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Britain’s $25 computer is coming by Christmas

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Earlier this year British games pioneer David Braben surprised many people with the first appearance of the Raspberry Pi, a low-cost, open source computer aimed at children that he was helping to develop.

Now, six months on from that initial blitz of publicity, he says that it’s almost ready to go on sale for the first time. A finished version is due by the end of 2011, he told GigaOM, specifically aimed at programmers.

“It will be a small run of 10,000 machines given to developers in the hope that they will seed it with software,” Braben explains. “Sometime next year we should be able to release the consumer version.”

In and of itself, the device is pretty interesting. Inside a business card-sized case — they have moved away from the USB stick-style version that was previously shown — the computer acts as a hub for software and hardware.

The various ports allow you to plug in a mouse, keyboard, TV or monitor (both analog and digital), connect to Ethernet, or plug in an SD card or wireless dongle. In terms of what it can do, right now the machine can run a few Linux distros on its ARM architecture, but is looking for more options: which is why the first batch will be targeted at the software development community.

Here’s a video interview with the organization’s Eben Upton, conducted by, that shows you what they’re doing.

Although the charity has yet to announce precise details, it has said that it plans to offer a “buy one, give one” model that allows people to pay for extra units that can be distributed to children.

The main aim here, like other schemes such as the One Laptop Per Child project, is based around the idea of improving technical education. In particular, Raspberry Pi is about helping kids learn to code, rather than simply learn to use software like Microsoft Office — a move in education slammed by many, including Eric Schmidt of Google (s:GOOG). In that, he says, it may capture the spirit of the BBC Micro, an educational, technological project that Raspberry Pi’s Cambridge-based team are intimately familiar with. It’s not the only scheme to do so.

Although Raspberry Pi will be available for worldwide shipping, the organization — which is a charity — plans to focus on rolling it out in Britain, and in particular to raise enough funds to distribute it widely.

“Our ambition is to give it for free to every school child in the country,” says Braben.

This will, if things go to plan, involve giving machines to an annual cohort of 700,000 children in a particular school grade: something that would cost approximately $17.5 million annually.

“People often say that every child has a PC at home,” he says. “And yes, if you look across the South East of England in particular, there are plenty of places where that is true — and Cambridge is probably one of them. But it is certainly not the case everywhere.”

But is a $25 computer what kids really need? When I wrote about the project earlier this year, I wondered whether building a new device actually ignored the fact that many children do actually have access to a computer — just not a PC. There are millions upon millions of mobile phones in the hands of kids all over Britain, and many times more than that worldwide.

When asked about this, Braben suggests that the relationship between computers and phones is complicated. Smartphones comparable in power to Raspberry Pi are still not common among children, even in privileged homes (and for good reason) and there are so many different operating systems, variants and languages involved that learning to code on one may not be particularly useful in a broad sense.

In the end, though, he thinks that something like Raspberry Pi can “cohabit” with mobile.

“The thing you have to realize is that most computers are pretty fundamentally uncool to kids — whereas what they do is exciting,” he says.

10 Responses to “Britain’s $25 computer is coming by Christmas”

  1. Winkleink

    Comparing Raspberry Pi to a mobile phone is a bad comparison.
    Mobile phones, even though they are powerful computers do not let the normal user get at that power. So, they are great to use but not really suitable to develop on.

    Raspberry Pi is designed as a platform for learning.
    Boot it up and program on in Python.
    If it breaks it’s only $25 rather than $300 for a smartphone.
    Even better in school or shared environment each kid would only need their own SD card ($10). Hose the OS, just install a new image.

    It’s a very different use case and one that I expect will appeal to kids with curiosity and tinkerers.

    Here’s looking forward to the December launch of not only the Raspberry Pi but also the supporting OS’s and teaching resources that are being developed.

  2. Hi,

    I’ve wanted to resurrect the 1980’s computing learning environment ever since the early 1990’s (/late 80’s).

    For very short-sighted reasons, the greedier OEM’s stopped including built-in on-boot programming languages, often variants of BASIC (, Logo, et al), that provided the minimum friction to at least see a cursor-prompt for every user and get the most basic awareness of programming.

    This was combined with the dumbing down of broadcasting and education including public service broadcasting where computer-related programming became more about gadgets and business (and PR/hype), rather than the in the guts understanding of programming; from having dedicated weekly magazines that printed whole programs for a young child to enter manually to sophisticated data-input of transmitting computer code over the end-credits, recorded on audio-tape and connected to a computer; and every 8 year old child taught to control a robot through a scripting language, just as a start.

    There were so many opportunities for any family and child with a sub-$200 computer in those days to have the potential to explore the understanding of programming without substantial friction or cost, supported within a eco-system of government, education, media and manufacturers, but we are now left with wonderful shiny boxes, that few who use them have any actual idea what they could do with them for themselves.

    There are often co-ordinated campaigns between government, media and education institutions to foster better personal (dietary/) health, environmental awareness, safety, using the internet, reading, etc.; I hope someone will do a dedicated “learning to program” campaign one day!

    Yours kindly,

    Shakir Razak

  3. ghostnik11

    Hi I love the concept and the idea, i think it would benefit the world if kids learned programming, instead of just wanting to use computers for facebook and youtube. Which isn’t bad because it gives them something to do, than be on the streets hanging out with gangs but I feel kids should know that with using a computer, there is an unlimited amount of things they can do with that computer. I feel this concept is exactly that as they will be able to learn how to make programs for a computer and tons of other things. I want to know if this will be also shipped to the USA, I hope it is but knowing the powerful computer companies here they might not want a $25 dollar computer on the market because it would interfere with there prices. Anyhow I would love to know if it would come to the USA and also if the people who designed this product are going to market it to schools in other countries like USA.

  4. Interesting concept, but it has a problem: the falling prices of tablets. If I wanted my kid to learn programming, why would I pick a $25 unsupported platform over a widely-supported $99 android tablet or a much-cooler $199 iPad mini?

    • First, unless Apple does a 360, there won’t be a iPad mini. They have argued for a while that the iPad screen can’t be smaller and also that the iPhone screen can’t be larger. (Now I do think that they, in the future, will do a 360.)
      Secondly, considering Apple’s walled garden for iOS and what you’re allowed to install, I don’t see it as ever being useful as a tool to learn programming.
      Unless you want some tool to learn some basic skills, that a kid may soon grow tired of due to its limitations, I can’t see it.
      Because allowing people to create programs on their iPads would open up a huge hole in the walled garden.

      (You may write apps for you iPad with Xcode on OS X, but you’re not able to, or allowed to, to install Xcode on your iPad to write apps for the iPad.)