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posted by janrinok on Sunday March 13 2022, @02:14PM   Printer-friendly

10 years of Raspberry Pi: The $25 computer has come a long way:

This little device has revolutionized computing since it came on the scene. We take a look back at its journey.

The UK in the 1980s was ground zero for the microcomputer revolution. Cheap computers based on 8-bit processors flooded the market, teaching a generation to program using built-in BASIC interpreters. Homes had devices like Sinclair's ZX81 and Spectrum, while schools used Acorn's BBC Micro.

These weren't like today's PCs. They were designed and built to be accessible, with IO ports that could be accessed directly from the built-in programming environments. Turn one on, and you were ready to start programming.

But then things changed: 16-bit machines were more expensive, and technical and marketing failures started to remove pioneers from the market. The final nail in the coffin was the IBM PC and its myriad clones, focused on the business market and designed to run, not build, applications.

It became harder to learn computing skills, with home computers slowly replaced by gaming consoles, smartphones and tablets. How could an inquisitive child learn to code or build their own hardware?

The answer first came from the Arduino, a small ARM-based developer board that served as a target for easy-to-learn programming languages. But it wasn't a computer; you couldn't hook it up to a keyboard and screen and use it.

Eben Upton, an engineer at microcontroller chip manufacturer Broadcom, was frustrated with the status quo. Looking at the current generation of ARM-based microcontrollers he realized it was possible to use a low-cost (and relatively low power) chip to build a single-board computer. Using a system-on-a-chip architecture, you could bundle CPU and GPU and memory on a single chip. Using the SOC's general purpose IO ports, you could build it into a device that was easily expandable, booting from a simple SD storage card.

Work on what was to become the Raspberry Pi began in 2006, with a team of volunteers working with simple ARM SOC.

Can anyone remember the first program that they actually wrote (rather than copied from a magazine or downloaded from a friend's cassette tape)? Mine simply moved an asterisk around the screen 'bouncing' off the edges, and was written in Z80 assembly language. That is all I had on my Nascom 1.

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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by kazzie on Sunday March 13 2022, @05:28PM (1 child)

    by kazzie (5309) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 13 2022, @05:28PM (#1228935)

    Quick summary of CS education in the UK over the decades:

    In the 80s, the focus had been on introducing the population as a whole to the idea of computers. The BBC Micro was originally commissioned for a TV series introducing (mainly) adults to computing, and then got adopted into the government-funded Computers for Schools scheme, where loads of kids got to grips with them. As with many early microcomputers, there was initially little existing software, and because it booted straight into a BASIC prompt (and it came with a decent manual), loads of enterprising teachers, and older pupils, got a hands-on introduction to computer programming.

    (I've got a 1960s A-Level maths textbook with sections on computer programming in FORTRAN and COBOL, despite the fact that hardly any school would have access to a computer back then!)

    Come the 90s, machines were booting into GUIs and well-established firms were making software. While computers weren't as scary, neither did they offer obvious encouragement to compose your own code, other than in a specific environment (such as LOGO). There was good backward compatibility to BBC software with the widespread use of Acorn Archimedes machines in schools, but the growing dominance of the IBM-compatible resulted to a shift away come the mid 90s. In the meantime, the educational focus had shifted firmly toward educating kids how to use computer software, rather than about computing. The World-Wide-Web was the new thing, and there was some teaching focus on HTML and creating web-pages, but that's as close to a programming language as most kids got. (I went through six years of high school IT/ICT lessons, including some electives, waiting for it to turn into a proper computers course, but it never did.)

    The Raspberry PI, as TFA states, first landed during a wave of reverting to computing as a curriculum. (All these things come in waves in education, the old way is usurped by a new way of doing things, then the new way gives way to the new-new (old) way again.) In my time in high-school education, circa 2012-2017, some schools had a few Raspberry Pis, but there was limited engagement from the kids. The computer club I helped run had far more kids interested in putting programs together in Scratch, or building and programming Lego EV3 robots for an inter-school competition. The Pi's GPIO possibilities weren't something we really explored in-depth, partially due to a lack of time on my part.

    In higher education, I know of one university that's used large numbers of Raspberry Pis in order to teach hands-on courses on computer networking, security, and penetration testing, etc. The small size and affordability of these machines is what makes it feasible for groups of students to set up, configure, and attack their own networks without needing acres of desk space.

    To me, that's the key feature of the Raspberry Pi from an individual-educational point of view. Because they're so small and cheap (yet fully functional), they can be given to a kid to play around with without much risk. The kid/teenager can have a go at doing whatever with it, in their own time. In my time, I was gifted an old 486 for a birthday, and the simple fact that it wasn't the family computer, and nobody else would be waiting to use it, meant that I could experiment with the hardware and software much more extensively. It didn't matter if I hosed the hard drive, or if it took me a week to learn how to fix it, because my parents wouldn't be breathing down my neck waiting to type a letter in the meantime. These days there's no need for a big beige box plus CRT to do this, thanks to the likes of the Pi.

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  • (Score: 1) by anubi on Monday March 14 2022, @07:56AM

    by anubi (2828) on Monday March 14 2022, @07:56AM (#1229030) Journal

    Is there any interest in Arduinos in the USA?

    Seems I am in love with the things, but I have yet to even meet anyone who even has heard of them.

    I love their simplicity, adaptability, reliability, and easy to make and program. Cheap to make too.

    Southern California too, no less.

    "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]