What’s up with Raspberry Pi 2?

I’ve been asked what my take was on the new Raspberry Pi 2, in particular about the newly announced Windows 10 support. The previous versions of the Raspberry Pi have been tremendously successful, and sold close to 5 million units, which is not surprising considering how capable this little board is for only $35. The new iteration is basically a much welcome upgrade of the CPU and memory over the original specifications from three years ago. The rest of the board is unchanged from this summer’s B+ model, which means that almost all accessories, including cases, should work. It’s a little disappointing that the hardware upgrade would be so limited: USB3 and/or SATA would have taken care of the problem that an SD card is not the reliable storage solution that’s needed for write-intensive data acquisition applications. The price is unchanged, however, so it remains one of the most inexpensive boards on the market.

It is so inexpensive in fact that it is often used as a single-use dedicated computer. It’s commonly used as a small fan-less media player for example, thanks to its ability to smoothly stream 1080p video, its full-size HDMI, and its great ports of XBMC (now Kodi).

From the start, I’ve liked the Pi for hardware projects despite its having less rich GPIO than, say, an Arduino, because being a full Linux computer, it can go much farther than *duino boards by running all the languages, software and libraries available for Linux. That means that you can for example give your projects a secure web interface and make them accessible from any web-capable device, all using standard technology. The new board won’t change much for those hardware projects, as the board was already more than sufficiently powerful. It’s for other applications that it will open up lots of new scenarios.

Using a Pi as a desktop computer used to be a little painful: the available web browsers are quite sluggish, and running more than one application simultaneously is challenging. My expectation is that the new board will finally make those applications that were borderline before, finally fluid and more than usable. I’ll use one of the two that I’ve ordered yesterday as a desktop machine for my 7-year-old.

The new processor also opens the door for running OS that were not an option before, such as Android and Windows. I think Android is an intriguing possibility, and I’m looking forward to seeing what applications people come up with. I can see kiosks for examples being powered by Android on the Pi.

The Windows possibility leaves me more perplexed. We don’t know much about the version of Windows 10 that will run on the Pi, but if the Intel Galileo version is any indication, it will be a stripped-down, headless version that will enable you to run Windows code that you deploy to it, and not much else. Having myself no particular trouble with Linux and Python, I don’t find that especially compelling. I can understand the appeal for someone who is exclusively proficient with Microsoft technologies, and doesn’t want to learn, but frankly I don’t see this option being compelling for anyone outside of the Microsoft ecosystem. Admittedly, that’s not exactly a small target, but for me, that’s not a selling point. It’s not as if Mono didn’t already enable one to run C# on the Pi…

Having a full version of Windows would be a different story, because as a desktop OS, Windows is still more compelling for most people than Linux. Unfortunately, even with the bumped-up specs of the new Pi 2, it’s hard to imagine Windows running smoothly. Less power-hungry Linux distributions still look like the best choice for this board. Not that a full Windows seems to be in Microsoft’s plan anyway…

In summary, the new board is a very welcome upgrade for the Raspberry Pi that will enable new applications and will take the community to the next level. The Windows support, however, doesn’t look very compelling at this point: it shows that Microsoft is desperate to get a foot into the maker movement, but does anyone else care, is the question. We’ll see what people come up with, but I wouldn’t expect a large percentage of Raspberry Pis running Windows anytime soon.

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