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Education Patents Hardware

Why One Person Thinks Raspberry Pi Is Unsuitable For Education 133

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the hep-cats-all-using-mips dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Raspberry Pi was designed for education. As any popular product is bound to, Raspberry Pi has been criticized a lot for things like lack of a box, absence of supplied charger or even WiFi. Raspberry Pi has a much more fundamental flaw, which directly conflicts with its original goal: it is a black box tightly sealed with patents and protected by corporations. It isn't even remotely an open platform." The author thinks that patents on ARM are a serious threat to the openness of the platform (among other things like the proprietary GPU blob needed to boot). But even the FSF doesn't go that far. Wired had an editorial with the foundation justifying "selling out a little to sell a lot" that has a lot of info on the choices they had to make to hit their cost target.
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Why One Person Thinks Raspberry Pi Is Unsuitable For Education

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:22PM (#41456013) Journal

    To speak about open hardware, there’s a device called Milkymist One based on an FPGA with an embedded LM32 processor. It’s as open as possible and is actually used in production (as opposed to mere hacking) to create some nice video effects.

    I went to their site [milkymist.org] and I see one youtube video of a two man show using it and some screen shots. That's what you call "in production"? If I send you a video of my Raspberry Pi rendering Mandelbrot patterns in front of a crowded room, will you call it "in production?" Furthermore the first thing they say on their site:

    Milkymist One

    The Milkymist One is an experimental hardware appliance for live video effects.

    I appreciate this blog's spirit and he has some valid points (like making it more durable) but he's really overselling some of these devices. He goes so far as to suggest TI's Beagle Board and casually dismisses that it's six or seven times the cost of the Raspberry Pi's Model A. I don't even ... know where to start. I own six Raspberry Pis and one Arduino Mega 2560. They cost me roughly the same.

    • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:39PM (#41456235)

      Or, the shorter meta critic version:

      Who, exactly, has done a better job of creating low-cost computers for education, then?

      If your answer is Asus, Acer, Dell, HP, or Apple, I'm not impressed. Even with a case, power supply, keyboard and mouse doubling the cost, the Pi is still less than 1/3 the cost of the nearest competitor.

      Also, there is a question of just what kind of education you are attempting to support - Pi envisions a return to hacker culture, it may be missing the mark somewhat since the hackers they revere were spending hundreds to low thousands of dollars on their homebrew kit and a sub $100 investment in some ways implies a reduced commitment, but if you "just want to try something" and need a computer to do it, they've made a very capable little chunk for an amazingly low price.

      • by SomePgmr (2021234) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:00PM (#41456497) Homepage

        I've seen a number of the alternative devices, and they all have their own little ups and downs. Some have cases and come with power supplies, some do not. Most are more expensive, some options cost about the same. Nearly all of them are, "coming soon" rather than "shipping now".

        So, not to detract from the Pi (I do have one, and love it), but it's great to have options, and that does mean addressing shortcomings. I have very little respect for people that get mean and shit on others' hard work while producing nothing of value themselves, though. There's no reason we can't keep things civil.

    • Yeah, I looked at the beagle-board and honestly, with the pricing, would just assume get a mini-itx AMD E-### setup. I know it's not open, but at some point the minor improvements in space and cost lose out to a more powerful and compatible option. I do think that the Raspberry Pi and Node.js are just about a marriage made in heaven for learning on... just my $.02
      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Exactly. For $200 I could get a netbook [futureshop.ca]. That's a full computer that comes with a small keyboard, screen, and trackpad. I can open the box and use it right away. It comes with much better specs than any of these "educational" or open computers. By the time you buy a screen, keyboard, mouse, and power supply for your raspberry pi, you're probably already close to the cost of the netbook. If you already have all these extra required devices then the Raspberry Pi can be fun to play around with (I have one m
        • Can you wire sensors and other electronic circuits directly to the I/O lines of the CPU? Does it have a SPI, I2C, or serial UARTs? No? If you want to do software development, use a PC. If you want to get your hands dirty with hardware, you get something like the Pi.
    • It's interesting that his choice is an FPGA based processor. FPGA's are anything but open. The vendor's backend tools are the only ones allowed to exist. The file formats are architecture details are propriety and secret. Reverse engineer the format and try to create your own tools and the vendor will sue you.

