David Artiss

Raspberry Pi – Feedback from my review


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Since my Raspberry Pi review I’ve had some comments (and, I suspect, more to come) critisising my poor review of the product. The first one I answered personally but after the second person made different arguements but I would have answered them in an almost identical way I thought a seperate article may be appropriate, explaining in a lot more detail 1.

I’ve removed my original comment and added it into this response. If I get further comments I will reply via an update to this article (or simply pointing them to it if I’ve answered it already).

What’s the Point of the Raspberry Pi?

So, my review. It wasn’t pretty. The hardware is superb for the money and if the review was about that it would have got full marks. However, it wasn’t. The first thing I need to do, though, is explain WHO the Raspberry Pi is aimed at.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation (RPF) is a not-for-profit UK charity. Tax breaks from the UK Government (and hence also the UK taxpayer) allows them to produce the product so cheaply. I’ve twice been on the committee of a charity and have also applied, on the behalf of a charity, for charitable grants.

The Foundation’s charity number is 1129409 and from that I can find their details on the Charity Commission website. To gain charitable status you have to indicate what the purpose of your organisation is, and where that fits in with such a status. This will tell us what and who the Pi was intended for…

THE OBJECT OF THE CHARITY IS TO FURTHER THE ADVANCEMENT OF EDUCATION OF ADULTS AND CHILDREN, PARTICULARLY IN THE FIELD OF COMPUTERS, COMPUTER SCIENCE AND RELATED SUBJECTS

What

  • EDUCATION / TRAINING

Who

  • CHILDREN / YOUNG PEOPLE
  • THE GENERAL PUBLIC / MANKIND

How

  • PROVIDES SERVICES
  • OTHER CHARITABLE ACTIVITIES

So, the Pi is meant for everybody with the intention of advancing their knowledge in computers. It will do this with education and training via services and other activities.

But Does It Educate?

But, and the crux of my review, is that they have delivered an excellent piece of hardware but with poor software and documentation support. This is hardly “education and training”.

I’m sure both the commentators so far will argue otherwise but both, particularly the first, seem to already be pretty knowledgable in their computer skills and are, therefore, not who the Pi is intended for. The same goes for me – I bought mine for review purposes but also to get both/either of my daughers interested. And it’s because of that latter point that I believe I can state that, so far, RPF are failing. My eldest daugher is nearly 14 and has an interested in computers – Facebook and computer art, mainly. But not at programming or the hardware – both things that the Pi should be able to stimulate an interest in. The former it should be able to do because the hardware is there, present, caseless for all to see. Unfortunately, a lack of documentation means that I couldn’t answer questions on what components do what. Secondly, the poor quality OS and accompnaying software is an immediate turn off for her to try and “tinker”.

Some might try and argue that the basic OS is exactly what people need to get interested but without the documentation to back that up, it’s likely to just be a turn-off. Indeed, even with the documentation, I’d struggle to accept an argument that having to find and install software via the command line is a good thing.

It Was Meant For Developers

One comment suggested that the initial run of 10,000 was meant for developers.

Although in private the RPF may have regarded the release for developers that isn’t what they’ve been saying when they’ve hyping the product launch in advance, with the skill of the next big Batman movie. Sadly, their blog page announcing the launch is now AWOL, but let’s use as an example, the BBC news page for it’s release. RPF have used the BBC extensively throughout the production of their device to develop interest and I am in doubt that they had a close relationship.

There were 4 separate news releases on the BBC site dedicated to it on the day of release, but this is the main one… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17190918

Sorry, can’t see evidence that this was launched for developers in mind – it keeps referring to users. In fact, didn’t they give a load, on day of release, to a school? Odd that they’d do this if this was at the early stages and only meant for developers. Personally, I’d have distributed a limited number via the Linux development channels, built up the software to a stable and usable base and then released it.

If the current release of the Pi is meant for developers, RPF have done a terrible job of telling people that. I have 3 friends, none of them Linux developers, and all are thinking about getting one. I guess the message has been lost on them as well as it was on me and, I suspect, an awful lot of the 350,000 people who ordered. And THAT is why an awful lot of people are going to be disappointed and stick the Pi in the back of a cupboard.

