Raspberry Pi CEO Eben Upton hopes the device will revitalise the computer industry. Picture: Raspberry Pi
REMEMBER the 1980s, where you could write your own computer software and program it to do all sorts of nifty tricks to impress your friends?
This joy of discovery is what the tiny, programmable Raspberry Pi computer is trying to save, says founder, CEO and Cambridge graduate Ebon Upton.
Though some gaming companies like XBox were beginning to come out of the closed platform cave, (Microsoft released the source code for the Kinect free last year), Mr Upton told News.com.au gaming consoles were killing technological progress because they were not programmable by default.
“I think it’s unfortunate these programmable machines were killed by PCs,” he said.
“Though some PCs are technically programmable, they don’t try and tempt you into programming. I think these closed platforms are a threat.”
The Raspberry Pi on the other hand is the size of a credit card and provides all the basics any programmer would need for just US$25 ($23).
It consists of a naked motherboard containing USB, SD card, audio and video ports along with an ARM processer and a Linux operating system. The screen, mouse and software – that’s left up to you.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia for what computers were like in the 1980s,” Mr Upton said.
“When you turned them on they went ‘beep’. They were the kinds of computers you could type a program at. But they weren’t cheap and robust enough to give to your kids.
“Lots of people did not have computers of their own. Some households would have a family computer that would sit in the main family room and you weren’t supposed to muck around with it too much because if you broke it, it was a disaster.”
Mr Upton said the concept was originally developed as a way to give school children a chance to learn how to program before they reached university. Little did he know that adult tech geeks would want one too.
He said the Raspberry Pi “may not set the world on fire” but the low-budget device would help grow the computer programming industry which he said needed more young, enthusiastic developers.
“From the point of view of the UK there’s a sense that the pipeline is empty, no one is filling the pipeline anymore,” he said.
“I would like to see 1000 more programmers per year, 1000 more people going to uni to study computing. More developers would mean more volume. More stuff getting done. More companies. Just more.”
He said the result would be similar in countries like Australia and the US.
When Raspberry Pi first went on sale a few months ago, the company hoped it might receive 100 orders, total. To date there have been tens of thousands of orders and not enough stock to keep up with demand.
That’s a pretty huge achievement for a company that does not have a single full-time employee.
Mr Upton and his team of six trustees, 15 to 20 Cambridge volunteers and local UK businesses have been working around the clock with distributors and resellers Premier Farnell and RS Components to fill backorders to ensure consumers get their Raspberry Pi while it’s still hot.
“People keep getting in touch and say they’re going to do these crazy things with it,” Mr Upton said.
“A lot of people want to send them into space by putting them in balloons and sounding rockets. A lot of people are talking about using it for home automation, like using it to control their central heating, or opening the garage door. It’s got quite good capabilities so you can connect it to a hard drive much more easily than you can a PC so people wanted to do that.
“I think that’s why people are enthusiastic about the Raspberry Pi. It makes people do what they want to do.”