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Why One Person Thinks Raspberry Pi Is Unsuitable For Education

Unknown Lamer posted about 2 years ago | from the hep-cats-all-using-mips dept.

Education 133

An anonymous reader writes "Raspberry Pi was designed for education. As any popular product is bound to, Raspberry Pi has been criticized a lot for things like lack of a box, absence of supplied charger or even WiFi. Raspberry Pi has a much more fundamental flaw, which directly conflicts with its original goal: it is a black box tightly sealed with patents and protected by corporations. It isn't even remotely an open platform." The author thinks that patents on ARM are a serious threat to the openness of the platform (among other things like the proprietary GPU blob needed to boot). But even the FSF doesn't go that far. Wired had an editorial with the foundation justifying "selling out a little to sell a lot" that has a lot of info on the choices they had to make to hit their cost target.

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133 comments

Milkymist in Production? (4, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 2 years ago | (#41456013)

To speak about open hardware, there’s a device called Milkymist One based on an FPGA with an embedded LM32 processor. It’s as open as possible and is actually used in production (as opposed to mere hacking) to create some nice video effects.

I went to their site [milkymist.org] and I see one youtube video of a two man show using it and some screen shots. That's what you call "in production"? If I send you a video of my Raspberry Pi rendering Mandelbrot patterns in front of a crowded room, will you call it "in production?" Furthermore the first thing they say on their site:

Milkymist One

The Milkymist One is an experimental hardware appliance for live video effects.

I appreciate this blog's spirit and he has some valid points (like making it more durable) but he's really overselling some of these devices. He goes so far as to suggest TI's Beagle Board and casually dismisses that it's six or seven times the cost of the Raspberry Pi's Model A. I don't even ... know where to start. I own six Raspberry Pis and one Arduino Mega 2560. They cost me roughly the same.

Re:Milkymist in Production? (5, Insightful)

JoeMerchant (803320) | about 2 years ago | (#41456235)

Or, the shorter meta critic version:

Who, exactly, has done a better job of creating low-cost computers for education, then?

If your answer is Asus, Acer, Dell, HP, or Apple, I'm not impressed. Even with a case, power supply, keyboard and mouse doubling the cost, the Pi is still less than 1/3 the cost of the nearest competitor.

Also, there is a question of just what kind of education you are attempting to support - Pi envisions a return to hacker culture, it may be missing the mark somewhat since the hackers they revere were spending hundreds to low thousands of dollars on their homebrew kit and a sub $100 investment in some ways implies a reduced commitment, but if you "just want to try something" and need a computer to do it, they've made a very capable little chunk for an amazingly low price.

Re:Milkymist in Production? (4, Insightful)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#41456497)

I've seen a number of the alternative devices, and they all have their own little ups and downs. Some have cases and come with power supplies, some do not. Most are more expensive, some options cost about the same. Nearly all of them are, "coming soon" rather than "shipping now".

So, not to detract from the Pi (I do have one, and love it), but it's great to have options, and that does mean addressing shortcomings. I have very little respect for people that get mean and shit on others' hard work while producing nothing of value themselves, though. There's no reason we can't keep things civil.

Re:Milkymist in Production? (1)

aztracker1 (702135) | about 2 years ago | (#41456557)

Yeah, I looked at the beagle-board and honestly, with the pricing, would just assume get a mini-itx AMD E-### setup. I know it's not open, but at some point the minor improvements in space and cost lose out to a more powerful and compatible option. I do think that the Raspberry Pi and Node.js are just about a marriage made in heaven for learning on... just my $.02

Re:Milkymist in Production? (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 2 years ago | (#41458955)

Exactly. For $200 I could get a netbook [futureshop.ca] . That's a full computer that comes with a small keyboard, screen, and trackpad. I can open the box and use it right away. It comes with much better specs than any of these "educational" or open computers. By the time you buy a screen, keyboard, mouse, and power supply for your raspberry pi, you're probably already close to the cost of the netbook. If you already have all these extra required devices then the Raspberry Pi can be fun to play around with (I have one myself), but if I was poor and wanted to learn computers, and didn't already have some other computer, it would make much more sense to just go with the netbook and get a complete computer.

Open processors on locked down FPGA's (2)

erice (13380) | about 2 years ago | (#41456771)

It's interesting that his choice is an FPGA based processor. FPGA's are anything but open. The vendor's backend tools are the only ones allowed to exist. The file formats are architecture details are propriety and secret. Reverse engineer the format and try to create your own tools and the vendor will sue you.

Re:Milkymist in Production? (5, Insightful)

Annirak (181684) | about 2 years ago | (#41456885)

While I'm with you on the question of performance, I'd also question the suitability of FPGAs, both as an "open source" platform and as a learning tool for anything below university level courses. FPGAs are about as closed as it gets when it comes to hardware platforms. The verilog/VHDL compilers are, generally, closed source. I know there's an open one or two, but Mentor Graphics, Xilinx, and Altera all ship closed source compilers. The place and route algorithms that are used are all patented and closed source. The architecture of the FPGA itself is patented and closed source.

So, what, exactly, is the point of using an "open" processor on an FPGA? To make everything harder to do?

If you're really looking for a Free/Open processor, then your best bet is to put your money where your mouth is and back opencores.org in producing an ASIC version of the OpenRISC 1000. Even then, it's still built on a proprietary process in a fab, where you can't even get the technology files required to layout the processor without signing an NDA.

