Geek that I am, it was probably inevitable that sooner or later I was going to invest in a Raspberry Pi, the little Linux-based computer that can … well, sort of. The latest iteration of the device, the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, regarded as a step change in the series, packs a 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU with 1GB RAM that runs a series of tailored versions of Linux (as well as at least one specially modified fork of Windows 10), four USB ports, a full HDMI port which drives monitors at proper resolutions, an Ethernet port, and a combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video. All on a credit-card footprint form factor that retails for as little as $35.
The Raspberry has established a loyal following in education, where it provides a basis for classes worldwide to learn the basics of programming, and among hobbyists and fans looking for a portable PC backup. So why do I now have reservations about it? Well, it’s mostly because of how other technology has moved on around it.
For one thing – and this could all be down to my own crap skillz – I can’t find a browser or Linux variant (yet) that enables a full range of web-based services, especially Google Drive and Google Docs, which I use daily. Evernote? Doesn’t work on the Epiphany browser bundled with the basic Raspbian version of Debian that is touted as the OS of choice for the Raspberry. Google Docs just works, but with painfully slow load times. And yes, LibreOffice will run on the Raspberry, but so much of my productivity – and everyone else’s – is web-based these days that a device which doesn’t offer immediate access to these solutions is terminally crocked, IMHO. This isn’t a Linux problem per se – my other Linux devices were/are fine with it. Rather, it seems specifically an issue with the Raspberry and the Raspian OS.
Perhaps things will sort out when I manage to load a different OS onto the Raspberry’s microSD card – though the signs aren’t good. Meantime, though, there are so many other cost-competitive solutions now on the market that offer compelling performance and a better user experience. As Chris Meadows points out, we now have the Asus VivoStick, which offers a full Windows 10 package with almost laptop-quality hardware for only $130, on a neatly portable stick. And Android-on-a-stick devices offer access to the Google Play Store apps library and a smooth issue-free OS for even less. Some variants even allow you to run Linux.
I appreciate that this may be a software/OS problem rather than an issue with the still-compelling Raspberry hardware. But the loyal Raspberry fanbase had better sort it out soon. Otherwise the value case just isn’t going to be there any more.
(And if any Raspberry fans want to put me right on this and explain what I can do to fix my issues, please do – I want to like the device, and even more, I want to use it.)