Having said all, even if this was a development release, who would you define as “developers”. People who can code? I can, but I’m sure as hell not using the current Raspberry Pi software to do this. The only developers who would be interested are Linux Developers – 10,000 is an awful lot.

How Many People Need to Like It?

Another comments makes a good point – if only a few people are turned off by this, what does it matter? 10,000 have been sold.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter what percentage of the overall total it is, but the percentage of those that the Pi is aimed at. I suspect the majority of people who clamoured to get the initial release probably aren’t those the Pi was aimed at. If only 10% of the 10,000 sold were destined for genuine educational needs and 100% of those have been put off by the software and documentation then that’s a 100% failure rate for the Foundation, no matter how many they may sell.

As the commentator said, “I do suspect that the great majority who placed pre-orders are technically savvy and will not be easily discouraged by its half-baked status”. Exactly.

Command Line is Good For You

The same comment also mentions that he has a vast experience in development and can remember having to “get dirty” with command line and hence can see what the developers of the Pi were trying to do.

From what the RPF have said they’re taking their key from the 80’s micro computers where you’d turn them on and come to a command prompt and, many people, would start programming. The difference is that these computers, the successful ones anyway, would come well documented and with a vast array of easily accessable software. Those that didn’t died on their arse.

In Summary

  • The Raspberry Pi is intended to educate people in computers
  • It comes with poor software and equally poor documentation
  • It’s currently failing, in my view, to fulfil its charitable objectives
  • The only people critising my review are computer savvy and not the people this product was aimed at

But, most important of all – if the above changes, whether it be later this year or in a year’s time, I will be happy to re-review the Raspberry Pi.

Ideally, the commentator I’d like to see is a teenager who had no interest in programming, was given a Pi, tinkered, loved it and started to do some developing as a result. They might be the exception, so I wouldn’t be ready to eat my words just yet, but that’s the kind of thing the Pi is intended for. Show me that person and we’ll talk.

Now proven right

One of the co-founders of Raspberry Pi Foundation has stated that…

“There’s nothing specifically educational about this device. The only reason it’s applicable is it’s cheap.”

  1. more detail than I should put in the original review without boring readers to death![]

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2 Comments

  1. The Foundation designed and arranged to make available a very capable tool at a very good price. That’s an outstanding achievement for several guys with supportive families, a little cash, good relations with both employers and their university, plus some luck. The additional documentation will come, but getting the hardware right and on a timely basis takes precedence.

    I have a great deal of respect for the documentation, everything from the manuals, discussion blogs to formal curricula for various age students and so on. However, consider the following.

    One group, we’ll call them Group A, sees a need and forms committees, then subcommittees to define and address the lack of written materials for computer science or ICT education for younger students. They produce such materials, maybe with grant money, maybe not. But at the end, after years of blah-blah, they have their written materials, plus the conclusion that someone should fund an effort to make computers more affordable for all children.

    Then there is Group B. They take the same amount of time, five to seven years, but come up with working hardware, startlingly capable hardware for the price. They see the need for curricula, but still, they just do what they’re good at. They predict that the additional materials will come.

    From my perspective, I have much greater confidence in Group B, that something really useful might come out of their efforts.

    OK, end of parable, back to real world. I don’t have the reference, so I’m paraphrasing, but one of the team, Liz Upton, explicitly stated that though the main audience is schoolchildren, greatest majority of whom will need additional help and materials, she hoped for and fully expected that help to come from the community.

    The Raspberry Pi Foundation might write some materials directly, provide some through demonstrations or video interviews, or arrange for more formal help and coordination from the schools. That would be great. However, I would not discount the importance of “everyone else in the world,” i.e. the whole community of like minded individuals and small groups willing to give back. I’ve seen a lot of good advice and tutorials, in blogs, podcasts, videos. To be honest, this is how I learn most things these days, not just about the Pi, but everything.

    Thank you,

    John Bowen
    Riverside, California

    • Thanks for the reply John.

      All this may be true but providing hardware and expecting the community to provide the materials is not what their charity status states – they are supposed to be educating and training people themselves. If they’re using their tax savings to produce cheap hardware for Linux geeks and companies and hoping that everybody else does the educating then they have failed. At the very least they should be stripped of their charity status, if this is true.

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