The Raspberry Pi is a $25/$35 ARM-based system board that is a complete personal computer. It is powered by the same CPU (ARM) used in tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices these days. The ARM architecture offers very good performance and battery life at low price-point.
This is truly a remarkable computer. The low price will allow this computer to be attainable for just about anybody. But because this computer is really affordable doesn’t mean that this computer is only just intended for those people who can’t afford a more powerful computer – anybody could want this computer. There are just about a million uses. How about a media center for your TV? A robotics controller? Learning how to program computers? Home automation?
If you think that the computer might be limited by its specifications, then you certainly have not tried GNU/Linux before. It will run like a beast on this board (especially lightweight desktop environments like Xfce/LXDE). You will be able to play 3d games on this machine, play back HD videos, and create animations using the GPU built into the board. XBMC (a good media center application) has been tested and proven to work excellently on the board, meaning that you could use this tiny little thing as a whole media playback platform for your television (similar devices cost more than 100 dollars and do not nearly have the amount of functionality one of these computers have). With MythTV set up in a client/server configuration with this device acting as the remote thin client hooked up to the tv with a TV server and DVR unit located everywhere, you could access your recorded TV shows from anywhere in the house.
One of the big things driving the team who prototyped, designed and developed the device was to recreate with the release of the device the sort of hacker/hobbyist culture that surrounded computers like the Apple II and Commodore back in the 70s/80s and even the early 90s. These cultures were what got them into computers when they were children themselves, but they are finding that in this day and age of easily available internet and graphical user interfaces we are losing a bit of the magic of actually coding for a computer yourself. Thus, these computers are likely to be used heavily in schools with programming courses, especially seeing as every single student could have their own, because of the price-point. Programming really isn’t that hard once you get started. Perhaps this machine will the be the catalyst for a new generation of programmers and tweakers to get into the field.
The lack of a case and keyboard/mouse/screen has been criticized by many people, but many people already have these things lying around, and if someone doesn’t have an actual computer monitor, then likely the standard definition RGB tv output will allow anybody to use the device (most people have at least a crt tv). If anything, I like the fact that this device doesn’t come loaded down with all sorts of unnecessary things, bringing the price up, and increasing the likelihood that someone will dislike something included with the package. It is a very DIY style kit, and by keeping it bare-bones, people will be able to create all sorts of great electronics using this system as a base. You could even create your own tablet, for example, using a touch screen hooked up to the HDMI port and USB port, and load up android onto your Raspberry Pi (android is compiled for the ARM architecture, so it will run great).
I just can’t wait till everybody who is dying to get their hands on this device can (the launch was a bit underprepared for the demand, I believe). When everybody’s got one of these, then the ideas for uses will pile up, and people will be coming up with new DIY projects all the time. The Open Source revolution has begun, and what a better way to start it – cheap hardware that is immensely capable and powerful open source software.