    • by Annirak (181684) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:31PM (#41456885)

      While I'm with you on the question of performance, I'd also question the suitability of FPGAs, both as an "open source" platform and as a learning tool for anything below university level courses. FPGAs are about as closed as it gets when it comes to hardware platforms. The verilog/VHDL compilers are, generally, closed source. I know there's an open one or two, but Mentor Graphics, Xilinx, and Altera all ship closed source compilers. The place and route algorithms that are used are all patented and closed source. The architecture of the FPGA itself is patented and closed source.

      So, what, exactly, is the point of using an "open" processor on an FPGA? To make everything harder to do?

      If you're really looking for a Free/Open processor, then your best bet is to put your money where your mouth is and back opencores.org in producing an ASIC version of the OpenRISC 1000. Even then, it's still built on a proprietary process in a fab, where you can't even get the technology files required to layout the processor without signing an NDA.

      Here's the sad truth of it. You're dealing with a proprietary process anywhere from the chip level down. You simply cannot complain about not having open silicon and be taken seriously. Here's how it works:

      If you want to make a chip, the first thing you have to do is find a design. Now you can make your own, and open source it, or you can get a pre-made design. If you choose to use an open-source design, then you're good--so far--but you'll have a significant performance lag behind the proprietary options. This goes double for video processing, memory controllers, buses, etc., etc.

      Next, you need to find a fab who will make the chips for you. Here's where it gets bad. Even 180nm fabs consider their processes to be trade secrets, so that you have to sign an NDA just to get a process description file from the fab--this means your layout is, perforce, closed source.

      Even if you somehow find a fab which will allow you to open the technology file, the placement and routing software for VLSI design is all closed source and patented. This is because place & route is a HARD problem. NP Hard, in fact.

      So what it comes down to is this: until the homecmos [google.com] people get their process going, you're stuck with something proprietary at some level. So then how much proprietary stuff is tolerable?

      The Raspberry Pi Foundation had the goal of being bringing computing in a low cost package for education. The tradeoffs required to use open designs for the processor are quite steep: e.g. it would be a colossal time investment to get Linux running on a non-standard--read: non-proprietary--SoC. Using some proprietary chips to get there seems reasonable, so long as the OS doesn't become proprietary. The GPU blob is unfortunate, but not unexpected, particularly if you want decent performance.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:24PM (#41456035)
    Insanity. There is never going to be a product that satisfies these fucking purists. Go back to your cave and clean your 'pits. You make me sick.
    • Look. What Raspberry Pi has done is great and commendable. I applaud it. But it has also issues, and shouting those down who think about those issues and want to do something about them is -- uh, forget it. I don't know how to put it politely.

      • by anyGould (1295481)

        Look. What Raspberry Pi has done is great and commendable. I applaud it. But it has also issues, and shouting those down who think about those issues and want to do something about them is -- uh, forget it. I don't know how to put it politely.

        However, there is a difference between saying "hey, here are things that could be done better in the next version/in the project I'm inspired to work on" and what we're getting, which is "unsuitable for education".

        Is the Pi perfect? Hell no, but anyone who was expecting that was smoking the good stuff. Is it a good start? Heck yeah.

        And this is before we tackle the question of - are we truly expecting the target audience to be messing around with the CPU architecture anyway

  • Oh well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArchieBunker (132337) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:24PM (#41456037) Homepage

    Design something better if you don't like it. Who is stopping you? Most likely the submitter wrote the article.

    • by fermion (181285)
      You know, depending on what you teach, there are many other ways to go about it. If you want to teach basic coding, a web host can be had for $100 a year, create a shell account for each student, and you can teach web programming or python, C++, shell scripting, on whatever terminal the student or teacher can scrounge up. An old computer, an iPad, a chrome book, whatever.

