This issue Ken Rigsby has had a bellyfull of the Raspberry.
This column isn’t supposed to be a popularity contest, is it? I do hope not, because I’m about to reveal
how I feel about one of the bestselling computers that the UK technology industry has ever produced – the
Raspberry Pi. Actually, my real ire is reserved for the recently announced Raspberry Pi Zero, but I’ll come back to that. So just for a
moment let’s think about the general concept of the Pi.
It’s not just technically
limited by modern
standards – it’s also
a dire introduction
It is everywhere. It’s on TV. It’s in newspapers. It’s in magazines (including Computeractive). It’s in schools. And, as
the Raspberry Pi Foundation has sold well over 5 million units, it might well be
in your home (probably stuck on a shelf somewhere gathering dust, but in your
home nonetheless). So what’s the problem? Simple: the
Raspberry Pi is rubbish. Not just technically limited by modern technology
standards, but also a dire introduction to computers – for kids, or anyone.
Don’t believe me? Give one to a toddler, then watch what happens.
They’ll use it to
brush their hair, pretend it’s a harmonica and then hide it in one of your shoes to
extract maximum pain from those sharp protruding pins. A 10-year-old might
exhibit a bit more interest, but only until they realise there’s no touchscreen and
they can’t play Minecraft. Frankly, you’d have more luck giving your dog the tin
opener and telling it to feed itself than handing a computing virgin a Raspberry
Pi. If the desire is to get kids, silver surfers or anyone in between excited about
technology, then we need to give them devices that do something brilliant right
away. Have them first enjoy the wizardry before pulling back the curtain.
Hand a technophobe your smartphone or tablet, then set it to the home page. Tell
them to swipe or tap.
They’ll get it right away, because everyone can do something with a touchscreen device. Touchscreens
are magical. If they ask “How does that work?”, then tell them honestly that you
haven’t a clue. But also tell them that you’re damn sure the Raspberry Pi won’t
teach them. Yes, the Raspberry Pi runs Minecraft, and the basic programming
language Scratch. It even runs them pretty well. But to get the thing up and running
you pretty much need a degree in Linux. That’s why Raspberry Pi books and
magazines are best-sellers. A nation of well-meaning parents splashed out on
the original Pi and then realised that neither they nor their kids had the
slightest clue what to do with it.
So they bought reading materials, realised they needed to borrow a keyboard, mouse and
monitor (you know, like a real PC), then swore at Linux a lot, clicked some icons,
found Minecraft, launched it, played it a bit, launched Scratch, then scratched
their heads a bit. Finally they realised it was all a bit too much, so they put it on
that aforementioned dust-gathering shelf, pledging to try again another day.
Millions remain there. So why do I single out the new Raspberry Pi Zero for particular disdain?
After all, it only costs £4. Because it’s just less of the same. It has less memory, and
fewer ports. It doesn’t even have the original Pi’s sticky-out pins to keep your
toddler’s hair neat and tidy. Here’s an idea for you.
Before coughing up four quid for a Zero, prise open your
TV remote control and then remove the circuit board. Voila! You have a free
bare-bones computer! All you’ve got to do now is attach a keyboard, mouse and
display, figure out how to make Linux work on it and you’re good to go.
Admittedly it won’t be easy, but do you expect the world on a plate? If it all seems
a bit too much, then put it away for the day. But don’t expect to relax in front of
Midsomer Murders because you’ve just bust your TV remote.
KEN RIGSBY is
Computeractive’s Mr Angry