The Raspberry Pi computer

An ultra-cheap computer, a Raspberry Pi typically costs $25-35. (Photo by SparkFunElectronics used under CC BY 2.0)

By Tim Rice, Guest writer

There is a revolution going on in the world of computing. It doesn’t have a touchscreen and it doesn’t come in a shiny case. In fact, it comes from the factory with no case at all.

It is designed to make a new market, but not the one you may expect. It is embossed with a logo in the shape of a fruit, but not the one you are probably thinking of.

The device at the center of this revolution is the Raspberry Pi. It is a full computer that, all in all, is smaller than a package of note cards. It doesn’t come with a case, but there are hundreds of designs for sale made from everything from metal to wood, and hundreds more available on line to 3D print. Some people have even assembled cases out of Legos. Instead of having a specialized set of software, it uses open source operating systems, like Debian Linux.

Instead of being the show, the Raspberry Pi sets the stage for the people using it to make the show themselves. Raspbian (a play on raspberry and Debian) come packed with at least ten programming environments. For reference, a new installation of Mac OSX comes with three and Windows with a grand total of zero.

The Pi was created in response to a shortage of computer science students in the UK that troubled Eben Upton, its lead designer. His freshman students could write web pages very well, but had no idea how the computers themselves work. Desktops are easy to tinker with, but are expensive. Laptops are hard to work with and are even more expensive. The Raspberry Pi, at $25-$35 apiece, gives room to fail.

Some people have even taken advantage of its low price to build miniature supercomputers with dozens of Raspberry Pis working together.

Computers are a major part of our lives, yet most of us tend to use them for word processing and media consumption. Writing software is treated like the priesthood before the Protestant Reformation.

Is there a piece of software that you want that doesn’t exist, yet? Do you dream of having your own robotic assistant to do your bidding? If so, the Raspberry Pi may be the perfect machine for you to make those dreams something more than just dreams.