      If you want to teach programmable logic, universal programmers and GAL or the like are dirt cheap. A breadboard, some cheap component

    • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:29PM (#41456845) Homepage

      that's what we're doing with the http://rhombus-tech.net/ [rhombus-tech.net] project. the scope of the project has the goals of the raspberrypi foundation as a subset; CPUs that we are actively pursuing have to have full GPL compliance, and are as open as possible / practical. where binary blobs exist, reverse-engineered alternatives are encouraged to be created. the first CPU Card is based on the Allwinner A10 (ARM Cortex A8, 1ghz, overclockable to 1.5ghz). the binary startup blob which is essential to set the DDR3 RAM timings before continuing with the 2nd phase of the boot process was reverse-engineered a few months ago; the MALI GPU has the limadriver project on the case; efforts are underway to investigate the proprietary video hardware encode/decode engine. we were given full access to the GPL kernel and u-boot sources within 48 hours of asking (even though we did not have a GPL compliance request outstanding).

      answering your question, archiebunker: designing something better is a bit harder than you might imagine. full access to technical datasheets is often denied: you are literally at the mercy of the SoC vendor and if they don't like the way you dress, or smell, or if you're not one of their pally-pal pals you can flat-out forget gaining access to the documentation. one of the key reasons is that they simply don't know if you have the expertise, or if you can be trusted not to pass on information to their competitors. so, if it turns out that you don't have the expertise, and you have to come to them with questions, you just cost them money. if you leak information to their competitors, you REALLY just cost them money - serious money.

      so what we're doing with the EOMA-68 initiative is to make the hard part - the CPU+DDR3+NAND - be "just a mass-produced component" that you can literally buy off-the-shelf in a retail store. if it comes in a case, you get access to the EOMA-68 interfaces and whatever else the CPU Card has on the user-facing front edge; if you buy it without the case, you also get access to the internal jumpers and additional connectors, for educational and R&D purposes as well as factory-install purposes.

      we're getting there. it's been a long haul, and we will not stop. the team behind the initiative will be sticking with this for the next decade, keeping it constantly up-to-date and ensuring that new CPU Cards are always available.

      here's the previous article about it - actually it was the PCB layout that was completed - the schematics were completed 2 months ago:
      http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/12/09/07/2322207/rhombus-tech-a10-eoma-68-cpu-card-schematics-completed [slashdot.org]

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, without a doubt. Students should be taught with 100% GPL compliant, open systems that are completely unencumbered by patents. Since once they go out into the real worlds, that's exactly what they will be working with. Right?

      • by Trogre (513942)

        Wait, so the ARM Cortex A8 architecture is completely open while the Raspberry Pi's ARM11 architecture isn't? I'm not sure I follow...

        Otherwise, this project looks very interesting!

        • by lkcl (517947)

          Wait, so the ARM Cortex A8 architecture is completely open while the Raspberry Pi's ARM11 architecture isn't? I'm not sure I follow...

          Otherwise, this project looks very interesting!

          ah sorry, you've misunderstood. SoCs are far more than just the CPU Architecture that's used to power them. if you look at pictures of silicon layouts, you'll see that the actual CPU part is only about 1% of the whole SoC. a whopping 10% is dedicated to the I/O pads, to get enough power to push the lines from 0 to 1 and vice-versa at the kinds of speeds people need. 20% or more is typically 1st level cache. peripherals is about 5% of the silicon area, and routing (buses which can sometimes be 512 bits

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:24PM (#41456041)

    Seriously, you're worried about patents on a microchip? If thats your concern, you're fucked as you won't find one anywhere anytime in the foreseeable future that ISN'T patented.

    You'll find one without a patent some time AFTER a fabrication plant opens up that you can afford to use for silly ideas like FOSS chips.

    I.E. its not likely to ever happen. Some people have no idea what reality is like at all.

    --BitZtream

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by im_thatoneguy (819432)

      Also, why as a student do I give a shit if the CPU is patented? That's as relevant to education as the school bus's windshield wipers being patented.

