TechSpot: Interview with Raspberry Pi's Eben Upton

Eben Upton has had an interesting trajectory both as an entrepreneur and academic, founding a couple of startups over the last decade and a half, as well as acting as the Director of Studies in Computer Science at the University of Cambridge.

Now employed at Broadcom as an SoC architect, his latest “on-the-side” venture combines a little bit of each facet and is perhaps its most ambitious yet: reignite programming in schools with a cheap ($25-$35), compact computing platform that kids could buy themselves. But despite targeting students, his foundation's tiny computer has already captured the imaginations of tinkers worldwide.

TS: Do you think going as a non-profit has opened more doors than if you had started a private enterprise?

I don't believe that there was any way that we could have done this as a commercial venture. I mean, you see the number of sales and it's easy to think, “Wow, I wish I could make some profit out of that!”. You're generating all this value and none of it is going to your wallet. But in practice actually it's fantastic.

It's very helpful when you're approaching component suppliers for them to realize that you're not trying to just make a quick buck or load your own pocket, but rather that you are doing this for charity.

That's part of the reason why people have been very understanding and prepared to sell us relatively low quantities of a certain component. We produced 10,000 units of the Raspberry Pi on our first run, which is a tiny number by consumer electronic standards, yet our suppliers were very prepared to deal with us because they knew that we weren't trying to make a quick buck.

To be honest a lot of us who are involved in the foundation have done entrepreneurial stuff before and have had some success, so it's very nice just this once have it not be about making money but rather for doing something good for other people.

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If I'm honest, the RPi has been a bit of a flop really, reminds me of smartphone beta test. Yeah it's generated LOADS of sales which is good, but it still doesn't have a relatively bug-free or stable kernel, the sound drivers are basically non-existant and bugged to hell, and best of all... Hardware accelleration? What's that? I've never seen lxde (on their OFFICIAL debian endorsed release) take a few minutes to resize a window before, just wow. It's got roughly the same spec as an ipod touch yet if you want a GUI web browser, be prepared for system lockups as you literally run out of RAM.

n_K said,
If I'm honest, the RPi has been a bit of a flop really, reminds me of smartphone beta test. Yeah it's generated LOADS of sales which is good, but it still doesn't have a relatively bug-free or stable kernel, the sound drivers are basically non-existant and bugged to hell, and best of all... Hardware accelleration? What's that? I've never seen lxde (on their OFFICIAL debian endorsed release) take a few minutes to resize a window before, just wow. It's got roughly the same spec as an ipod touch yet if you want a GUI web browser, be prepared for system lockups as you literally run out of RAM.

You do realise that the purpose of the Raspberry Pi is to get kids in schools to learn how to program, right? And considering that the educational release isn't scheduled until September, it can't be considered a flop. Every single person buying the device now should be aware that it is very much still early days in terms of software and support. In fact, they're encouraged to help develop the Pi further by reporting bugs, pushing code (if they can) and generally whatever else they can do depending on their skill set.

n_K said,
If I'm honest, the RPi has been a bit of a flop really, reminds me of smartphone beta test. Yeah it's generated LOADS of sales which is good, but it still doesn't have a relatively bug-free or stable kernel, the sound drivers are basically non-existant and bugged to hell, and best of all... Hardware accelleration? What's that? I've never seen lxde (on their OFFICIAL debian endorsed release) take a few minutes to resize a window before, just wow. It's got roughly the same spec as an ipod touch yet if you want a GUI web browser, be prepared for system lockups as you literally run out of RAM.

thats why the retail versions with a case will only be released once it is stable.

n_K said,
If I'm honest, the RPi has been a bit of a flop really, reminds me of smartphone beta test. Yeah it's generated LOADS of sales which is good, but it still doesn't have a relatively bug-free or stable kernel, the sound drivers are basically non-existant and bugged to hell, and best of all... Hardware accelleration? What's that? I've never seen lxde (on their OFFICIAL debian endorsed release) take a few minutes to resize a window before, just wow. It's got roughly the same spec as an ipod touch yet if you want a GUI web browser, be prepared for system lockups as you literally run out of RAM.
Still waiting to get hold of mine... I think there are a ton of projects just waiting to be worked on - the more that are sold, the more software will be written / updated.
Give it a couple of years to bed in before writing it off.

n_K said,
It's got roughly the same spec as an ipod touch yet if you want a GUI web browser, be prepared for system lockups as you literally run out of RAM.