Here's the sad truth of it. You're dealing with a proprietary process anywhere from the chip level down. You simply cannot complain about not having open silicon and be taken seriously. Here's how it works:

If you want to make a chip, the first thing you have to do is find a design. Now you can make your own, and open source it, or you can get a pre-made design. If you choose to use an open-source design, then you're good--so far--but you'll have a significant performance lag behind the proprietary options. This goes double for video processing, memory controllers, buses, etc., etc.

Next, you need to find a fab who will make the chips for you. Here's where it gets bad. Even 180nm fabs consider their processes to be trade secrets, so that you have to sign an NDA just to get a process description file from the fab--this means your layout is, perforce, closed source.

Even if you somehow find a fab which will allow you to open the technology file, the placement and routing software for VLSI design is all closed source and patented. This is because place & route is a HARD problem. NP Hard, in fact.

So what it comes down to is this: until the homecmos [google.com] people get their process going, you're stuck with something proprietary at some level. So then how much proprietary stuff is tolerable?

The Raspberry Pi Foundation had the goal of being bringing computing in a low cost package for education. The tradeoffs required to use open designs for the processor are quite steep: e.g. it would be a colossal time investment to get Linux running on a non-standard--read: non-proprietary--SoC. Using some proprietary chips to get there seems reasonable, so long as the OS doesn't become proprietary. The GPU blob is unfortunate, but not unexpected, particularly if you want decent performance.

Another stinky purist shitting on your parade (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456035)

Insanity. There is never going to be a product that satisfies these fucking purists. Go back to your cave and clean your 'pits. You make me sick.

Re:Another stinky purist shitting on your parade (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41459475)

Yeah! Aim lower! Go America! Woohoo!!!!

Idealists may never be able to get exactly what they want, but they're the only people to steer the rest of the world in new directions.

The unreasonable man &c.

Oh well (5, Insightful)

ArchieBunker (132337) | about 2 years ago | (#41456037)

Design something better if you don't like it. Who is stopping you? Most likely the submitter wrote the article.

Re:Oh well (1)

fermion (181285) | about 2 years ago | (#41456523)

You know, depending on what you teach, there are many other ways to go about it. If you want to teach basic coding, a web host can be had for $100 a year, create a shell account for each student, and you can teach web programming or python, C++, shell scripting, on whatever terminal the student or teacher can scrounge up. An old computer, an iPad, a chrome book, whatever.

If you want to teach programmable logic, universal programmers and GAL or the like are dirt cheap. A breadboard, some cheap components, and the student can learn to driver all sorts of things. Glue motors to the breadboard and you have a robot. One computer is needed to program the chip. I remember how much fun I had when I was a kid using an Apple ][ and a slot in programmer to burn chips.

This device appears to be made to promote a certain form of education. This form is often used by people who prefer OSS, and therefore the lack of OSS is going to be a problem for some people. It would be better if it used more open components. However education is a complex endeavor, and often educators want models that expose the concepts to be taught, while hiding all the distracting details. My concern is if Raspberry Pi hides distracting details, or are the distracting details going to overwhelm anything that might be taught.

design something better (4, Informative)

lkcl (517947) | about 2 years ago | (#41456845)

that's what we're doing with the http://rhombus-tech.net/ [rhombus-tech.net] project. the scope of the project has the goals of the raspberrypi foundation as a subset; CPUs that we are actively pursuing have to have full GPL compliance, and are as open as possible / practical. where binary blobs exist, reverse-engineered alternatives are encouraged to be created. the first CPU Card is based on the Allwinner A10 (ARM Cortex A8, 1ghz, overclockable to 1.5ghz). the binary startup blob which is essential to set the DDR3 RAM timings before continuing with the 2nd phase of the boot process was reverse-engineered a few months ago; the MALI GPU has the limadriver project on the case; efforts are underway to investigate the proprietary video hardware encode/decode engine. we were given full access to the GPL kernel and u-boot sources within 48 hours of asking (even though we did not have a GPL compliance request outstanding).

answering your question, archiebunker: designing something better is a bit harder than you might imagine. full access to technical datasheets is often denied: you are literally at the mercy of the SoC vendor and if they don't like the way you dress, or smell, or if you're not one of their pally-pal pals you can flat-out forget gaining access to the documentation. one of the key reasons is that they simply don't know if you have the expertise, or if you can be trusted not to pass on information to their competitors. so, if it turns out that you don't have the expertise, and you have to come to them with questions, you just cost them money. if you leak information to their competitors, you REALLY just cost them money - serious money.

so what we're doing with the EOMA-68 initiative is to make the hard part - the CPU+DDR3+NAND - be "just a mass-produced component" that you can literally buy off-the-shelf in a retail store. if it comes in a case, you get access to the EOMA-68 interfaces and whatever else the CPU Card has on the user-facing front edge; if you buy it without the case, you also get access to the internal jumpers and additional connectors, for educational and R&D purposes as well as factory-install purposes.

we're getting there. it's been a long haul, and we will not stop. the team behind the initiative will be sticking with this for the next decade, keeping it constantly up-to-date and ensuring that new CPU Cards are always available.

here's the previous article about it - actually it was the PCB layout that was completed - the schematics were completed 2 months ago:
http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/12/09/07/2322207/rhombus-tech-a10-eoma-68-cpu-card-schematics-completed [slashdot.org]

Re:design something better (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457135)

Yes, without a doubt. Students should be taught with 100% GPL compliant, open systems that are completely unencumbered by patents. Since once they go out into the real worlds, that's exactly what they will be working with. Right?