    • by slinches (1540051)

      Well, you could use chips which were manufactured long enough ago that all of the patents have expired (basically anything pre-1992 in the US). If you wait a few more months you could use a 66MHz Pentium!!

  • Ye gads! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by robthebloke (1308483) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:26PM (#41456067)
    Well that's just terrible. We'd best remove these horrible closed architectures, and revert to what we had before - those simple to understand Microsoft windows based PC's with simple lectures on how to use Microsoft word!
  • by hackula (2596247)
    mac mini

    sincerely,

    ghost of steve

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:30PM (#41456115)

    His solution to getting away from ARM patents is to use an FPGA? Uhm, find me an FPGA chip without a patent then.

    Dear Slashdot,

    STOP ACCEPTING IGNORANT BLOG SLASVERTISMENTS.

  • So mr moaner moans about it being too closed. He also compares it to the BBC micro -- anyone know if that was open in the way he describes? I presume not...

    • anyone know if that was open in the way he describes?

      On the old 8bit machines you could pretty much figure out how the ROM worked via PEEK, but to be honest, that's something that I do now in my 30's for fun. At the time the real benefit was being able to play around within BASIC, and maybe experiment with a bit of ASM if you wished. Understanding every aspect took years (and I'm still learning new tricks even now, 30 years later....). It was not however 'open' in the sense we use today. It was however relatively open in the sense that you could figure out ho

      • The article even cites someone who reverse engineered an ARMv7 and the project was 'disappeared' so that sounds a lot alike.

        • by alexru (997870)
          ARM publishes detailed manuals for their cores. There is no need to reverse engineer anything, just implement. There are few FPGA implementations more or less compatible, but there is no one that just works, because it is a lot of work to make one.
    • by Alioth (221270)

      It wasn't in the GPL sense, at all. However, it was well *documented*, unlike the Broadcom stuff.

      Don't get me wrong, I like the RPi, and I have one - but it does bother me that there's a lot of basic programming information for the hardware that's only available under NDA. The BBC Micro on the other hand, while not "open source" was well documented. *ALL* of the chips had data sheets with full information on how to use them avaialble, even if what was on the insides wasn't published. There were manuals like

  • by mattashburn (150456) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:32PM (#41456143)

    Sorry, but this argument doesn't hold much water. He's assuming that devices useful for education must be composed of parts that are free of any patents, etc. That simply isn't true, and the devices can teach valuable skills and lessons even if some parts are patented by other corporations. I learned a good deal of basic computing using an Apple ][ and I turned out fine, despite any patents of specific parts of the device I used.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Seconded.

      I learned to program on a Commodore-64. Then an Atari 400. Neither of which was open, but nobody claimed that they were unsuitable platforms for learning how to program.

      • Seconded.

        I learned to program on a Commodore-64. Then an Atari 400. Neither of which was open, but nobody claimed that they were unsuitable platforms for learning how to program.

        Hear hear. Sinclair ZX80 user here. I doubt if that was open, and when I was learning BASIC I didn't particularly care. I was just fascinated by learning BASIC.

        • by fatphil (181876)
          The ZX backplanes were all fully documented. The RST calls were documented, and at only 8 or 16K in size, were trivially dissassemblable if you didn't have someone else's documentation. So you could use the hardware as you saw fit, and the software as you saw fit.

          Want to slow the computer down to arbitrary speeds by continually pulsing the IORQ line with a variable duty cycle? Fine, trivial, that's what the documentation was for, and the 'Slomo' was born, it made games so much easier! Want 16MB of RAM paged
      • by JohnFen (1641097)

        But the C-64, Atari 400l, and the Apple II were machines that were extremely well documented. You could know all there was to know about them. That's not true with Raspberry PI, and is the heart of the objection.

        • While the Apple ][ documentation was so complete that it included Woz's annotated 6502 assembler source listings (I still have my copies in storage), the provided documentation was less extensive for the Atari 400/800 and Vic-20/C-64...

