The Raspberry Pi is a decade old. Who would have thought a computer that costs a mere £25, would start a revolution? But it did.
The Pi, based on an Arm processor and a bootable SD card, opened up the world of programming to a generation of kids, whose sole use of computers was previously apps on their smartphones and tablets. It effectively turned back the clock by decades, to a much simpler era of home computing and the joys of making electronic things work.
Rather than learning packaged software like Microsoft Office or the Adobe Creative Suite, as a teaching device, children had access to a barebones system. There was no touchscreen. In fact it had no screen, no mouse, no keyboard and not even an operating system was installed. The idea was that the Pi represented a blank sheet. It was an open hardware platform that could be programmed to do anything the user wanted.
Those who wanted to get it working, needed to search the internet, finding out how to download and burn the Raspberry Pi’s Linux distribution onto an SD card. They needed to work out how to access the Pi from a terminal app running on their PC, Mac or smartphone and how to use bash, the Linux shell to install software that made the Pi do useful things or download programming tools and libraries to learn how to program it themselves.
Of course, it did have an HDMI socket to plug in a screen, and USB for keyboards and mice. And with a few clever scripts, it could even run Windows. But where is the fun in just using it like any other desktop computer?
It is amazing to see how the Pi has been used. From running music streaming and controlling robotics to operating high performance clusters, the Pi has fueled endless creativity and ingenuity. Some electric vehicle chargers and other smart devices use embedded Raspberry Pis. It has even been used in high performance computing. In 2017, Los Alamos National Lab created a 750 Pi cluster to enable researchers to test their HPC applications before deploying on a real supercomputer. There are also numerous examples of using the Pi to run Kubernetes, effectively creating a mini on-premise private cloud to help IT pros understand containerisation. Due to its limited resources, mini versions of complex systems can be tested. If something goes wrong, it shows up very quickly.
The Raspberry Pi is certainly not only for teaching kids how to program. It should be part of every IT Pro’s armoury.