Re:design something better (3, Insightful)

jedidiah (1196) | about 2 years ago | (#41457651)

You are trying to invoke the Brand X fallacy.

No one needs to be specifically trained in Brand X products in order to be able to use them on aome job. Computing skills when taught properly are quite independent of the brand of tool involved.

Re:design something better (1)

Trogre (513942) | about 2 years ago | (#41459213)

Wait, so the ARM Cortex A8 architecture is completely open while the Raspberry Pi's ARM11 architecture isn't? I'm not sure I follow...

Otherwise, this project looks very interesting!

One Person Is Pretty Stupid (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456041)

Seriously, you're worried about patents on a microchip? If thats your concern, you're fucked as you won't find one anywhere anytime in the foreseeable future that ISN'T patented.

You'll find one without a patent some time AFTER a fabrication plant opens up that you can afford to use for silly ideas like FOSS chips.

I.E. its not likely to ever happen. Some people have no idea what reality is like at all.

--BitZtream

Re:One Person Is Pretty Stupid (2, Insightful)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about 2 years ago | (#41456531)

Also, why as a student do I give a shit if the CPU is patented? That's as relevant to education as the school bus's windshield wipers being patented.

Re:One Person Is Pretty Stupid (1)

slinches (1540051) | about 2 years ago | (#41456587)

Well, you could use chips which were manufactured long enough ago that all of the patents have expired (basically anything pre-1992 in the US). If you wait a few more months you could use a 66MHz Pentium!!

Re:One Person Is Pretty Stupid (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41459071)

And a 66MHz Pentium is about as performant as a Raspberry Pi.

Re:One Person Is Pretty Stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457329)

How patent encumbered are the Loongsons out of China? Stallman uses those and he's a pretty big FOSS proponent.

http://richard.stallman.usesthis.com/

Re:One Person Is Pretty Stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41459041)

6502 patents are long expired.

Re:One Person Is Pretty Stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41459915)

Seriously, you're worried about patents on a microchip?

Patents and NDA. That latter is the main problem. Without agreeing to it ( and Broadcom won't allow Joe Smith, Teacher, to sign one ) then the inner secrets of the SOC are beyond your ken.

article font size (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456053)

Paragraphs of text in that large of a font is unreadable. I DO have eyes. I can see things, including normal sized words.

Re:article font size (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456283)

The text size is fine. That's the other 85% of websites that have a problem with tiny, unreadable text.

raspberry beret (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456057)

I prefer a good apple pi myself.

Ye gads! (5, Insightful)

robthebloke (1308483) | about 2 years ago | (#41456067)

Well that's just terrible. We'd best remove these horrible closed architectures, and revert to what we had before - those simple to understand Microsoft windows based PC's with simple lectures on how to use Microsoft word!

only alternative... (1, Flamebait)

hackula (2596247) | about 2 years ago | (#41456095)

mac mini

sincerely,

ghost of steve

Re:only alternative... (4, Insightful)

robthebloke (1308483) | about 2 years ago | (#41456251)

Exactly. Who'd want to furnish each child within a class of 30 with their own computer, when they could have a single rounded corner device to share between all of them? Makes perfect sense. +4 internets for you.

Remove ARM for patented FPGA? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456115)

His solution to getting away from ARM patents is to use an FPGA? Uhm, find me an FPGA chip without a patent then.

Dear Slashdot,

STOP ACCEPTING IGNORANT BLOG SLASVERTISMENTS.

Bbc micro comparison (1)

shilly (142940) | about 2 years ago | (#41456123)

So mr moaner moans about it being too closed. He also compares it to the BBC micro -- anyone know if that was open in the way he describes? I presume not...

Re:Bbc micro comparison (2)

robthebloke (1308483) | about 2 years ago | (#41456357)

anyone know if that was open in the way he describes?

On the old 8bit machines you could pretty much figure out how the ROM worked via PEEK, but to be honest, that's something that I do now in my 30's for fun. At the time the real benefit was being able to play around within BASIC, and maybe experiment with a bit of ASM if you wished. Understanding every aspect took years (and I'm still learning new tricks even now, 30 years later....). It was not however 'open' in the sense we use today. It was however relatively open in the sense that you could figure out how it worked, however if you'd copied the architecture and started knocking out cheap BBC clones, you'd have been sued to kingdom come!

Re:Bbc micro comparison (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about 2 years ago | (#41456729)

The article even cites someone who reverse engineered an ARMv7 and the project was 'disappeared' so that sounds a lot alike.

Re:Bbc micro comparison (1)

alexru (997870) | about 2 years ago | (#41457525)

ARM publishes detailed manuals for their cores. There is no need to reverse engineer anything, just implement. There are few FPGA implementations more or less compatible, but there is no one that just works, because it is a lot of work to make one.

Holy logical fallacy, Batman! (5, Insightful)

mattashburn (150456) | about 2 years ago | (#41456143)

Sorry, but this argument doesn't hold much water. He's assuming that devices useful for education must be composed of parts that are free of any patents, etc. That simply isn't true, and the devices can teach valuable skills and lessons even if some parts are patented by other corporations. I learned a good deal of basic computing using an Apple ][ and I turned out fine, despite any patents of specific parts of the device I used.

