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Education The Media United Kingdom Hardware

BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools 106

Raging Bool writes According to the BBC News website, the BBC is returning to producing comparatively inexpensive computers for schools. Readers of sufficient age will remember the BBC Model B with great affection. But won't this be in competition with other pre-existing devices such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi? The BBC says not: "The BBC does not see Micro Bit as a rival to similar devices such as Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Galileo and Kano, but rather hopes it will act as a 'springboard' to these more complex machines." I hope they're at least consulting with Eben Upton.
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BBC Returns To Making Computers For Schools

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  • Became ARM (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12, 2015 @07:53AM (#49240545)

    Actually it was Acorn Computers that made the BBC model B. They went on to make a RISC processor, ARM, the most successful processor sold by unit volume. The one in your smartphone and TV box and car and Raid and router and and and and ....

    All possible because the BBC decided to pump money into a computer back in the 80's when the computer industry was a hobby.

    • Before the BBC sponsorship deal, the BBC Micro was originally called the Acorn Proton. It was a successor to their previous model, the Acorn Atom.
      • Yes, but the BBC Micro was licensed and heavily promoted via the BBC, and Acorn brought their demo system to a meeting with the BBC to win the manufacturing contract. The BBC controlled the specification of the computer, so they were (in the movie sense of the term) the producer. Acorn were a very gifted art department.

        Acorn, followed and ARM would not be where they were and are today if they had not managed to win that BBC contract.

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        And the BBC Micro was not inexpensive.
        It was really cool, had lots of IO, and probably was a great system for schools but it was not inexpensive.

        • Yeah, it cost £400, which is £1,400 adjusted for inflation.

          The "inexpensive" version (the Acorn Electron) still cost £200. My grandparents chipped in to help my parents buy me one.

          In real terms, the Raspberry Pi (which is a fair-ish comparison - not as much I/O, but still doesn't have it's own screen, like the BBC) costs less than £10 adjusted to 1981.

          Price is not the issue. People found the money back then. Computing hardware is incredibly cheap now. You can get a full laptop with s

          • by TWX ( 665546 )
            So you're saying, they found a way to make 'em leak oil?

            (the old joke being, "Why don't the British build computers? Because they haven't figured out how to make 'em leak oil yet.")
          • by ihtoit ( 3393327 )

            the Model A was £235, the B £335 in 1981. I still have mine. Still works, too. (!)

            • The price rapidly went up to £400 for the Model B (as the Wikipedia page states, lower down) due to supply issues.

              • by ihtoit ( 3393327 )

                that's a load. It's far more likely that the price was hiked because more people were buying it than expected. For its time it was the dog's bollocks of home computers, the keyboard was definitely built to last - unlike the membrane board on the ZX81 which would short and stick if you blew on it wrong. OK so it was thrice the price of the ZX81, but hell, it was worth all those washed cars.

                • the Model A was £235, the B £335 in 1981

                  The price rapidly went up to £400 for the Model B (as the Wikipedia page states, lower down) due to supply issues.

                  It's far more likely that the price was hiked because more people were buying it than expected.

                  What the Wikipedia article *actually* says is that the price increase was due to "due to increased costs", same as the contemporary referenced article claims. Since UK inflation was still high by modern standards- around 11 to 12%- circa 1981/82 [blogspot.com] (albeit steeply down from the eye-watering 18% it hit in 1980), it's quite possible that the increase was at least partly legitimate.

                  That aside, it's also worth remembering that most people's experience and memory of the BBC Micro will have been of the more common

                  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

                    I have to add that I never saw a BBC computer for sale in the US at all. Sinclair's where around but the kings where the C64, the Atari, and a few Apples for the people that had the money or where really into the Computers.

                    • Yeah, I heard they tried marketing it in the US, but it wasn't a major success. The BBC's main success here was in schools, and AFAIK the Apple II was one of the biggest sellers for that purpose over there; possibly it was already established by the time the BBC came out.

                      It should also be noted that the reverse is also true to some extent- while the Apple II was far from unknown over here (my Dad had one of the later ones at work), it was never (AFAICT) as prominent as it was in the US. Possibly because t
                • It's far more likely that the price was hiked because more people were buying it than expected.

                  Two ways of saying the same thing. Match demand to the supply. The waiting list was a couple of months or so at the time as I recall, and Acorn were having cash flow problems increasing production so dampening demand whilst upping the revenue was a sensible decision.

                  Surprised the contract with the BBC was flexible enough to let them do it though.

        • by shippo ( 166521 )
          The BBC Micro also integrated with the BBC's CEEFAX teletext service, if equipped with the relevant add-on adaptor. The Model B's mode 7 graphics were a full implementation of the then teletext graphics standard. Not only could the BBC Micro then display standard CEEFAX pages, but the BBC also broadcast other content specifically for use with this adaptor, under what was known as Telesoftware. This content was mainly BASIC applications, some of which tied in with the BBC's own TV shows for schools, but the
        • And the BBC Micro was not inexpensive. It was really cool, had lots of IO, and probably was a great system for schools but it was not inexpensive.

