Talking tech since 2003

Just a matter of years ago we as a generalized society evaluated computers solely based on their hardware specifications.  And while the need for modern and capable computers hasn’t gone away recent years have created an entirely new market for low-end personal computers that sport low specifications and respectively low price-tags.  Combine the influence of the growing “cloud computing” revolution and the side-affects of a slumped economy and we really have had a perfect storm that has led to an emerging market for these machines.  Netbooks and nettops were the “in” thing for quite some time, and more recently Google has been toying with thin-client notebook computers (the now legendary CR-48) that sport nothing but a web browser.

But while these low-end computers (starting at around $200 USD) are fine and dandy for those of us living in well-developed countries the sad reality is that our low-end computers are still entirely out of reach for many lesser-fortunate people living in third-world countries.

But now game developer David Braben (previously responsible for noteworthy games such as Rollercoaster Tycoon) has introduced a new keychain-sized computer that allows users to stay connected and productive; all with a cost of a mere twenty-five US dollars.  Unsurprisingly the specifications of a 700MHz ARM11 processor and 128MB of RAM aren’t anywhere near what we have come to expect as “standard” by any stretch of the imagination.  But when it comes down to it the device, which is expected to ship with a Linux-based operating system, is still capable of working with basic computer tasks (word processing, spreadsheets, light web browsing, etc) and will ultimately give computer access to some people who otherwise would not have access to such technology.

The Rasberry Pi Foundation – the company responsible for producing and distributing the new device – expects to be able to ship the device out in the next twelve or so months and even goes as far as (briefly) mentioning the potential for the device to be connected to a television via a 1080p HDMI output.

Really it’s quite ironic that we’re looking at this computer as a breakthrough of sorts even though the actual performance of the device is era 1995 at best.  Nonetheless I can definitely see a great number of uses for this tiny and cost-effective computer.  Workplaces and businesses that use terminal servers and thin-clients will have a new and lesser-expensive option for hardware, and the device (if beefed up a bit) has an awesome potential to be used in home media centers and consumer-focused hardware.  In the near future I’m sure that we’ll see a handful of innovations stem out of this new product, such as lower-end tablet computers.

But I think the most promising field that I personally would like to see this computer take off in is that of education.  In the United States public schools rarely assign computer-based assignments to students because the school cannot expect that students have access to computers outside (and sometimes even inside) school.  With the low-cost of this new device, schools will be able to hand out low-end computers at the beginning of the school year; ultimately making life easier for teachers and students alike.

And because of the minimal size and power requirements, this device has an unheard of potential to make third-world countries more connected.  And who benefits?  Society.

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