Re:Holy logical fallacy, Batman! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456255)

Seconded.

I learned to program on a Commodore-64. Then an Atari 400. Neither of which was open, but nobody claimed that they were unsuitable platforms for learning how to program.

Re:Holy logical fallacy, Batman! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456633)

A friends child (under 10) pointed out that the games you pay for, to use on on his android tablet, are the ones that don't work. Who says closed source can't teach valuable lessons.

Re:Holy logical fallacy, Batman! (2)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 2 years ago | (#41457063)

Seconded.

I learned to program on a Commodore-64. Then an Atari 400. Neither of which was open, but nobody claimed that they were unsuitable platforms for learning how to program.

Hear hear. Sinclair ZX80 user here. I doubt if that was open, and when I was learning BASIC I didn't particularly care. I was just fascinated by learning BASIC.

Re:Holy logical fallacy, Batman! (1)

JohnFen (1641097) | about 2 years ago | (#41457083)

But the C-64, Atari 400l, and the Apple II were machines that were extremely well documented. You could know all there was to know about them. That's not true with Raspberry PI, and is the heart of the objection.

Re:Holy logical fallacy, Batman! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41458623)

But the C-64, Atari 400l, and the Apple II were machines that were extremely well documented. You could know all there was to know about them. That's not true with Raspberry PI, and is the heart of the objection.

Actually, Atari tried to keep all information about programming its 8-bit computers under lock and key. The only available documentation was reverse engineered. Eventually people did publish books, making the information widely available, all without Atari's cooperation.

Not sure, but I think the C-64 might not have had freely available documentation either.

However, that's a tangent. The whole premise behind the "objection" is farcical. This is 2012, not the early 1980s. Back then, you had to learn how to twiddle hardware registers just to do simple things like display a 2D background screen with smooth scrolling and foreground sprites. Open hardware or not, there weren't any powerful APIs in the first place. The CPU and hardware were so simple, inflexible, and slow (by modern standards) that it made little sense to add strong abstraction layers. You were basically on your own.

Today, not even cutting edge game developers code direct-to-metal any more. A full register listing with brief descriptions of each field may take hundreds or thousands of pages, and that's without any of the dense information needed to make sense out of it (mere register descriptions are not enough, especially for subsystems like GPUs). Only open source purists care about whether stuff behind the API curtain is open. Little or none of it is relevant -- in 2012 -- to the beginner's first steps programming education R-Pi is targeted at.

Even in the 1980s, kids learned BASIC first. I should know, I was one of them. Advanced stuff came later. Then, for me, advanced meant 6502 asm and a reverse engineered hardware register reference. Today, advanced stuff involves APIs like GL, which is many times more complicated than an entire 1980s 8-bit computer...

Well, not quite... (1)

YuppieScum (1096) | about 2 years ago | (#41458957)

While the Apple ][ documentation was so complete that it included Woz's annotated 6502 assembler source listings (I still have my copies in storage), the provided documentation was less extensive for the Atari 400/800 and Vic-20/C-64...

However, that's not really the point.

Those old-school bits of tin had no abstraction layers, so for coders to make any use of them beyond the basic (pardon the pun), they needed to address the hardware directly. I still remember having to load assembler routines on the Apple in order to toggle the speaker port sufficiently often to get actual musical tones (as I am equally old-school).

This really is not the case today - you only *need* that level of *hardware* documentation if you're going to write low-level OS drivers, and that's really beyond the scope of the project in question. The documentation of the abstraction platforms that sit on top of this Pi hardware are extensively... extensive, and are more than sufficient for most educational situations.

In addition, part of the learning process is discovering and understanding the limitations of the platform you're using, and deciding if you want to progress your learning further...

         

Re:Holy logical fallacy, Batman! (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#41457645)

You went from a 64K Commodore machine from 1982 to an 8k Atari from 1979?

Teachable Moment (1)

mx+b (2078162) | about 2 years ago | (#41456443)

While I agree with his idea that hardware should be more open, perhaps it can be turned around as a teachable moment; for example (a little fudged since I am in a rush and cannot RTFA, but hopefully the point gets across):

Teacher: ... ok and let's now try to see how the video works, pull up the software code.

Student: OK! .... Hmm, I can't. What am I doing wrong?

Teacher: Nothing, they just won't allow us to see it and use it, or know what it is doing. This is not a good philosophy to have for education, science, or any learning in general. Everything must be out in the open if we are to take it seriously and build on it with new research or ideas.

Re:Teachable Moment (5, Insightful)

robthebloke (1308483) | about 2 years ago | (#41456613)

This is not a good philosophy to have for education, science, or any learning in general. Everything must be out in the open if we are to take it seriously and build on it with new research or ideas.

Bullshit. Teaching does not work that way. If you want to explain how a device 'actually' works, you teach theory (because it is something that crosses the boundaries between architectures, and you are able to isolate small nuggets of knowledge into digestable packets). You may use pseudocode for this, or you may use some diagrams, but you do not use the heavily optimised code that these devices use at their core. The aim is to encourage students to learn, not to scare the shit out of them on day one. What is the point of describing a single architecture down to that microscopic level of detail, when it will be out of production before the child has left university? Teaching is about ideas and concepts, it is not about describing the quirky specifics of the graphics drivers of an already 'old' architecture (it's not ARMv7). This is a device to help 10-16 year olds get their first experience of the lower level aspects of a computer. They have the ability to put together their own linux distros (if they wish), and have full access to most of the sourcecode for the OS (If that interests them). Isn't that enough? Isn't that better than what came before? Or would you prefer teachers taught how adders work by pointing an electron microscope at the chip?