          However, that's not really the point.

          Those old-school bits of tin had no abstraction layers, so for coders to make any use of them beyond the basic (pardon the pun), they needed to address the hardware directly. I still remember having to load assembler routines on the Apple

      • by Hatta (162192)

        You went from a 64K Commodore machine from 1982 to an 8k Atari from 1979?

        • by anyGould (1295481)

          You went from a 64K Commodore machine from 1982 to an 8k Atari from 1979?

          That's not entirely out of the realm - I got a Dell 486/25 (yes, 25 MHz) in 1993(?), and it lasted me through high school, university (and for a CompSci degree, no less), and a fair stretch past that until I finally replaced it (I believe it was 2000 or so). And if I had been smart I would have still kept it, because that box was far more reliable than anything I've used before or since.

    • While I agree with his idea that hardware should be more open, perhaps it can be turned around as a teachable moment; for example (a little fudged since I am in a rush and cannot RTFA, but hopefully the point gets across):

      Teacher: ... ok and let's now try to see how the video works, pull up the software code.

      Student: OK! .... Hmm, I can't. What am I doing wrong?

      Teacher: Nothing, they just won't allow us to see it and use it, or know what it is doing. This is not a good philosophy to have for education, scie

      • by robthebloke (1308483) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:14PM (#41456613)

        This is not a good philosophy to have for education, science, or any learning in general. Everything must be out in the open if we are to take it seriously and build on it with new research or ideas.

        Bullshit. Teaching does not work that way. If you want to explain how a device 'actually' works, you teach theory (because it is something that crosses the boundaries between architectures, and you are able to isolate small nuggets of knowledge into digestable packets). You may use pseudocode for this, or you may use some diagrams, but you do not use the heavily optimised code that these devices use at their core. The aim is to encourage students to learn, not to scare the shit out of them on day one. What is the point of describing a single architecture down to that microscopic level of detail, when it will be out of production before the child has left university? Teaching is about ideas and concepts, it is not about describing the quirky specifics of the graphics drivers of an already 'old' architecture (it's not ARMv7). This is a device to help 10-16 year olds get their first experience of the lower level aspects of a computer. They have the ability to put together their own linux distros (if they wish), and have full access to most of the sourcecode for the OS (If that interests them). Isn't that enough? Isn't that better than what came before? Or would you prefer teachers taught how adders work by pointing an electron microscope at the chip?

      • Teacher: Nothing, they just won't allow us to see it and use it, or know what it is doing. This is not a good philosophy to have for education, science, or any learning in general. Everything must be out in the open if we are to take it seriously and build on it with new research or ideas.

        Now everybody please boot up your desktop super computers and matlab--no wait, don't do that. Also please unplug everything from the nearest power outlet since all of the utilities use closed source software to mange their power grids. Also please remove all light bulbs since the design is probably patented. Also I would instruct everyone to remove their clothes since they use chemicals produced using proprietary systems.

        We're scientists damnit and we never would *dream* of using a CT Scanner, Elect

        • And you suffered from breast cancer? That gene has been patented, you must be incinerated immediately with good old fashioned non-patented caveman style started fire.
      • Or the alternate:

        Teacher: pull up the software code

        Student: Uhm... What do I start? Its 1,000,000 lines of code.

        Teacher: Oops. Perhaps I should have gather simpler examples to demonstrate the principals first, instead of throwing my students into the guts of a multi-gpu core hardware accelerated video codec, along with all the intricacies of this particular piece of hardware...
      • by tftp (111690) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @10:29PM (#41459275) Homepage

        Teacher: ... ok and let's now try to see how the video works, pull up the software code.

