The $35 Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer the size of a credit card. Source: News Corp Australia
When the original Raspberry Pi, an amazing single board, mobile-phone sized computer, launched in 2012, it was a source of wonder, bewilderment and excitement.
It was ridiculously cheap to buy and sold at a frenetic rate. Initially, buyers snapped them up at more than 700 a minute.
The British Raspberry Pi Foundation had created the Pi as a learning tool for children. But consumers instantly realised it had uses far beyond teaching kids how to hone basic programming skills.
The original Pi could cope with a Linux version of the open source LibreOffice software, allowing users to use it as the core of a very cheap word-processing computer.
Now a Raspberry Pi-led office revolution may be upon us, thanks to a new, souped-up version of the credit card-sized computer. In fact we may even see the tiny $45 computer velcroed to monitors in some corporations running standard office software systems Microsoft Outlook, Word and PowerPoint.
Far-fetched? Not really, given the original Raspberry Pi operated as the equivalent of a 300 megahertz Pentium II of 1997-99 and was faster than many PCs that littered offices last century.
Browsing websites on the Pi was far from the experience on a desktop or notebook, but that may change with the second-generation Pi 2, which the Raspberry Pi Foundation claims is six times more powerful than its predecessor.
The new Pi will run a special version of the upcoming Microsoft Windows 10, making it attractive to mainstream users and a super-cheap office computer alternative.
The Raspberry Pi, pictured above, was the brainchild of researchers at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory who were worried about the decline in student computing skills. Those seeking to study at that time presented more as computer media consumers rather than experienced hobbyist programmers who commonly applied a decade before.
The Pi packed a host of features into its tiny size: an ethernet port, full-sized HDMI and RCA video connectors, two USB ports nominally for a keyboard and mouse, a digital stereo socket for a headset or powered speakers, a MicroUSB port for a power connector and a slot underneath for a full-sized SD card. Its processor was powerful enough for streaming HD movies to a TV.
The Pi 2 has twice the memory of its predecessor, 1 gigabyte, and a 900MHz quad-core processor. It nominally costs the same, but with the falling Aussie dollar it could set you back as much as $45.
Microsoft is playing a long game by deciding to make its software available to the new version. But running Word or PowerPoint on a Raspberry Pi is not Microsoft’s sole ambition.
Instead it wants to be the dominant player in the emerging market for connecting a whole range of home and office devices, everything from your car to your fridge and coffee machine, the so-called internet of things.
Microsoft seeks to compete with various strains of Linux, which would be the natural choice for these devices. Given the prediction of 50 billion devices online by 2020, it is worth competing. Microsoft already has oodles of experience in this area. Another Windows strain, Windows Embedded, runs on ATMs, cash registers and hand-held devices.
But don’t expect Windows for IoT devices to emulate the full Windows. It will contain some familiar software, such as Microsoft Visual Studio for developing programs, and it is probable the command prompt will be a central tool and we should see common drivers that make it possible to connect the Pi to all kinds of Windows-run devices.
Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton says the upgrade will morph the Pi into a respectable office PC, so we could well see it operating successfully in many offices offering basic functionality. Companies will still need to buy monitors, cables and keyboards but, at $45 each, an office Pi revolution will tempt the bean counters.
This story was first published in The Australian Business Review