Re:Teachable Moment (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about 2 years ago | (#41456699)

Teacher: Nothing, they just won't allow us to see it and use it, or know what it is doing. This is not a good philosophy to have for education, science, or any learning in general. Everything must be out in the open if we are to take it seriously and build on it with new research or ideas.

Now everybody please boot up your desktop super computers and matlab--no wait, don't do that. Also please unplug everything from the nearest power outlet since all of the utilities use closed source software to mange their power grids. Also please remove all light bulbs since the design is probably patented. Also I would instruct everyone to remove their clothes since they use chemicals produced using proprietary systems.

We're scientists damnit and we never would *dream* of using a CT Scanner, Electron Microscope, Mass Spec or any other device which might be burdened by patents! Someone get the marine biology department on the line, I have it on good authority that their scuba gear and boats are all patent laden!

Re:Teachable Moment (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#41459237)

And you suffered from breast cancer? That gene has been patented, you must be incinerated immediately with good old fashioned non-patented caveman style started fire.

Re:Teachable Moment (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#41459211)

Or the alternate:

Teacher: pull up the software code

Student: Uhm... What do I start? Its 1,000,000 lines of code.

Teacher: Oops. Perhaps I should have gather simpler examples to demonstrate the principals first, instead of throwing my students into the guts of a multi-gpu core hardware accelerated video codec, along with all the intricacies of this particular piece of hardware...

Re:Teachable Moment (3, Insightful)

tftp (111690) | about 2 years ago | (#41459275)

Teacher: ... ok and let's now try to see how the video works, pull up the software code.

It is impossible even if the video driver is open source. I spent plenty of time controlling hardware. First, you must have detailed knowledge about specifics of operation of this hardware. It may be hundreds of pages long, with schematic drawings, flow control diagrams, and such. Most of it will be incomprehensible to a novice. It's hard to read even if you are an experienced engineer. Then you must have the code of the driver. Driver is not your garden variety "Hello, World" - it can be written, or just understood, only after the student is already familiar with userspace programming. The trouble is that the driver does not have an identifiable path of execution; it is a collection of subroutines that can be called by different threads, running on different CPU cores, on different IRQLs, and each subroutine does its own special thing. Driver code is cluttered with semaphores, spinlocks, kernel calls (esp. in Windows) and so on. It is very hard to read. Nobody in his right mind would want to teach on that even if both the h/w user's guide and the software sources are available.

There are many good educational projects. In the video department you can build a VGA controller in the FPGA and then you can write a simple application that operates it. Teaching does not mean going into gory details of spinlocks from day zero. But skipping on those on a modern CPU will just cause crashes. Educational assignments have to be carefully constructed so that they teach exactly what is needed, and skip details that are not relevant today. I'm sure when you learned to drive a car it was not done on a NASCAR racetrack in the middle of a race.

hypocrisy: it's an education project (3, Informative)

lkcl (517947) | about 2 years ago | (#41457021)

there are quite a lot of other points made in the original post - mention of patents, mention of cost etc etc - so it is quite easy to miss the key words "black box". focussing on the patents themselves in isolation is missing the point. it's *NOT* about the patents. it's about the fact that the device is a "black box".

so it depends on whether you consider hypocrisy to be important or not. many people do not. what broadcom is really saying is "we support education and learning using our products because it's a good wheeze that makes us money and makes us look good at the same time. but you're not permitted to learn about this, this or this feature: we're keeping that entirely secret. if you want the source code, you can fuck off".

the CPU being used has a rather unique design: the GPU boots up the CPU. the fact that the boot-up sequence is critically dependent on a proprietary blob to which no-one is given access REALLY pisses people off. privacy concerns, education hypocrisy: the works.

Re:hypocrisy: it's an education project (1)

10101001 10101001 (732688) | about 2 years ago | (#41458679)

the CPU being used has a rather unique design: the GPU boots up the CPU. the fact that the boot-up sequence is critically dependent on a proprietary blob to which no-one is given access REALLY pisses people off. privacy concerns, education hypocrisy: the works.

Sounds like a great education opportunity: Clean Room Reverse Engineering 101.

Re:hypocrisy: it's an education project (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41459039)

it's about the fact that the device is a "black box".

No it's not. It's about the fact that some people (such as you) get their knickers in a twist any time they feel their open source fanaticism isn't being catered to.

the CPU being used has a rather unique design: the GPU boots up the CPU. the fact that the boot-up sequence is critically dependent on a proprietary blob to which no-one is given access REALLY pisses people off. privacy concerns, education hypocrisy: the works.

Who cares? I just read up on it and it sounds like the only "blob" which you cannot possibly reverse engineer is the first stage loader in mask ROM. It performs barely any system initialization on its own, it just reads a tiny second stage loader from the SD card, which in turn starts up the SDRAM and loads another loader capable of actually turning the whole system on. Nobody sane worries about this crap. You wouldn't even be bitching if the whole process was in mask ROM, because it would look functionally identical to the hardware magically coming up with no software.