        It is impossible even if the video driver is open source. I spent plenty of time controlling hardware. First, you must have detailed knowledge about specifics of operation of this hardware. It may be hundreds of pages long, with schematic drawings, flow control diagrams, and such. Most of it will be incomprehensible to a novice. It's hard to read even if you are an experienced engineer. Then you must have the code of the driver. Driver is not your garden variety "Hello, World" - it can be written, or just understood, only after the student is already familiar with userspace programming. The trouble is that the driver does not have an identifiable path of execution; it is a collection of subroutines that can be called by different threads, running on different CPU cores, on different IRQLs, and each subroutine does its own special thing. Driver code is cluttered with semaphores, spinlocks, kernel calls (esp. in Windows) and so on. It is very hard to read. Nobody in his right mind would want to teach on that even if both the h/w user's guide and the software sources are available.

        There are many good educational projects. In the video department you can build a VGA controller in the FPGA and then you can write a simple application that operates it. Teaching does not mean going into gory details of spinlocks from day zero. But skipping on those on a modern CPU will just cause crashes. Educational assignments have to be carefully constructed so that they teach exactly what is needed, and skip details that are not relevant today. I'm sure when you learned to drive a car it was not done on a NASCAR racetrack in the middle of a race.

    • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:40PM (#41457021) Homepage

      there are quite a lot of other points made in the original post - mention of patents, mention of cost etc etc - so it is quite easy to miss the key words "black box". focussing on the patents themselves in isolation is missing the point. it's *NOT* about the patents. it's about the fact that the device is a "black box".

      so it depends on whether you consider hypocrisy to be important or not. many people do not. what broadcom is really saying is "we support education and learning using our products because it's a good wheeze that makes us money and makes us look good at the same time. but you're not permitted to learn about this, this or this feature: we're keeping that entirely secret. if you want the source code, you can fuck off".

      the CPU being used has a rather unique design: the GPU boots up the CPU. the fact that the boot-up sequence is critically dependent on a proprietary blob to which no-one is given access REALLY pisses people off. privacy concerns, education hypocrisy: the works.

      • the CPU being used has a rather unique design: the GPU boots up the CPU. the fact that the boot-up sequence is critically dependent on a proprietary blob to which no-one is given access REALLY pisses people off. privacy concerns, education hypocrisy: the works.

        Sounds like a great education opportunity: Clean Room Reverse Engineering 101.

  • by ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:36PM (#41456201)

    They're closed source, built in factories that don't allow public tours. The CAD drawings for parts aren't even available to registered Ford mechanics, never mind the consumer or student. Most auto tech classes only teach installation and repair of OEM parts.

    There's no way a student can learn adequately about the repair and maintenance of cars while working on Ford products. This is unacceptable.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      To hell with learning to repair them... nobody should be learning to DRIVE in these cars until they're open source!

  • by Georules (655379) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:41PM (#41456265)
    It's not perfect in achieving it's goals, so it's unsuitable and totally worthless. Let us go on not having any solution at all and twiddle our thumbs waiting for the 100% perfect option which will never happen.
  • He's nuts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jimicus (737525) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:44PM (#41456295)

    Seriously, his only objection is "the hardware itself is closed"?

    This is intended to be sold into schools, not top-end engineering facilities. Nobody's going to design the next ARM killer at the age of 15. They're going to be getting the idea of breaking problems down into their component parts and developing structured solutions to them. For which this is perfect.

    • The last Soviet computer architecture before ES EVM (IBM-360 clone) epoch was BESM-6, 1-megaflops supercomputer designed by academical institution. The first Russian computer architecture after the ES EVM epoch was KRONOS that has been designed EXACTLY by 4 young Russian hackers. It was a 32-bit computer using a AMD 2900 series slices, giving 1.5 MIPS at 3 MHz. Wikipedia has an article about it.

      • by jimicus (737525)

        That was, what, twenty years ago?

        You could teach the basics of assembler and possibly even processor design on an ARM quite happily. You certainly **wouldn't** want to teach GPU design, but that's the part that's really closed off.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    a black box tightly sealed with patents and protected by corporations
     
    So was my Commodore 64. So fucking what?