You don't need a gui for programming when you have ncurses and vim, hell you don't even need a gui for watching video in GNU/Linux. It can all be done on the framebuffer without an X session.

And if you do run an X session, it's best to stick to low memory software like fluxbox, mplayer (nogui), elinks | links -g | lynx, mpd / mpc.

The first thing I'm going to do is setup Arch Linux

Edited by simplezz, May 22 2012, 1:39pm :

simplezz said,

You don't need a gui for programming when you have ncurses and vim, hell you don't even need a gui for watching video in GNU/Linux. It can all be done on the framebuffer without an X session.

And if you do run an X session, it's best to stick to low memory software like fluxbox, mplayer (nogui), elinks | links -g | lynx, mpd / mpc.

The first thing I'm going to do is setup Arch Linux


Hence why I said lxde... Had arch with flux box, was worse. After compiling my own kernel and trying out v4l2, the fact it doesn't work was unimprussive. My idea was to have a keypad and poweredge 2650 LCD wired up to the gpio and possibly a card reader and use it for a door entry system but that idea's now out the window.
Almost compiled firefox for it, obviously the pi can't run it but after 5 whole days of fixing errors and compiling the arm-neon private error wouldn't go away so I gave up on that too.
Anyone that uses vim is a headcase... Nano ftw!

n_K said,

Hence why I said lxde... Had arch with flux box, was worse. After compiling my own kernel and trying out v4l2, the fact it doesn't work was unimprussive. My idea was to have a keypad and poweredge 2650 LCD wired up to the gpio and possibly a card reader and use it for a door entry system but that idea's now out the window.
Almost compiled firefox for it, obviously the pi can't run it but after 5 whole days of fixing errors and compiling the arm-neon private error wouldn't go away so I gave up on that too.
Anyone that uses vim is a headcase... Nano ftw!

I think you have been spoilt as a developer, you should try programming for things like the Arduino with 2k memory !!! then bitch about 256mb.

Really these things are ideal to get people back to developing sharp tight code, remember the PS3 runs on 256mb of memory (i think) and lots of routers run Linux on less.

Give it till the end of the year and a lot of cheap box shifters might be worried.

Depicus said,

I think you have been spoilt as a developer, you should try programming for things like the Arduino with 2k memory !!! then bitch about 256mb.

Really these things are ideal to get people back to developing sharp tight code, remember the PS3 runs on 256mb of memory (i think) and lots of routers run Linux on less.

Give it till the end of the year and a lot of cheap box shifters might be worried.


PS3 runs on 512MB RAM, 256MB VRAM and 256MB RAM, RPi runs on 256MB COMBINED which means you can at MOST get 224MB RAM, you get the option of 224MB Main/32MB VRAM, 192MB Main/64MB VRAM and 128MB Main/128MB VRAM.

I used to do stuff with a PIC 16F84A, which is pretty simple. There's a big difference from something advertised as a '16-pin DIL package basic processor' to 'a mini computer'.

Routers don't need much RAM, they only need it for routing tables and rules.. But why would someone buy a RPi to make a router when it's only got one ethernet port? Or why would someone buy a router and try to make it into a robot?

Being honest it is cool when you think about what it is, it's £30. I've got an old arcom merlin SE with an i386 DX processor on it which used to cost a lot, and another arcom board with a 300Mhz ARM chip which also cost a lot, in the hundreds. But does it live up to the high praise they give it? No.