Happy Birthday, Raspberry Pi

March 6, 2013

I’ve posted here several times before about the Raspberry Pi single-board Linux computer, developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. This past Friday, March 1, marked the one-year anniversary of the market introduction of the Pi.  (OK, if you want to be picky, it went on sale on February 29.)  Sales of the diminutive computer have greatly exceeded anyone’s expectations, with more than one million units sold in the first year.  As Liz writes on the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s blog,

It’s been a crazy, wonderful year, and usually I’d have a lot to say about it. We never thought we’d find ourselves in the position we’re in today, with a million Pis sold, a sprawling community, real evidence that kids are picking the Pi up and learning with it, and new friends from all over the world.

But you hear from me all the time. So for today’s post I’ve asked members of the Pi family to share a few words with us about the way this year has looked to them instead.

The Raspberry Pi computer ships without an operating system installed; the customer needs to download an OS and store it on an SD memory card in order to make effective use of the device.  When the Pi was first introduced, the recommended OS was a version of the  Fedora Linux system.  That has now been supplanted by Raspbian Linux, a derivative of the highly-regarded Debian distribution. (A version of Arch Linux and a port of RISC OS are also available for the Pi.)

Raspbian is an impressive accomplishment, not least because the work was done, almost entirely, by two people: Mike Thompson and Peter Green.  Getting a suitable distribution built was a bit tricky.  The Raspberry Pi uses an ARMv6 procesor.  Debian has a port to the ARM architecture, but it is for a later version of the processor, the ARMv7.  In order to use the floating-point arithmetic hardware in the Pi’s processor, Thompson and Green had to rebuild ~19,000 packages, using an ARM cluster built in Thompson’s basement.  (There were also ~17,000 non-executable packages that did not need porting: help files, fonts, and man pages, for example.)  The full story of the Raspbian port is given in an article at Ars Technica.

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