  • by WilliamBaughman (1312511) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:50PM (#41456349)
    Bill Gates learned to program [wikipedia.org] on a computer he didn't own though a terminal [wikipedia.org] and look how damaged he is, from that terrible experience. Or not. The point of Raspberry Pi is not to teach children how to build computers, the point is to teach them how to use computers and development scripts, software, and websites, while giving them access to the educational and social benefits of the Internet, inexpensively. Using a binary blob doesn't diminish that.
  • The Raspberry Pi is an ultra-low-cost embedded system with Linux and an ethernet connection. Why do some people feel a need to tilt at "designed for education!" windmills whenever some cool low-cost high-capability electronics comes along?

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:02PM (#41456509)
    The Raspberry Pi is not that different in this regard from the original BBC Micro, Sinclair ZX or Commodore C-64. They were all targeted at novice programmers. The intent was to provide a cheap self contained hardware platform for software development. Just like the Pi. They used a common household TV for the display, just the the Pi. The Pi requires an external power supply, keyboard and possibly a USB hub. For the intended audience that is the only difference.

    The quoted article is a troll. It is also whining and elitist. Do we want to encourage programming as a skill, or support a cult of purity? Is a lack of low level open source drivers for the Pi going to have any impact on novices? If you want complete open source platforms, they exist. Just not for $35.

    • by lattyware (934246)

      Except hardware really isn't the issue. Schools might not be rolling in computers, but they have some, and most children now have computers at least availible to them at home, if not their own. The BBC Micro tackled the issue of hardware availiblity, which used to be the problem. Now? It's more about getting children to know that programming exists, and show them it's a real option, something they can do and might enjoy.

      Now, the Raspberry Pi is cool and a great way to encourage that, as it's an object of in

  • by Hatta (162192)

    Where does the FSF endorse the Pi? Do binary blob drivers really fall under the exemption for "auxiliary processors or low-level processors, none of whose software is meant to be installed or changed by the user or by the seller"?

  • Please show us a general purpose CPU that is unencumbered by patents. Relatively modern would help too.

    • by Wovel (964431)

      Before someone mentions OpenSparc, get real. Seriously. You are going to compare the T1000 to a rasberry pi...

  • by hamster_nz (656572) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:29PM (#41456855)

    And as with any results of R&D work are easier to copy than develop your own from scratch, and so closing of portions of a design is needed to protect investment.

    If people want to donate their time they are more than welcome to - if you can design and build an equivalent processor+GPU combo for the same per-chip cost then knock yourself out...

    Mike

  • Over the summer, I talked to a lot of teachers and experts about the raspberry pi and it's rollout in UK schools - everyone said the same thing. It's unsuitable because it doesn't solve any problems. It's not that much cheaper than a PC because most of the cost remains in the monitor. DVI/HDMI monitors are not cheap or abundant, especially in primary schools, where the main issue is. It's not smaller, because a keyboard, mouse and monitor need space.
  • by hackshack (218460) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:45PM (#41457091)

    I started working on an embedded project (hobby, not work) that needed something beefier than an Arduino. Took my time looking at what's out there: various ARM dev boards, the Raspi (with its proprietary Broadcom chip) and one or two other "embeddable" platforms.

    Last week, I was working out how to interface to a display (and the grinding that would entail). The same day, Slashdot ran the "hardware is dead" article [slashdot.org]. So, I took a chance and ordered a generic 7" tablet. They aren't kidding - these things are under $60 shipped. That's like 2 days' parking in downtown SF.

    It uses the Allwinner A13 SoC (ARM core, integrated 10/100 ethernet, GPL'd kernel sources). Runs Android 4 out of the box, but Debian will also run. I can just hang an Arduino off the USB bus for my custom I/O, and code up a touch-based interface. Shoot, looks like it'll be easier to develop for than the Raspi.

    I'm all for hackery for hackery's sake, but now that it's "the future," I'm glad we don't have to lift ourselves up by the bootstraps in order to do every little thing. It lets me concentrate on hackery at the macro level.

  • Transputer... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by burnttoy (754394) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @06:53PM (#41457205) Homepage Journal

    I was at the Multicore Challenge at the UWE in Bristol, UK on Monday.

