Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Another Reason to Love Linux

Computers have long been a rather expensive luxury for those who could afford them. Desktops have drastically fallen in price, but with a cost of roughly $300.00 for a modest machine the price is still nothing to laugh at. Laptops have fallen in price as well, but $500.00 is still a lot of money. Worldwide, our economies are not in the best shape. Along with coffee, people tighten their technology budget. It's a natural reaction. Food, water, gasoline, car maintenance, and home maintenance are far more important in the survival sense. The tightening of that budget may negatively impact children who are interested in technology. It's also rather obvious that there are parts of the world that are not quite as well off as others. Luckily, their are some very bright, very clever people in the world. It just so happens that a few of them love technology and Linux. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a UK based charity that has found a solution to this problem.

I am very interested in the Raspberry Pi computer that they have come up with. It's a tiny little machine that is just larger than a twenty pence piece. For its small size, it has some rather good specifications. It packs a 700MHz ARM11 processor. Let's keep in mind that this is a bit better than many smart phones, and on par with some of the Pentium IIIs and Pentium 4s that still lurk in our midst. With 256MB of SDRAM, most Linux distributions would be able to run very comfortably, and more interestingly this is the same amount of RAM that shipped with the first iPad. The device is capable of utilizing OpenGL ES 2.0, and can apparently output 1080p H.264 video, through either HDMI or composite. It has both an SD/MMC/SDIO memory card slot and a USB port. That USB port is perhaps the most important part. A USB hub can be attached to enable networking, mouse/kb input, webcams, etc... The kicker? It runs Ubuntu and only costs $25.

For a volume manufacturer, the cost of Windows is about $50 to $75 per machine. For a small company, the OEM price tag ranges from $120 to $300. The importance of this is that only open source software could ever allow something like this to come to light. The time it takes to create an OS from scratch is far to great, and the investment far to high. The other great part is that this is proof positive that good will and Linux really could change the world. Imagine what these devices could do! In the developed world, we would be able to bring the power of computing to almost everything we do, and we would be able to offer computers to lower income families. We would be able to have a computer in the hands of every student in our schools. We would be able to empower inquisitive minds with a device that has endless possibilities. In the developing world, we would be able to bring people our single greatest source of knowledge, the Internet. It's hard to imagine a world without information technology, but for many that is their world. It's hard to imagine a future where we have remained stagnant in our progress, but that is always a danger. Hopefully, groups like the Raspberry Pi Foundation will continue to come about to solve problems in clever ways.

I like it, I'll take ten.


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