The Value of Pi

The real potential of Mini PCs for the future

The sudden popularity of mini-board systems like Raspberry Pi have brought back the pioneering spirit of Linux' early days. But will it bring a much-needed resurgence in programming and development?

I have yet to get a Raspberry Pi unit for myself, nor do I think I will get one anytime soon. For one, I already have a nice mobile Linux laptop, currently running Ubuntu 12.04, so my Linux needs are quite well handled by that.

Then there's the sad fact that I have never taught myself how to code. I'm one of those perpetual dunces who can read code and sort of kind of figure out what's going on, but am completely ignorant on how to create such projects.

But as a technically minded person (read: geek) I can definitely appreciate the notion of something like the Raspberry Pi, the $25 credit-card sized ARM computer that runs Linux and is taking the do-it-yourself sector by storm.

And it's not alone anymore; new devices such as the Cotton Candy, Mele A1000, MK802, , and Mini X are part of this growing family of "mini PCs."

I am of two thoughts about this new class of device. First, the obvious ain't-it-cool feeling one gets when Linux provides the underlying OS technology for yet another class of computing technology.

Second is that little nervous voice that always pops up and whispers doubts about Linux being too much for too many purposes and ultimately diluting Linux as whole.

This is, admittedly, a small thing to worry about, and in this case, I believe it's unwarranted. In the US, the lack of computing skills being taught at a young age means that we may be facing a serious talent gap for application development ahead. We already have a talent gap in big-data-level data analysis, so its not beyond the realm of possibility that such a gap in programing is coming down the road.

This is not a good thing, and not for the usual geopolitical arguments that decry the US falling behind one nation or another. That's a valid argument, but even as a self-contained society, do we want the management of our information and content purely in the hands of select few coding wizards?

In a way, the decline of programming literacy mirrors the decline of literacy after the fall of the Roman Empire… and we all know what happened then. The centralization of control of our data may be little different to our society as the centralization of the written word by the clergy and the very wealthy in the Middle Ages.

This is the real value of the Raspberry Pi and devices like it. If used to teach and expand programming knowledge, the mini PC form factor can be like the Gutenberg Press was to the Dark Ages: a light to shine away the darkness of programming illiteracy.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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