Privacy concerns? Enjoying that tinfoil hat much? Education hypocrisy? What hypocrisy? Kids don't need to know the ultra low level details of how a computer boots to begin learning how to program one. There's nothing hypocritical about saying "here is this cool little thing which makes a great, cheap entry level learning tool" and keeping some of the details private. It's not even appropriate to baptize extremely junior programmers by fire by exposing them directly to the low-level complexity involved in a modern System-on-Chip.

You're just pissed off because you're an open source fanatic. And probably also because the R-Pi gets far more attention than your pet open-source-fundie PCMCIA project ever will.

ho hum (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456171)

Show me some open hardware with comparable price/performance ratio. Something that's actually available and shipping in quantity.

Ford cars bad choice for teaching auto tech... (4, Interesting)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | about 2 years ago | (#41456201)

They're closed source, built in factories that don't allow public tours. The CAD drawings for parts aren't even available to registered Ford mechanics, never mind the consumer or student. Most auto tech classes only teach installation and repair of OEM parts.

There's no way a student can learn adequately about the repair and maintenance of cars while working on Ford products. This is unacceptable.

Re:Ford cars bad choice for teaching auto tech... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456297)

To hell with learning to repair them... nobody should be learning to DRIVE in these cars until they're open source!

Re:Ford cars bad choice for teaching auto tech... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41458141)

I'm fine with my iFord.

Have you Linrolet people figured out how to upgrade the car's kernel without breaking the brakes yet? :P

Re:Ford cars bad choice for teaching auto tech... (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | about 2 years ago | (#41458603)

Have you Linrolet people figured out how to upgrade the car's kernel without breaking the brakes yet? :P

Yes, and once we install yet this other stereo, we'll have enough redundancy to listen to the radio in all possible configurations.

(But, truth must be told. There are entire years that I don't the Linux sound system(s) failing.)

Idealism (2)

Georules (655379) | about 2 years ago | (#41456265)

It's not perfect in achieving it's goals, so it's unsuitable and totally worthless. Let us go on not having any solution at all and twiddle our thumbs waiting for the 100% perfect option which will never happen.

Re:Idealism (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | about 2 years ago | (#41458615)

To be fair, sometimes this is the correct reaction.

Not this time... But some times.

Big Deal (0, Troll)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 2 years ago | (#41456291)

Three weeks after Raspberry Pi was actually released, better bang-for-the-buck boards were already on the market.

Re:Big Deal (2)

bravo_2_0 (892901) | about 2 years ago | (#41456455)

Which ones?

Re:Big Deal (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 2 years ago | (#41456711)

Trying to remember now. Was it Acer, or Asus? One of the two. Just about 3 weeks (if memory serves) after the Pi started shipping. Twice the RAM, much better GPU, ethernet, and only a few dollars more.

Then a week or two later, another one came out. Don't remember what brand. But again, the first one was Acer or Asus. It shouldn't be too hard to find.

Re:Big Deal (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#41457821)

VIA has a product with some very nice specs for $50, and I believe it comes with Android or something. But the shipping is another $35. I can order an android tablet with a display from China with free shipping but VIA wants $35 for a motherboard? Uh no.

If you can point to anything that costs less than let us say $60 delivered (a Raspi is typically $50 delivered, right?) many many people will be very interested because everything is not perfect in Raspiland either and it would be nice to have an alternative. Notably, something which runs Android would be nice. (The Raspi people claim that they have Android running, but since they are remarkably unwilling to make any kind of release, it doesn't really matter if they do or not, does it?)

Re:Big Deal (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 2 years ago | (#41458191)

"VIA has a product with some very nice specs for $50, and I believe it comes with Android or something. But the shipping is another $35. I can order an android tablet with a display from China with free shipping but VIA wants $35 for a motherboard? Uh no."

If so, that's a good point. I only paid attention to the retail, not the shipping.

Re:Big Deal (0)

marcosdumay (620877) | about 2 years ago | (#41458645)

Did they run an open (extensible) OS or were them running some locked down system? (Like Android)

Did they have a GPIO? Was it capable of switching in 8us by Python commands?

Re:Big Deal (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 2 years ago | (#41459033)

Honestly, I don't remember all the details. The first one was Android as I recall, but still solidly better hardware than the Pi.

Frankly, these days, if you have an ARM processor with compatible GPU there is most likely some version of Linux that will run on it. At least that is my impression. If wrong, let me know.

Re:Big Deal (1)

tetrahedrassface (675645) | about 2 years ago | (#41457503)

Here you go. I ordered one through newegg today.

APC Like Jobs and Gates, we believe the PC is one of the most remarkable tools humans have ever created. Great tools improve with time. They don’t go away. [apc.io]

Many common computing tasks, such as number crunching, data storage, and communications have shifted to the Internet. As a result, a very low cost computer – with access to the Internet – can be just as valuable as a much more expensive computer.

APC was born from our love of computers and our realization that the PC needs a fundamental redesign. The redesign that we offer is a computer that is more accessible, and more valuable, because you’re not paying for functions that you don’t need and won’t be using.

Re:Big Deal (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 2 years ago | (#41458213)

Meh. Was it realy APC? Or is that a different one? I was sure it was Acer or Asus. But hey, I never claimed to be infallible. Well, not often anyway.

Re:Big Deal (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456933)

NO, Troll.

