The Fedora Project has been supporting Raspberry Pi, the diminutive $35 computer, for some time. Today they’re making the Pidora “remix” of the core Fedora distribution available. Like the Raspbian distribution of Debian, Pidora is compiled specifically to take advantage of the hardware already built into the Raspberry Pi.
Pidora offers a couple of interesting little additions to your standard Fedora desktop experience. The reduced oomph of the RPi means that the full-blown GNOME desktop is replaced with the lighter-weight XFCE. Pidora also offers an easy-to-use headless mode for folks running without a monitor. If you attach speakers to your RPi, it’ll helpfully say out loud what it’s IP address is. Clever trick.
The Pidora build was performed at Seneca’s Centre for Development of Open Technology, where they’ve been working with Fedora ARMv5tel/armv7hl build farms for the last couple of years. That experience was directly responsible for Pidora, since the RPi uses the ARMv6 architecture with a dedicated FPU, which is not strictly part of the ARMv6 spec.
According to CDOT’s Chris Tyler, there were three main challenges to getting Pidora out the door:
- Ordering the build — sequencing the initial build of over 10K source packages that have complex and sometimes circular dependency chains can be challenging.
- ARMv6-specific issues — armv5 and armv7 are the most common targets for ARM builds. Some packages make incorrect assumption or are missing code for armv6.
- Native building — Fedora has a native-build philosophy, which requires that package builds be performed on a system capable of executing the compiled code.
Tyler shared some additional details of why Pidora is an interesting option for Raspberry Pi owners:
Pidora contains a number of Raspberry Pi-specific Python modules and native libraries, such as WiringPi, bcm2835, and python-rpi.gpio. The kernel is also compiled to expose the Raspberry Pi interfaces such as I2C, SPI, serial, and GPIO, and several of these can be accessed with /sys file interfaces (even from bash) without using any special libraries or modules. In addition, Pidora contains Raspberry Pi-specific utilities and libraries for access to the Broadcom Videocore IV GPU.
I’ve only just recently acquired an RPi, and last night I installed Pidora onto an SD card. I was off to the races with no trouble at all.
The Fedora folks have a long history of giving out USB sticks with Fedora pre-loaded. I suspect we’ll soon start seeing SD cards pre-loaded with Pidora being handed out at conferences and events.
While the Raspberry Pi is great for educating kids about computing, can it brew a mean beer? The BeagleBone Black can. Trevor Hubbard, an engineer at Texas Instruments, uses the new, next-gen board to control heat exchangers and monitors to handle beer temperature remotely.
The board itself is quite cool. It runs a AM335x 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor with graphics accelerator and has two 46-pin headers for IO, making it ideal for monitoring and robotics. The board itself costs $45 and is available now.
It can run Android and Ubuntu linux and connects to the Internet via Ethernet or a USB Wi-Fi dongle. Interestingly, the entire board is open source, allowing you to download and tweak the design to suit your needs.
The company was founded by Jason Kridner and Gerald Coley, two TI engineers. The headers allow for multiple styles of input and output including serial connectivity, timers, and digital I/O. While not as inherently simple as the Raspberry Pi, it’s still a formidable board.
Hubbard, who recorded a video about his project, shows how he can control his beer temperature remotely using a BeagleBoard, the Internet, and a taste for bubbly hops. There is, I’d wager, not much more a man could ask for.
One to 1.2 million Raspberry Pi microcomputers have shipped since the device’s launch just over a year ago but where in the world are they located? While it’s impossible to say exactly where* each Pi has ended up, the vast majority of the devices sold to-date have shipped to developed nations — including the U.S. and the U.K. But the potential of the Pi as a low cost learning-focused computing platform for developing countries remains very exciting.
Last week the U.K.-based Pi Foundation blogged about a volunteer group that had taken a suitcase-worth of Pis to a school in rural Cameroon where they are being used to power a computer class. At $35 apiece, and even $25 for the Model A Pi, the Pi does a lot to break down the affordability barrier to computing — although it still requires additional peripherals (screen, keyboard, mouse) to turn it into a fully fledged computer terminal.
Asked about the global sales distribution of the Pi, the Foundation provided TechCrunch with some “very rough”, internal estimates of Pi sales to developing/emerging nations — and the figures (listed below) suggest that the first million+ Pi sales have overwhelmingly been powered by wealthier nations.
The most Pi-populous country on the developing/emerging nations list (India) can lay claim to roughly 0.5%-0.6% of total global Pi sales to-date, according to this data. While, collectively, these listed nations make up between only 1.4% and 1.7% of total global Pi shipments. So more than 98% of the Pi pie has been sold to the world’s wealthiest countries thus far.
There are also, of course, scores of (apparently) Pi-less developing nations that do not make this list at all. One of which – the Kingdom of Bhutan — does actually have a princely one Pi sale to its name at present, according to the Foundation. “It’s a server for Khan Academy Lite in a school, whose 64GB SD card costs more than twice what the Pi cost,” the Foundation’s Liz Upton tells TechCrunch. “We’re working on getting more out there!”
