Pi is capable of full 1080p video output. A power adaptor or batteries will also be required; a standard phone charger will work with the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi’s computing function is based on an ARM1176JZF-S 700-megahertz (MHz) processor that will be capable of running Linux or RISC OS. Fedora, Debian and ArchLinux will run from SDHC cards and external USB devices such as HDDs (Hard disk Drives) can be attached. Ubuntu ARM OS should be available in the future.
Raspberry Pi foundation is composed of the following members: David Braben co-creator of Elite and founder of Frontier Developments, Jack Lang, Pete Lomas, Robert Mullins, Alan Mycroft and Eben Upton (Broadcom) who is director. Other voices that have lent their support to the Raspberry Pi project include Ian Livingstone, Square Enix (Eidos) president.
In February this year (2011), a report by NESTA published by Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope highlighted skills required by the UK’s video games and visual effects industries and how they could be met. Since the review was published in February, leading figures within the games and visual effects industries have been lobbying the UK government in an attempt to take onboard the report’s recommendations. During Summer 2011, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt lent his support to the cause. In early December, the UK’s education secretary has acknowledged that computer science has a place in UK secondary education.
I can see lots of different uses this pocket sized computer can be put to. Maybe the Raspberry Pi’s innovation into home and school computing should be dubbed the Phoenix Pi; from the buckminsterfullerene ashes of the 8 bit home micro computer rises a successor running a 32 bit ARM processor capable of running full 1080p video and empowering students and knowledge seekers of any age to acquire new skills within a rapidly expanding information age.