Portable computing has come a long way since the Compaq computer my mother used to lug around with her back and forth from work — I distinctly remember trying to lift it as a child and struggling. I believe that my mother told me at the time that it weighed nearly thirty pounds. Still it was impressive to me — that you could take a whole computer with you wherever you wanted from room to room and just plug it in and use it! As time has gone on smaller and smaller computers have come about — the smart phones of today are more clever than some of the biggest computers of twenty and thirty years ago.
Even so, people continue pushing forward to make computers smaller and smaller and, just as important if not more so, more affordable. Changing the status of computers and the ability to acquire knowledge through them from the hands of the wealthy few to every person who seeks the knowledge is increasingly important in our Panopticonic world. As the commercials said when I was growing up, the more you know… well, they left that as a trailing thought. The implication is that knowing more is certainly better than living in ignorance — hate crimes that are racially fueled do not come out of a vacuum, after all.
This is why I grew rather excited reading about the possibility of a fully functional computer that would fit into the palm of your hand and require only a simple HDMI screen for usage — the adorably named Raspberry Pi.
The thinking behind the super-cheap PC is to get it into the hands of school kids and let them start experimenting and programming. The planned hardware included a 700MHz ARM11 processor, 128MB RAM, OpenGL ES 2.0, and 1080p output. It will run Linux in some form, but importantly it’s only $25 and will allow access to the wealth of free tools Linux has access to.
Two months on and the spec of the PCB layout has been finalized and an alpha release has been sent to manufacture. Any doubts this PC wasn’t going to happen should now disappear as this alpha board is expected to be almost the same as the final production unit.
There are of course some hesitations that come to mind when reading about the Raspberry Pi. For example, not everyone has such easy access to HDMI monitors. I suspect that as time moves on we will begin seeing HDMI screens left in people’s homes with the trash just as often as we now see the gargantuan bulky monitors of yesterdecade. I also think as time moves on the Raspberry Pi will have brother and sister computers that will be friendlier to people who do not know any Linux, and perhaps will allow people to connect to even more portable screen sources.
In the meanwhile, we wait to see how the Raspberry Pi project will work itself out. Until then, it’s always quite feasible to buy a rather affordable “One Laptop Per Child” project computer as those go for close to two hundred dollars on eBay, as endorsed by the company that makes them.