It’s likely that some of the Pis shipped to developed countries have found their way to less wealthy nations – via charities and other ‘suitcase schemes’ such as the Cameroon school project mentioned above which took out 30 Pis. Or via individual buyers seeking to avoid high import tariffs that can push up the price of bulk commercial imports (such as in Brazil).
But even factoring in some extra spread, there’s no doubt the Pi is predominantly disrupting the living rooms and schools of the developed world. Which, it should be noted, was the original ambition of the Pi founders — specifically they wanted to get more U.K. kids coding, following a national slump in interest in computer science education.
But the Pi’s unexpected popularity has generated additional momentum for the project — and even grander geographical ambitions.
“We’re weighted very strongly towards the developed world,” admits Pi founder Eben Upton, when he sends the data, but he says that this spread — or rather concentration — is something the Foundation is keen to work on. “A major challenge for us this year is to find ways of making Pi more available, and more appealing, in these [developing/emerging] markets,” he says.
The Pi hardware seems to offer huge potential to the developing world — being cheaper than most mobile phones, let alone most smartphones — the other device touted as the likely first computing experience for connecting the “next billions” to the Internet. The Pi is also cheaper than another Linux-based low cost learning-focused computing project: the one laptop per child’s XO laptop. And it has an advantage over general Linux PCs or Android tablets in being conceived and supported as first and foremost a learning environment, making it well-suited to push into schools.
As for low cost PCs in general, the netbook category — still more expensive than Pi — is facing extinction by 2015, according to analyst IHS iSuppli, which has put out a forecast today predicting zero netbook shipments within two years, and just 3.97 million units globally this year.
As the traditional desktop PC declines, it’s great to see the rise of a new computing device that, unlike the slick consumer tablets du jour, is intended to encourage hacking, tinkering and learning about hardware and software, rather than passive consumption of prepackaged apps — in the best tradition of the home computer. And a device which also, thanks to its tiny price-tag, has such huge disruptive potential.
So here’s hoping a lot more of the next million+ Pis end up very far from home indeed.
*At the time of writing, the Rastrack map, a project to get Pi-owners to report the location of their Pi and plot the owner locations on a map, was not accessible. The map is used in the feature image at the top of this post, showing a snapshot of self-reported Pi distribution in May last year
The Raspberry Pi microcomputer has already put more than a million Pis in the hands of makers, tinkerers, parents and kids in its first year on sale. Which is an impressive feat for a device that’s designed to get more people dabbling in electronics and thinking about how software works. The Pi Foundation actually wanted to create a device that U.K. kids could cut their coding teeth on. But here’s a sign of how much more potential Pi has, above and beyond its original mission: Pis are being used to power a secondary school computing lab in rural Cameroon.
In a guest post on the Pi Foundation’s blog, a volunteer from a Belgian group that raised the funds to build and equip the school writes how they took 30 Pis out to Cameroon in their suitcase and used them to create a computing lab — along with screens, keyboards and mice bought locally. This Pi-powered computing class is itself powered by an on-site generator since the school is not connected to the public power network.
The school in question — Saint Marcellin Comprehensive College — is located in a small village called Binshua, close to Nkambe in the Northwest region of Cameroon. At present the Pis are being used for teaching the children how to use office productivity software but the aim is to get the kids coding too, in time:
All of the systems run on the Raspbian image from December, with LibreOffice and CUPS installed. The Pis are currently used to teach the children the basics of working with an Office suite. But we made sure that we gave the teacher a little introduction (and a good book) on programming in Scratch. So, now we are hoping that this will get Scratch introduced in the school curriculum as well.
The school’s lab doesn’t currently have an Internet connection but that’s something the Belgian group is working to change too.
The computers are all connected in a network. The central point of the network is a router that’s ready to be connected to a WAN modem. We hope to be able to provide a connection to the internet in the near future, which would certainly bring a small revolution into this rural area. Even without an internet connection, we believe that we created an advanced computer lab in this underdeveloped area. Giving the children in the area a chance to work their way to a better future. And that is our motivation.
It isn’t a stretch to say this small, low cost, low power microcomputer has the potential to provide a first computing experience for many more people in developing countries. The Pi hardware is cheaper than most mobile phones, let alone most smartphones — the other device touted as the likely first computing experience for the “next billions”. And it’s a lot cheaper than another Linux-based low cost computing project: the one laptop per child’s XO laptop (albeit, the price of the peripherals needs to be factored it).
In the following video, a teacher at the school is shown introducing the Pi to the class, and even though she mentions Microsoft’s Windows OS the reference is not likely to put smiles on many faces in Redmond: ”This small box is not working with Windows operating system… It works with another type of operating system. It’s Linux. It’s also very popular — and it’s for free.”