Thursday, February 9, 2012

About apples, raspberry pies, and Italian kings

We had a raspberry bush at our house in Oregon. It started as a single slip, taken from a wild bush and transplanted into our backyard. It loved the wet weather, and it grew rapidly. Over the years, it expanded to take over an entire side of the backyard fence, even crawling under the fence and coming up on the other side. If we had let it, it would have taken over the entire backyard.

I'm not complaining. It bore lots and lots of delicious fruit, most of which was eaten right there at the bush.

The Raspberry Pi was stuck in my head all night long. I couldn't stop thinking about it. (I still want one, by the way.)

I can see the RasPi becoming the Next Big Thing. It's starting out as a bare-bones educational computer, sold at no profit. The entity making and selling it, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, is determined to keep it that way. But I can imagine it becoming more popular than anybody expected, and selling hundreds of thousands - maybe millions.

Eventually, the Foundation will find it profitable to put a version of it in a case, dress it up, and sell it for a hundred dollars or more. The profit from this version will enable them to drop the educational price, thereby offering it to even more teachers and students than before.

Then they will find it even more profitable to license the technology to other manufacturers. This will cause the commercial RasPi platform to expand like my raspberry bush. It will also cause the platform to fragment, like the IBM PC did, which may or may not be a Bad Thing. But on the other end, since they are a non-profit entity, the gobs of money they make from the licensing deals will allow the Foundation to lower the price on the educational model even more, making it even more accessible.

Okay, that's my vision, not theirs. In a way, RasPi is similar to early Apple Computer. Remember the Apple II? (Actually, most of you don't. Tch. Kids.) Well, the Raspberry Pi is also named after a fruit, and  the capitalized Greek letter Π looks a lot like the Roman numeral II.  Like the RasPi, the Apple II was a hobbyist's computer whose popularity turned the computing world upside-down and laid the foundation for both the Macintosh and the IBM PC. I look for something similar to happen with the RasPi. If they weren't a private foundation, I'd buy a slice of the company. As it stands, all I can give them is praise and publicity. Oh - and my business.

There's another single-board computer out there, also taking the world by storm. Arduino began in 2005 as an educational computer, for students to use with their design and control projects (robotics, for instance). According to Wikipedia, in May 2011 there were 300,000 Arduinos in the wild. However, Arduino and the RasPi are distinctly different. The RasPi is meant to replace the desktop (or laptop) computer, with keyboard, display, and mass storage device(s). Arduino is a microcontroller, meant to control robots, giant billboards, 3D printers, coffee makers - you get the picture. They don't compete - if anything, they coexist.

You can connect an Arduino-equipped appliance to a RasPi computer. In fact, in the near future, you will be able to program an Arduino board from a RasPi board. Now that's cool.

The Apple II moved successfully from the hobbyist and educational worlds to the Real World, and opened the way for others to follow. Arduino moved quietly and successfully from the educational and hobbyist worlds to the Real World. Arduinos are everywhere, but you probably don't know it. The Raspberry Pi will do the same thing. I don't expect it to displace the Mac/Windows/BigLinux boxes, but it will definitely claim its place on the stage.

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