          There weren't any inexpensive computers in the early 1980s.

          • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

            Yes there was.
            The Sinclair/Timex TS1000
            Vic 20
            Commodore 64.
            ZX Spectrum
            All where pretty inexpensive by 1984 The BBC micro was not.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Outside the U.K. the BBC-B didn't draw that much attention though, mostly due to the price tag. Agreed, it was a solid computer, rugged enough to be placed in, say, a class room. In the Netherlands, the Philips P2000 was used for that mostly http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org] . Admittingly the BBC-B was more solid and had a better keyboard, but no fancies like internal disk or cassette drive - one of the great features of those Philips computers. Hop along, put in personal cassette and within a minute (or 3)

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No-one i know possessed a BBC-B. We all heard of it's famous RISC processor though, as the Acorn guy could proudly tell about all it's advantages over our inferior Z80's and 6502's.

        Just to clarify - the BBC B did not have a RISC processor. It had a 2 MHz 6502, although it did make incredible use of its power.

        One of the nicest features of the BBC B was its wealth of hardware interfaces, including what was called The Tube which allowed the connection of additional processors. You could add a second 6502, or a Z80, or even in the latter days, an ARM.

        Acorn were very late in moving on from the 8-bit 6502, toying for a while with the 32016/16032, but eventually deciding to design their ow

      • by rklrkl ( 554527 )

        The BBC Micro was the best 8-bit micro ever, but the price was very expensive (it was sort of the UK equivalent of Apple I guess, except it was *far* better than the Apple II). I'm not sure about the wisdom of internal floppy drives and cassette tape mechanisms - makes them tougher to replace if anything goes wrong with them. The BBC Micro needed a disk interface chip adding, but once that's done, any sort of external floppy drive could be used.

        The BBC Micro had a 2Mhz 6502 - it wasn't until 1987 that the A

    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      And yet the UK technology industry still manages to piss it all away and be an also-ran.

      Seriously. How the fuck do we do it?

  • More Complex? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gonoff ( 88518 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @08:09AM (#49240639)

    If things like the Pi are so much more complex, just how simple is this new device?
    I am thinking an abacus with a battery light...

    • They might mean 'complex' in the sense that an arduous isn't going to do much without access to a real computer with the dev tools installed; and won't do much that is visible without some basic electrical bodging to connect LEDs and switches or the like. Based on the photos, it looks like they went for something that includes some rudimentary display capabilities by default and may even be modestly programmable without hooking it up to a full PC. That would arguably make it 'less complex' in terms of inte
    • >just how simple is this new device?

      I reckon an Arduino-alike. Possibly something as simple as other low-end ATMega or ATTiny werables like Adafruit Trinket, Flora or even Adafruit Gemma, only with a 5x5 LED array and two switches built-in.

      https://www.adafruit.com/produ... [adafruit.com]

      In some respects, these things are even less powerful than the original BBC Model B; 8k of flash & 0.5k of RAM on the Trinket compared to 32k of RAM on the Beeb. In other respects, they're a little bit more powerful; 8MHz or 16MHz R

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @08:15AM (#49240675) Journal
    I can understand the desire to jump into hardware when what you want is currently unavailable(while it arguably failed, the OLPC XO was something that simply wasn't available for purchase until they showed that they were serious about being willing to build them. It was mostly eclipsed by commercial offerings not too much later; but at the time there wasn't anything quite like it, certainly not for the price); but 'relatively friendly intro dev boards' isn't really a category that currently feels neglected. If anything, it is booming. What is the incentive for the BBC to spin yet-another-slightly-different board, rather than glom on to the existing product or product family closest to their needs and focus on a combination of curriculum/documentation and tool chain polish to ensure smooth use in education, even when the teacher isn't a microcontroller geek?
    • What is the incentive for the BBC to spin yet-another-slightly-different board,

      I'm guessing it's meant to be a bit more homegrown. Nationalism is pretty much the story. After all, Arduino is Italian ;)

    • by fche ( 36607 )

      " What is the incentive for the BBC to spin ..."

      To try to stay relevant - to try to justify their tax-income.

  • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @08:38AM (#49240837)

    .. and I'm not sure what will.

    The reason that kids of my age were "into computers" and we had a "great generation" of bedroom programmers who subsequently became tech workers was because simple, programmable computers were one of the few forms of entertainment available to the kids who didn't want to go out and kick a ball around or ride their bike.

    This was an era when

    * Things were more expensive (the toys cost.. about what they do, in numbers, these days. Only inflation means that £30 is not even 10 pints of beer for dad these days when it was more like 60 pints of beer back then.) A £200 home computer was a MAJOR expense rather than an impulse buy.
    * There was an hour of kids TV on weekdays

    And of course

    * NO INTERNET - no personal portable devices of bottomless instant gratification

    I saw a great article that explained that the no.1 quality a programmer needs is persistence - in the face of ridiculous odds of getting even simple things to work.

