It turns out that the Raspberry Pi is capable of quite a lot. I have had mine for a couple of weeks now and have been exploring what it can do, as well as taking the opportunity to broaden my knowledge (after all it is a device intended for educational use). I have been exploring desktop, server and set top box uses (the latter two I will cover in future posts) for the hardware and it has been a very interesting experience. After using the Debian image for a few days I got frustrated with the old versions of software in the Debian repositories. Don't get me wrong I admire and respect Debian greatly but for cutting edge stuff it can be a challenge. I tried to use a technique known as Apt pinning to enable installation from different branches. This worked and enabled me to do quite a lot, but I felt that maybe it was time to try a different approach so I decided to try out the Arch Linux ARM image.
Yesterday I finally received my Raspberry Pi (model B), a small computer designed for educational use that retails at about the £25 mark. I had had mine on order since March and had been reading a lot about it in that time so was looking forward to getting it. The first thing that strikes you about this device is its size, or rather lack of it. The Pi arrived in a box and a padded envelope and yet still fitted through my letter box! So that was the first computer delivery I've had where I didn't need to wait in or find some delivery office to pick it up from. The second thing that struck me is just how raw this machine is. No case, screen, input device or operating system supplied. You need to find these items for yourself. The device is also designed to be plugged into a TV, which might momentarily give it an 80s retro feel. In a time when manufacturers spend so long on polishing products and interfaces and where devices such as mobiles and tablets are starting to bring computing more into a consumer appliance mode of thinking this is quite a shock. This could prove to be a double edged sword.
It already looks like 2012 will be an exciting year for Internet connected TVs with a multitude of announcements at this years's International CES. One announcement that particularly caught my eye was by Canonical for Ubuntu TV, a version of the popular GNU/Linux based operating systems that will run on TV sets. Running Linux on consumer hardware is of course nothing new, quite a lot of gadgets in the home are Linux based and many people will be using Linux every day without even realising it (a couple of good examples are Samsung TVs and Bluray players and Humax set top boxes but there are many, many others). There is also no shortage of operating systems for Smart TVs. What is interesting about this announcement is the application of the Unity interface to a completely different context - the TV. Canonical have made the source code for Ubuntu TV available so I decided to check it out and take a look for myself.
Something I have been meaning to do for ages is to have a go with a MeeGo image on a Nokia N900. MeeGo is a Linux distribution intended for embedded devices and netbooks. It is the merger of Nokia's Maemo project and Intel's Moblin project and aims to produce a distribution suitable for use on set top boxes, mobile phones, tablets, in-vehicle entertainment systems. It is also backed by The Linux Foundation who are already offering a training course in it. At the end of October MeeGo v1.1 was released which includes an installable image with a user interface for the Nokia N900.
In the 21st century people are surrounded by computers. Mobiles, set top boxes, netbooks, nettops, laptops, even in the car. Back in February 2010 Intel and Nokia decided to merge their Linux efforts, Moblin and Maemo, into a new distribution called Meego. When you go to the Meego site you will see that straight away that they going to design this distribution for all of these devices, making it a very interesting development. On 31st March an announcement was made that some Meego images were available, so I was keen to have a look at it. Unfortunately I managed to build an image but have not got it to run, but I thought I would document what was involved anyway. The documentation and code are actively being worked on so I hope to have a working image soon.
If you are ready to make that move to Linux, but don't know where to start, the Open University's new ten week short course Linux: An Introduction might have caught your eye. First though, a bit of disclosure, my day job is with the Open University (but don't take my views and comments as representing them) and I'm an open source enthusiast. I met up with Andrew Smith of the Maths, Computers and Technology Faculty, who is the academic behind the course, to find out more. I had many questions for him, including some from colleagues and those of you who follow me on Twitter.
I am a huge music fan, I'll listen to all sorts of music ranging from the pop to opera and this is my experience of Spotify, a service that truly is a “game changer” meaning you can listen to virtually any music you like without having to go buy a download or a CD. I've been a Spotify user for quite a while and am now a premium (subscription) customer. There is one snag though, I am also an Ubuntu user, a platform not supported officially by Spotify. Despite this, it is possible to get Spotify up and running on Ubuntu and a few mobile devices. This is my experience so far of using Spotify.
Just before Christmas I had a delivery of a large mysterious black box. There was no obvious way to open it, on the top was engraved “Nokia – connecting people” and on the front a mini usb socket. Also packaged was a USB lead and a card telling me that this was a Nokia “hackerbox” and telling me a web site to visit for clues on how to open it. I managed to connect up the box to my computer and got a terminal session going to “log in” to the box, admittedly I used Google to find out how to get in (as I am not very good at puzzles!). Dramatically, when the right command was issued, the top of the box popped open and a puff of smoke emerged. Inside was a the Nokia N900, a Linux powered mobile phone, accessories, a plastic fox and a nice bit of cake.
Our relationship with the mobile phone is changing, and it is not just the high end phones that show evidence of this. The Sony Ericsson T715 is a new mid range phone available on 3 that comes preloaded with lots of features that will enable you to enjoy the web on the move, including built in Twitter and Facebook clients. You can also make calls and write texts on the phone, but that isn't very interesting; what is more interesting is that this is a great phone if you are into the "constant checking culture" now thought by 3 to be driving mobile broadband usage. Thanks to the kind folk at 3MobileBuzz I was able to try this phone out and see what it has to offer.
This week I have been lucky enough to be one of the first people in the UK to have a play with a product that 3 are bringing out today (Friday 18th September): the MiFi. What on earth is a "MiFi" you might ask? It is a small device that combines a mobile broadband modem, a WiFi router and a battery. You can easily carry it around with you, and connecting to it is no more complicated than connecting to any other WiFi hotspot. Up to five devices can be connected to it, you won't need any extra drivers or configuration packages and yes it works on Ubuntu. You can also connect devices to it that can't use a mobile broadband dongle, like iPod Touches and Internet radio devices and locked down corporate laptops that you can't install software on to. I was invited to an event in London on Monday by the folk at 3MobileBuzz and got to find out about the device, as well as be loaned one to try it out.