Re:Big Deal (1)

jedidiah (1196) | about 2 years ago | (#41457681)

That's just the nature of tech in the modern age.

Anything you buy today is already obsolete.

Someone managed to make that observation in the 80s. Probably thought he was really insightful at the time.

He's nuts (4, Insightful)

jimicus (737525) | about 2 years ago | (#41456295)

Seriously, his only objection is "the hardware itself is closed"?

This is intended to be sold into schools, not top-end engineering facilities. Nobody's going to design the next ARM killer at the age of 15. They're going to be getting the idea of breaking problems down into their component parts and developing structured solutions to them. For which this is perfect.

Re:He's nuts (2)

Thor Ablestar (321949) | about 2 years ago | (#41458873)

The last Soviet computer architecture before ES EVM (IBM-360 clone) epoch was BESM-6, 1-megaflops supercomputer designed by academical institution. The first Russian computer architecture after the ES EVM epoch was KRONOS that has been designed EXACTLY by 4 young Russian hackers. It was a 32-bit computer using a AMD 2900 series slices, giving 1.5 MIPS at 3 MHz. Wikipedia has an article about it.

Re:He's nuts (1)

jimicus (737525) | about 2 years ago | (#41460745)

That was, what, twenty years ago?

You could teach the basics of assembler and possibly even processor design on an ARM quite happily. You certainly **wouldn't** want to teach GPU design, but that's the part that's really closed off.

So what if it's closed? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456327)

a black box tightly sealed with patents and protected by corporations
 
So was my Commodore 64. So fucking what?

Get off if / cry harder (4, Insightful)

WilliamBaughman (1312511) | about 2 years ago | (#41456349)

Bill Gates learned to program [wikipedia.org] on a computer he didn't own though a terminal [wikipedia.org] and look how damaged he is, from that terrible experience. Or not. The point of Raspberry Pi is not to teach children how to build computers, the point is to teach them how to use computers and development scripts, software, and websites, while giving them access to the educational and social benefits of the Internet, inexpensively. Using a binary blob doesn't diminish that.

WTH (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456361)

So i saw This [amzn.to] and couldnt agree more.

Sony (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456391)

Now manufactured in the UK by Sony, in a factory a few miles away from the company audio CDwho coded the rootkit for them.

The Raspberry Pi Is Not Necessarily For Education (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456473)

The Raspberry Pi is an ultra-low-cost embedded system with Linux and an ethernet connection. Why do some people feel a need to tilt at "designed for education!" windmills whenever some cool low-cost high-capability electronics comes along?

Re:The Raspberry Pi Is Not Necessarily For Educati (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41456649)

Um... hello? For the last year the Raspberry Pi foundation has being constantly saying exactly that - designed specifically for education!

Re:The Raspberry Pi Is Not Necessarily For Educati (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457065)

Um... hello? For the last year the Raspberry Pi foundation has being constantly saying exactly that - designed specifically for education!

Hello. I was including the Raspberry Pi foundation itself in the set of "some people". They can design for education all they want, but if the final product is better suited for a million other things, then stop clinging to "Buh whaddabout the chillllldren??!?!" and just use the thing. Surely you can think of some uses for this awesome board that have nothing whatsoever to do with education... can't you?

Similar to the BBC Micro (4, Insightful)

Required Snark (1702878) | about 2 years ago | (#41456509)

The Raspberry Pi is not that different in this regard from the original BBC Micro, Sinclair ZX or Commodore C-64. They were all targeted at novice programmers. The intent was to provide a cheap self contained hardware platform for software development. Just like the Pi. They used a common household TV for the display, just the the Pi. The Pi requires an external power supply, keyboard and possibly a USB hub. For the intended audience that is the only difference.

The quoted article is a troll. It is also whining and elitist. Do we want to encourage programming as a skill, or support a cult of purity? Is a lack of low level open source drivers for the Pi going to have any impact on novices? If you want complete open source platforms, they exist. Just not for $35.

Re:Similar to the BBC Micro (2)

lattyware (934246) | about 2 years ago | (#41456951)

Except hardware really isn't the issue. Schools might not be rolling in computers, but they have some, and most children now have computers at least availible to them at home, if not their own. The BBC Micro tackled the issue of hardware availiblity, which used to be the problem. Now? It's more about getting children to know that programming exists, and show them it's a real option, something they can do and might enjoy.

Now, the Raspberry Pi is cool and a great way to encourage that, as it's an object of interest in itself, but it's not a silver bullet.

Re:Similar to the BBC Micro (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41460601)

The Raspberry Pi is nothing like the old 8bit computers, it's just a Linux machine wrapped around a black box.

FSF (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#41456575)

Where does the FSF endorse the Pi? Do binary blob drivers really fall under the exemption for "auxiliary processors or low-level processors, none of whose software is meant to be installed or changed by the user or by the seller"?

Re:FSF (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41458517)

The FSF does not endorse the Pi (or anything yet AFAICT) ... they just aren't hung up about the processor design being closed/patented for their definition of acceptably open hardware.

Come Now (1)

Wovel (964431) | about 2 years ago | (#41456751)

Please show us a general purpose CPU that is unencumbered by patents. Relatively modern would help too.

Re:Come Now (1)

Wovel (964431) | about 2 years ago | (#41456797)

Before someone mentions OpenSparc, get real. Seriously. You are going to compare the T1000 to a rasberry pi...

