What is the Raspberry Pi?
Well, if you are thinking that it is one of those fancy desserts, then I am afraid you are wrong. This is a computer! Yes, you heard it right, a computer. Why…you ask? Probably because it costs the same as such kind of dessert and is actually much, much sweeter! Wanna know more? You’ve come to the right place!
When the Raspberry Pi foundation started out in 2012, they had a simple goal. That was to make computer science more accessible. It was meant for teaching coding to kids in schools, probably in poor countries where a full-fledged computer is still a luxury. The company has stayed true to their motto.
However, there is another market that the Raspberry Pi became popular with the enthusiast market! At the heart, the Raspberry Pi is a single board computer. When I say single board, the first thing that comes to your mind is Arduino, right? But the difference between the two is that the Pi sports an entire computer CPU, and not just an MC and memory, like the former. What this means is that you can plug in a display, keyboard, and mouse, load up an OS and start working away to glory! It runs on the principle of SoC, or System on Chip which houses the ARM processor, RAM etc.
Wait, how is that even possible with a thing as small as my credit card and which costs so less? Well, that’s the beauty of it! There is an SD card slot in the Pi. What the SD card does is that it acts like a hard drive. You just have to burn any of the free OS-es available for that particular model of the Pi, insert it, connect the Pi to the peripherals, and voila! You have a working computer. The rest of the space available in the card is to be used like a hard drive. Okay, so you don’t like the OS, or you want to multi-boot? Just buy an SD card(come on now, they are quite cheap) and repeat the process! Once you’re done, just change the SD card and you’re good to go! If you are short on savings, you can simply use the same SD card to burn the new OS. Recently, renowned storage OEM WD came up with Pi Drive, a hard drive for the Pi which can store 314 GB of data.
About the OS-es, most of them are Linux-based. GNU/Linux is basically an open source platform. There are non-Linux OS-es too, like RISC OS. The official OS of the Pi is Raspbian, but there are other OS-es built to suit your purpose too! For example, I am currently using Ubuntu 16.04 MATE on my Pi 2 Model B. There is even a Windows 10 OS for the Pi, although that is for coders of IoT (Internet of Things). Linux desktop environment is not very popular, however, experienced users will tell you that Linux distributions, or ‘distros’ as they are called, are as competent as Windows/OS X in spite of being absolutely free. If you have a desire to try out Linux but aren’t really too confident to use it as your mainstream OS, the Pi is your best bet. You get a complete Linux experience, including the GUI. It is the perfect tool to master the command line, which is one of the most distinguishing features of Linux. There’s also fun stuff to do like coding in a software called Scratch, using Sonic Pi to play music by writing code and just go distro-hopping, and play Minecraft on the Pi!
Using the Pi requires patience. Things might seem a bit on the intimidating side for newbies. However, if you take this up as a challenge, your knowledge about computing, in general, will grow in spades. There is a large community to back you up when you need help, and they are quite helpful too, speaking from experience. Troubleshooting simple things like audio, keyboard backlight not glowing etc can be really engaging.
Just don’t make the mistake of treating the Pi like your normal computer. This credit card sized computer has its limitations, and in most modern applications, you will find the Pi to be lacking.
There is a host of projects/experiments that you can do using the Pi, like a media center, a home server, a vintage arcade gaming station and hell, a Nintendo GS sized portable Linux computer. Raspberry Pi equipped with special sensors have gone to space too, and go by the special name Astro Pi! We will spare another article regarding simple projects you can try out with the Pi, in the future.
Keeping in mind the philosophy of our team, that is ‘Technology Simplified’, the Pi is an extremely affordable credit card sized computer which is very easy to tinker around with. What separates it from other single board computers is that it can do most basic things that a mainstream computer does, just with a little less gusto. However, the potential of the Pi is that you can build absolutely anything around it, and not worry about frying the board because it’s extremely cheap to buy another one. There are tons are things you can do with the Pi, spread over a varying level of expertise. The latest and most powerful Pi 3 costs just around Rs 2500 in India, and has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi built in too. Grab one and you can be sure that lazy Sunday mornings won’t be that boring again.
Note: I composed this article using my Raspberry Pi 2 Model B (given in picture below), just to prove my point.