IntroductionOne Christmas in the mid 1980s when I was 10 or 11 years old my parent's bought me the best gift I have ever received.
My parents know nothing about computing or technology so they would never have come up with the gift if they hadn't asked "What would you like for Christmas this year?"
The gift I received was the Sinclair Spectrum +2. My cousin Ian had a 48k Spectrum with rubber keys and we had spent an inordinate number of hours playing games like Matchday and Grand Prix Simulator.
The Sinclair Spectrum was a great games machine at the time and even though the games lacked sound quality and graphical ability they more than made up for this with playability.
The thing is though the Spectrum wasn't just about playing games. The Sinclair Spectrum gave budding young programmers the ability to write their own games and applications.
I learned a lot by copying reams of code from the middle pages of Sinclair User and I believe that the Sinclair Spectrum is responsible for making me a decent programmer (not spectacular, but very competent) today.
The Raspberry PI
At this point you might be wondering what is the point? A low end tablet comes with similar memory, running Android for around £150. A decent netbook is available for around £200 and will come with a lot more power and even a fairly mediocre laptop has more power at not much more than £250.
To answer this question you have to understand the demographic the Raspberry PI is mainly targeting.
If I was an 11 year old today where is my Sinclair Spectrum?
Using a tablet it is entirely likely that I will learn nothing. A tablet is a great entertainment device for watching videos and listening to music, for browsing the web and playing novelty games.
Netbooks and laptops are perfectly fine for learning basic programming and to mess around with but herein lies a problem. If little Johnny wants to try Linux out for the first time it is likely his parents will tell him not to bother because if it all goes wrong then they might not know how to fix the issue and that means getting PC World to fix the computer. £200+ is a lot of money to be turned into a door stop by an experiment attempted by an eager 11 year old.
Lets face it, it is more than likely that an 11 year old will screw up and may need help along the way. Do you want that 11 year old experimenting on a £400 laptop or on a computer that costs £35?
The other peripherals will still work even if little Johnny accidentally steps on the Raspberry PI rendering it useless. Another £35 and little Johnny is ready to go again.
The great thing about the Raspberry PI is that even if little Johnny messes up the operating system it is just one format of a memory card from being back to its original state.
The Raspberry PI is the Sinclair Spectrum of the 21st Century giving another generation of budding computer enthusiasts and potential programmers the chance to experiment without their parents looking over their shoulders for fear of their child rendering the family laptop useless, losing all the precious photos and the presentation that dad spent days writing.
£35. That is a real bargain. That is less than the average hourly rate of good programmers.
The 512mb of memory should not be seen as a drawback either. It should be seen as a plus point. The Sinclair Spectrum that I was given boasted 128k of memory and that was huge compared with the 16k and 48k models that came before it.
When you have less resources to deal with you learn to manage it better, you learn better programming techniques and you learn to work within the boundaries that you have been given.