The Raspberry Pi is a tiny, cheap computer with the design intention of being for kids to learn real computer and programming skills (as opposed to just learning how to use an office suite of applications). Kudos to the Raspberry Pi Foundation for their continuing efforts to bring back computer science to schools.

After all, it was due to the availability of affordable, programmable computers in the 1980s that allowed kids then to get into making things with computers. Programming games, art and music. Being creative. The talent this fostered in Britain was immense. I believe the Raspberry Pi and it’s ilk will be the key to inspiring the next generation of talent.

As well as being a powerful tool for educational purposes—due to it’s programmable nature—the Raspberry Pi (sometimes referred to as RPi) is also an incredibly versatile box of wonders. The community that has sprung up around it has seized the opportunity of this common platform to develop new, and port exisiting applications and variants of the Linux Operating System.

A New Year’s resolution of mine was to find a use for my RPi. Well, I can happily report that I now have. Enter Raspbmc, “a minimal Linux distribution based on Debian that brings XBMC to your Raspberry Pi.” XBMC is “an award-winning free and open source (GPL) software media player and entertainment hub for digital media.” The installation proved to be a simple and ejoyable experience. Thankfully, this hassle-free installation and interaction with the Linux ecosystem is becoming more common (two steps to install rather than 27).

The defaultmost popular RPi Linux distribution (sic - Operating System), Raspbian Wheezy (I have not yet found the story behind the name “Wheezy”) comes with a fully-featured desktop environment which is imminently usable and tastes just like Windows and Mac OS X; office suites, image editors, the whole gamut. All free and open source.

My setup is an original Raspberry Pi Model B with 256Mb RAM; it now ships with 512Mb for the same price (~£35). As it comes without a case, I later bought a rather groovy Pimoroni PiBow case (£12.95).

Note, the RPi doesn’t come with it’s own power supply. You have to supply a 5v micro-USB connection with at least 0.7mA. I started out using an old Samsung mobile phone charger, but have since switched to a Masterplug SRGDU62PW USB Charging Surge Protected 2m Extension Lead Power Block with 6 Sockets and a funky orange micro-USB cable.

In addition to a power supply, you’ll need an HDMI cable, an ethernet cable (to connnect to your internet router), and an SD card to hold the operating system and software. Which paves the route to RPi nirvana:

  • Raspberry Pi Model B
  • Power supply (5v, rated to at least 0.7mA, micro-USB)
  • HDMI cable
  • SD card (8Gb or more recommended)
  • Ethernet cable
  • USB mouse and keyboard
  • (optional) USB hub to expand on the two existing USB ports
  • (optional) bluetooth USB dongle (for couch-surfing)
  • (optional) wi-fi USB dongle (for your RPis all over the house)

I use separate memory cards for each distribution. Currently: - Chameleon for retro emulation - Raspbmc for media centre - Raspbian Wheezy for learning more about Linux and maybe someday programming a game.

There is an Amazon affiliate link below if you don’t already own one and want to remedy that. Honesty policy: I get a little cash if you buy through this, which I will undoubtedly spend buying more gadgetry. Thank you if you use it.

AuthorI.B. Simpson