Friday, March 30, 2012

Raspberry Pi: Don't give up yet

I've already written five articles about the credit-card-sized educational computer, the Raspberry Pi. As you know, the first 10,000 units were supposed to go on sale a month ago. A few unfortunate things got in the way.

First, they didn't ship from the factory in China when they were supposed to, for a number of reasons. One key reason was that the factory in China had substituted a cheaper part for one of the specified parts, and the units didn't even work. They all had to be reworked.

Second, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the nonprofit org who conceived and designed this computer as a way to get REAL computer education back into the classroom, started to realize (too late!) that they had underestimated demand, and that their servers would not be able to handle the orders that would come pouring in on March 1st, and so they engaged a couple of worldwide partners to handle the ordering for them. Their partners didn't take the RasPi people seriously, when the RasPi people told them how big the demand was going to be, and so when the gates opened and customers rushed in, the crush of requests shut down the distributors' servers.

Once again: how badly had RasPi, Newark/Farnell/element14 and RS/Allied Electronics underestimated things? Well, the first production run was for 10,000 units. RasPi estimated they'd have 100,000 people wanting to order those 10,000 units. Actual demand turned out to be more like 2,000,000 people. That's TWO MILLION PEOPLE.

Maybe they should be embarrassed. Maybe dismayed. But what they were (and still are, if you read between the lines) is stunned - stunned that they created something with so much appeal. More on that later.

Third, the RasPi principals were expecting the initial 10,000 units to go, not to schools, but to engineers and developers who would produce all the programs and accessories to go with the computer. When they and their distribution partners looked at the demographics (and the GEOgraphics) of those 2,000,000 potential customers, they realized that it wasn't just engineers and developers clamoring for the product. Even though the computer was a bare board, not even in a case, and even though the Foundation were planning on tweaking the design based on feeedback from the first 10,000 users, EVERYBODY WANTED ONE. The general public. The hoi polloi. Regular people. So their partners insisted that they had to get CE and FCC certification for it before they could sell it.

That's unfortunate, but it was something they would eventually need to do anyway, and so it's good that they're taking care of it now. Unfortunate, because that testing ain't cheap, and you don't recover the costs of it until you start shipping product.

So, yeah: delays. But the Raspberry Pi computer is notvaporware! The Foundation have posted photos of the first shipment of 2000 items, on their website. It is for real, and 2000 customers will be very happy, very soon. As soon as the CE approval is granted, that is.

Okay, now back to the creators' emotional reaction to the massive worldwide demand. Believe it or not, they created this computer for altruistic reasons. They're not in it to get rich. They incorporated as a nonprofit org, and all the money they make will go back into the project. I don't think they expected two million people around the world to see the potential in their design, and go crazy over it. The Raspberry Pi is a rock star, and it hasn't even released its first album yet. It's a worldwide phenomenon. It's bigger than its creator's wildest dreams. Yeah, I would expect them to be stunned.

So we can forgive them for stumbling on the product release. They've never done anything like this before, and they're learning as they go along. But if you track their progress on their website or in the Allied/RS forums, you'll see that they're terribly serious about this project and intent on doing it right.

In the USA, Newark/element14 are taking orders, and quoting delivery dates in August.  Allied Electronics are not taking orders, but RS Components (the UK/Europe version of Allied Electronics) are talking about setting up a dedicated "Order your Raspberry Pi here" webpage, which will make it easier for individuals to order the units as they become available.

Wherever you end up ordering from, it will be worth the wait. Trust me on this.

p.s. "The creators" are not nameless, faceless people. You can read about them — and read their words! — on the website.
p.p.s. Kudos to the guy posting tutorial videos on YouTube, under the name RaspberryPiTutorials . He helped me fix a couple of virtual machines (totally unrelated to RasPi) that I've been fighting with for a while.

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