    I went last year. It was fascinating.

    Anyhoo... David May was there talking about multicore parallelism. It turns out that the last patent protecting the Transputer designs has lapsed.

    SOoooo... if you want some open hardware get cracking! You can probably run them fast enough these days to bit-bang an LVDS/HDMI/CSI interface with little more than an amp.

    Make mine the one with the 16 by 16 array please....

    Seriously. Anyone got the balls to try it? I'm in!

    • by makomk (752139)

      The XMOS chips are quite close to a transputer, though sadly not terribly open.

      Also, even modern FPGAs aren't fast enough to "bit-bang an LVDS/HDMI/CSI interface with little more than an amp"... they all have dedicated, hardwired hardware for it if they support it at all.

  • Google gooseberry for alternative

  • by flimflammer (956759) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @09:06PM (#41458519)

    It doesn't need to be open hardware.

    The whole point on the education side is to have cheap computers that schools can use in bulk for teaching kids, not a lesson on open platforms. Not a lesson on building tiny computers. It's designed to be a small linux box that can run/make applications; nothing more. How many other computers in education now are completely open down to the individual chips, eh? Hasn't crippled their use in education yet!

    • by evilviper (135110)

      A Raspberry Pi can't compete with older, used PCs for purchase price, performance, expandability, etc.

      • Where are schools able to buy identically configured old used computer hardware that is still healthy enough for prolonged student use and small enough that it doesn't take up half the classroom for everyone to have one at $25 a pop, while consuming a fraction of the power usage from traditional machines?

        Why would students need expandability for such a learning device?

        What performance critical code are students going to be running on the devices that isn't met by what the Pi provides, keeping in mind it can

        • by evilviper (135110)

          Where are schools able to buy identically configured old used computer hardware that is still healthy enough for prolonged student use [...] for everyone to have one at $25 a pop,

          There are a number of suppliers of off-lease computer equipment. I've deployed hundreds of them for large companies... A classroom worth is a small order. You'd have to tell me where you are located for me to come up with a list of specific distributors near you.

          Just to prove the validity of the point (for an international audie

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      It isn't irrelevant, but there are matters of degree here. The Pi is a relatively open platform that would be a great educational tool.

      Would I love to have an even MORE open platform - absolutely!

      Right now I am typing this on an FOSS browser on an FOSS operating system. However, there are a few bits here and there that are proprietary, as is much of the hardware and firmware in my system. I'd prefer that stuff to be FOSS, but since no such computer is currently available, I make do with what I have.

      Even

  • Oh for crying out loud....
    The R-Pi is perhaps the best $35 computer out there.
    Sure it might have some constraints but heck textbooks are copyright for ever.

    Multiple ABI and API.
    Multiple programming languages.
    Opportunity for improvements abound.

    Yes it lacks this and that but
    it takes ten min to reflash a SD card to
    load a homework task, to load a new OS,
    to load a new ABI of the same OS.

    It is like making bread, did you clear the field,
    till the field, did you gather native grass seeds, did you harvest,
    thresh,

  • These is but one question that any administrator is going to ask about the Pi: "Does this thing improve the school exam results?"

    The answer is no. It isn't on the curriculum. The skills the Pi teaches aren't graded, so a better exam improvement would be had by just spending the time revising basic Word document formatting, which is. The Pi is a technical solution for a non-technical problem: A dumbed-down IT curriculum that long ago abandoned any real computer science or technology in favor of basic Office
  • Don't think students are going to re-architect the CPU of the thing, only use it to build apps and find ways to use it in robotics or other applications requiring a cheap on-board computer. I mean according to this guys rant, standard desktops/laptops can't be used in education because all the patents and proprietary code involved in bringing them to market.

    Also, education is not going to turn around an invent something using Pi that will be re-sold as a product, meaning the licensing, patent, proprietary

  • Jazelle is a bit of a red hearing. Even on the Pi's limited CPU a JIT VM will nearly always be faster.

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