Raspberry Pi and Cotton Candy: Computing's Newest Treats
"People are going to take these [RPi] boards and turn them into commercial products; they're going to make gonzo one-off hardware projects 'because they can.' They're going to use them in ways that we can't begin to imagine, in places we wouldn't normally think of," said Slashdot blogger Barbara Hudson. "Instead of Beowulf clusters or Lego blocks, we can now think 'tinker toys for the mind.'"
There has never been any shortage of interesting names here in the Linux world, but recently a decidedly sugary theme has emerged.
Just in the past week, we saw the debut of Cotton Candy and the long-awaited Raspberry Pi -- two diminutive computing devices that may have the potential to shake up the computing world.
Small, portable and relatively low-priced -- at US$199 and $25, respectively -- there's no doubt that these new contenders have made quite a splash.
'I Am Highly Excited'
"Naturally I am highly excited about Raspberry Pi, although the launch was flubbed by any measure, especially when you consider prior promises such as paypal ordering," Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza told Linux Girl.
"One of the sellers even had a minimum $50 order, which was not an effective way to serve the Raspberry Pi community," Espinoza pointed out. "I'll be glad when I can actually order one and have it show up.
"I'm hoping DealExtreme makes them, because they'll likely be able to keep up with the demand," he added.
'Everyone Loves Them'
Indeed, "these devices look cool," agreed Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.
"I think that small devices of this sort will become more and more important in a variety of areas, from point of sale to consumer computing appliances," he added.
"Small cheap computers -- everyone loves them," mused blogger Robert Pogson. "They're so small... they can do a lot that 'big' PCs can do: browse, run apps, create stuff."
'A Huge Threat to Wintel'
As a teacher, Pogson's first lesson for high school students was "to show them a Phillips screwdriver and open up an ATX case (not a 'hard drive') and show them the subsystems inside," Pogson recalled. "Over the years motherboards got smaller and had fewer integrated circuits. Most of the space and weight is wasted if you can do everything on one chip."
In fact, "with the ARMed SoCs, we are at the extreme where all we have to do is supply a package to keep dust and soda pop out and a couple of connectors," he explained. "This is a singularity. To get any smaller, the computer will have to disappear inside the monitor, keyboard or mouse. There's almost nothing there thanks to Moore's Law."
Because so little material is required to make one of these devices, "and the price of FLOSS is about $0, the price of the entire system is minimized," Pogson pointed out. "This is a huge threat to Wintel, which needs everything to be upsold/expensive to hide the prices of Wintel's contribution."
'That Was Just the Beginning'
In 2011, "we saw smart thingies outsell Wintel for the first time on personal computing devices, but that was just the beginning," Pogson predicted.
"Because of the low prices, 2012 and 2013 will make 2011 seem like a quiet picnic," he added. "Intel is pushing ultrabooks and M$ is pushing '8,' but both are incompatible with small cheap computers one way or another. They have locked themselves into a high-priced model and cannot adapt without becoming just another player in the world of IT."
So, "for the first time in more than a decade, neither has been able to exclude competition and will be swarmed by harder-working and more efficient innovators," Pogson concluded.
'New New Math for Dummies'
Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site, wasn't so sure about the Cotton Candy device in particular, which she called "seriously overpriced."
"The hardware specs from the vendor's web site say it's a single-core A9 cpu and quad-core Mali gpu," Hudson explained. "That's the exact same hardware as the $110 Android Zenithink tablet -- and the Zenithink also includes a battery and touchscreen, and can be hacked to run linux (it's the tablet that is used for the Spark project)."
As for claims "that a $200 Cotton Candy is 'driving down the cost of personal computing,' maybe it's the 'new new math for dummies,' where it doesn't really matter if you get the answers right as long as you feel good about yourself," she suggested.
'I Do Not See the Use'
Others also had reservations about the Cotton Candy computer.
"It seems like a nice device, although it's a pity it only comes in Wifi, which will make it harder to use for kiosk-type applications," consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl.
Similarly, "shoot me, but I do not see the use for this device," said Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor.
"Sure, it is small enough to fit in my pocket, and easy to carry around," he added. "But as a portable device, I would have to lug around a keyboard, mouse and power supply. If I took it on a business trip instead of a laptop, I would have to wait until I get to the hotel room to use it, and with a keyboard, mouse and power supply it really would not be all that more portable than a laptop.
"Really, I would rather just carry a laptop around, which I plug into a LDC TV when I want a larger display," he opined.
'A Geek Board for Programmers'
As for the Raspberry Pi, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wasn't impressed.
"The problem with Pi is it's like the Arduino: it's a geek board for programmers -- 99.9 percent of the world will never know it exists," he told Linux Girl.
Hudson, however, saw it differently.
'Tinker Toys for the Mind'
"If there's one thing I think the RPi team got wrong, it's their thinking this should be targeted to educational institutions," Hudson suggested.
"From all the buzz, it's obvious that the RPi market is much, much broader," she said. "People are going to take these boards and turn them into commercial products; they're going to make gonzo one-off hardware projects 'because they can.' They're going to use them in ways that we can't begin to imagine, in places we wouldn't normally think of."
Ultimately, the device "will be able to capitalize on a broader market base," she predicted. "Future iterations will open up more possibilities as declining costs allow the use of a more capable System-on-a-Chip without breaking the budget.
"Instead of Beowulf clusters or Lego blocks, we can now think 'tinker toys for the mind,'" Hudson concluded. "What could kids (and adults) build with 50 or 100 or 1,000 of these working together, each one running its own specific programming? Surprise us!"