Somewhere somebody has to do R&D work (2)

hamster_nz (656572) | about 2 years ago | (#41456855)

And as with any results of R&D work are easier to copy than develop your own from scratch, and so closing of portions of a design is needed to protect investment.

If people want to donate their time they are more than welcome to - if you can design and build an equivalent processor+GPU combo for the same per-chip cost then knock yourself out...

Mike

The main issue is monitors. (1, Redundant)

lattyware (934246) | about 2 years ago | (#41456897)

Over the summer, I talked to a lot of teachers and experts about the raspberry pi and it's rollout in UK schools - everyone said the same thing. It's unsuitable because it doesn't solve any problems. It's not that much cheaper than a PC because most of the cost remains in the monitor. DVI/HDMI monitors are not cheap or abundant, especially in primary schools, where the main issue is. It's not smaller, because a keyboard, mouse and monitor need space.

Re:The main issue is monitors. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457195)

They've all missed the point. It's not a fucking desktop pc.

Re:The main issue is monitors. (1)

lattyware (934246) | about 2 years ago | (#41457269)

What role does it fill then? The only real use I see for it is small integrated projects (not something children will do) and as a cool factor and to give ownership. That's not nothing, but it's not the massive thing the BBC Micro was.

Re:The main issue is monitors. (1)

FromWithin (627720) | about 2 years ago | (#41458019)

The role it fills is:

  1. Plug in.
  2. Switch on.
  3. Learn to program.

Find something else (that came out after the 80s) that makes it as easy to get started in programming.

For the perfect example of what the Pi is intended for, see the games that this 7 year old has made:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIHKM8_F4RA [youtube.com]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwyao6eYW-Y [youtube.com]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usrL4L3-ErI [youtube.com]

Re:The main issue is monitors. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41458381)

Download Python.

Learn to program.

Re:The main issue is monitors. (1)

shilly (142940) | about 2 years ago | (#41460719)

That very nice young boy wrote those games using Scratch. Which is available for MacOS and Windows as well. He could have done the *exact same thing* on another computer. The difference is just price of the hardware. But most families have a computer anyway.

Repurposed Allwinner tablets (5, Interesting)

hackshack (218460) | about 2 years ago | (#41457091)

I started working on an embedded project (hobby, not work) that needed something beefier than an Arduino. Took my time looking at what's out there: various ARM dev boards, the Raspi (with its proprietary Broadcom chip) and one or two other "embeddable" platforms.

Last week, I was working out how to interface to a display (and the grinding that would entail). The same day, Slashdot ran the "hardware is dead" article [slashdot.org] . So, I took a chance and ordered a generic 7" tablet. They aren't kidding - these things are under $60 shipped. That's like 2 days' parking in downtown SF.

It uses the Allwinner A13 SoC (ARM core, integrated 10/100 ethernet, GPL'd kernel sources). Runs Android 4 out of the box, but Debian will also run. I can just hang an Arduino off the USB bus for my custom I/O, and code up a touch-based interface. Shoot, looks like it'll be easier to develop for than the Raspi.

I'm all for hackery for hackery's sake, but now that it's "the future," I'm glad we don't have to lift ourselves up by the bootstraps in order to do every little thing. It lets me concentrate on hackery at the macro level.

Re:Repurposed Allwinner tablets (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41458471)

" me concentrate on hackery at the macro level."

AKA not hacking.

Transputer... (3, Interesting)

burnttoy (754394) | about 2 years ago | (#41457205)

I was at the Multicore Challenge at the UWE in Bristol, UK on Monday.

I went last year. It was fascinating.

Anyhoo... David May was there talking about multicore parallelism. It turns out that the last patent protecting the Transputer designs has lapsed.

SOoooo... if you want some open hardware get cracking! You can probably run them fast enough these days to bit-bang an LVDS/HDMI/CSI interface with little more than an amp.

Make mine the one with the 16 by 16 array please....

Seriously. Anyone got the balls to try it? I'm in!

FFS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41457763)

Don't the /. mods even read what they're posting anymore? This is not worth showing on this site. STFU!

Gooseberry (1)

gtcodave (2581251) | about 2 years ago | (#41458057)

Google gooseberry for alternative

Guy misses the point entirely; openness irrelevant (3, Insightful)

flimflammer (956759) | about 2 years ago | (#41458519)

It doesn't need to be open hardware.

The whole point on the education side is to have cheap computers that schools can use in bulk for teaching kids, not a lesson on open platforms. Not a lesson on building tiny computers. It's designed to be a small linux box that can run/make applications; nothing more. How many other computers in education now are completely open down to the individual chips, eh? Hasn't crippled their use in education yet!

Re:Guy misses the point entirely; openness irrelev (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 2 years ago | (#41459313)

A Raspberry Pi can't compete with older, used PCs for purchase price, performance, expandability, etc.

Re:Guy misses the point entirely; openness irrelev (2)

flimflammer (956759) | about 2 years ago | (#41459669)

Where are schools able to buy identically configured old used computer hardware that is still healthy enough for prolonged student use and small enough that it doesn't take up half the classroom for everyone to have one at $25 a pop, while consuming a fraction of the power usage from traditional machines?

Why would students need expandability for such a learning device?

What performance critical code are students going to be running on the devices that isn't met by what the Pi provides, keeping in mind it can run Quake 3 Arena at 1080p at a modest framerate?

I think your statement is also irrelevant to be honest.

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