    Back then you persevered with things because the only other thing to do was go and watch Coronation Street with mother, or re-read one of the few books you could afford this month. Even deciding to start playing a game wasn't exactly an impulse choice because to load it took about 5 minutes (from audio cassette tape).

    Producing more simple, programmable computers these days is missing the point, although they are greatly appreciated by folks from that great generation of bedroom programmers who like a new toy to tinker with.

    What's probably needed is better software. Better like A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer better.

  • "This is exactly what the BBC is all about - bringing the industry together on an unprecedented scale and making a difference to millions,"

    Really? It's the job of a public broadcasting organization financed largely by mandatory TV and Internet license fees to give away a million embedded systems, most of which will simply gather dust or blink a few times, on the theory that programming will continue to be a lucrative profession 20 years down the road?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Sarcasm aside, yes it is [bbc.co.uk].

    • The BBC Micro was a phenomenal success in the 1980s. And I don't mean just in terms of sales, I mean in terms of priming the pumps for computer literacy. The BBC Micro, in combination with the TV programmes, and it's classroom ruggedness was vital. The ZX Spectrum was seldom used for anything but playing poor quality games in kids bedrooms.

      Why the BBC now? Because it'll combine with educational TV programmes.

      • The BBC Micro was a phenomenal success in the 1980s. And I don't mean just in terms of sales, I mean in terms of priming the pumps for computer literacy.

        Relative to what?

        Why the BBC now? Because it'll combine with educational TV programmes.

        So what?

        • Relative to what?

          To computer illiteracy.

          So what?

          Is this grumpy pointless question time?

          • To computer illiteracy.

            Well, that's not a good relative measure. After all, plenty of countries managed to avoid computer illiteracy without the BBC, television license fees, or subsidies. The question is: what did the BBC subsidy demonstrably accomplish relative to simply letting the market take care of computer literacy?

            Is this grumpy pointless question time?

            No, I simply do not understand your justification. Should the BBC send out free cooking spoons for its cooking shows? Free musical instruments for mu

            • I'm sorry I'm not the slightest bit interested in the BBC having to justify their actions. I lived through it, and it was a wonderful thing. That's good enough for me. Actually more than good enough for me, that BBC Micro started me off into my career.

  • by nukenerd ( 172703 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @09:21AM (#49241143)
    FTFA :-

    "The BBC does not see Micro Bit as a rival to ... Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Galileo and Kano, but rather hopes it will act as a "springboard" to these more complex machines ....it will be compatible with three coding languages - Touch Develop, Python and C++.

    It has a C++ compiler but is not complex? Seriously, intoducing kids to coding using C++? Things like the RPi don't need a springboard to reach them anyway. All these things can be used as simple as you like or as complex as you like. What OS is this thing using anyway?

    the BBC is being careful not to repeat the mistakes of the BBC Microcomputer launch, which angered rivals such as Sinclair

    Why was "angering" Sinclair a "mistake"? He was just another micro manufacturer so was hardly to be expected to welcome a new rival. Couldn't they have told him to f#@k off?

    the BBC is working with several partners, including chip-designer Arm, Microsoft and Samsung, to get the end product right.

    Microsoft? Now they are angering me.

  • What? Shouldn't we get competent people within their area of expertise do that? Isn't the BBS owned by the British government? Don't they have to explain their expenses and stay within their charter? AKA We give you X million a year to produce good British programming, not run amusement parts or build condominiums.
    • by dave420 ( 699308 ) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @10:13AM (#49241519)

      The BBC is not a news agency, it is a public broadcaster which has a charter it must abide by. It is not owned by the British Government. According to its charter, it has 6 public purposes:

      1. 1. Sustaining citizenship and civil society
      2. 2. Promoting education and learning
      3. 3. Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence
      4. 4. Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities
      5. 5. Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK
      6. 6. Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services

      This initiative falls squarely under #2 (and arguably under #6), similar to how the BBC helped popularise home computers in the 1980s, which as a nice side-benefit created the ARM processor and raked in all sorts of money for the UK government.

      You might want to understand what's being discussed before getting all internet-outrage-y and demonstrating your ignorance on the topic ;)

      • You might want to understand what's being discussed before getting all internet-outrage-y and demonstrating your ignorance on the topic ;)

        Frankly, I think you misunderstand the entire purpose of the internet :)

    • by ihtoit ( 3393327 )

      the BBC is a Central Government agency.

      http://www.publications.parlia... [parliament.uk] page 11:

      24. Reclassification of the licence fee as a tax also has the consequence that the BBC is reclassified from the public non-financial corporations sub-sector to
      the central government sector. The status of the BBC is thus also affected by this decision and it becomes a central government body. This change also
      affects the Welsh broadcaster S4C.

  • ...beep!

    Is the noise it had better make on boot.

"You show me an American who can keep his mouth shut and I'll eat him." -- Newspaperman from Frank Capra's _Meet_John_Doe_

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