Once you have it up and running, and plugged into your display of choice, it's time to start running through the demos on the Demo SD card. The card we were shipped came with Debian Squeeze with an LXDE topping, featuring desktop scripted links to basic apps (AbiWord), programming environments (python games, turtle and Scratch), media box tools (XBMC), graphics demos in Qt, and games (Quake III). Depending on what you're looking to do in a particular session you may need to restart the Rπ with a different memory split; the scripts handle it for you.
The obligatory weather widgets report the doom and gloom that is British summertime
And the demos are pretty good. Given the right box, appropriate external storage, and suitably encoded files, XBMC running on an Rπ would give an AppleTV a run for its money. The Qt graphics demos are fun in a visualiser sort of way, and Quake III... well if I hadn't had two under-tens hanging over my shoulder at the time I probably would have spent a good hour or two improving my frag stats.
At $25 (or £29) the Rπ is an absolutely astounding piece of kit; at delivering content and games. Graphics-wise, it supports h.264 and OpenGL ES 2.0, and is on a par with the original X-Box, with various claimants putting it more 300 per cent ahead of an iPhone 4 in terms of raw power.
In day-to-day use though, is it a PC replacement? Nope, probably not. The main killer is more the 256MB limit, than the clockspeed. It's fine for word-processing, and a little spreadsheet-ing, but as a thin client, it struggled to deal with the bulk of modern web-app sites – webmail, Dropbox, Stackoverflow and the like – and was prone to hanging when switching between browser windows. This may be down to the current lack of hardware graphics acceleration – which may be addressed in due course.
Lest we forget that price is not the only benefit that the Rπ brings: there's the open source software. Yes it's a double-edged benefit - some may see an unfamiliar interface and linux-bigotry, but for the target market, education, it's clearly a win on a number of counts.
The software is free, there's an existing community, and more stuff will get ported to it over time – rumours about Oracle porting a JAVA VM persist, and there's already ARM versions of Flash out there. If Debian and LXDE aren't your cup of tea, other flavours of Linux are available, and if being tarred with the Linux brush is a step too far, other OSes may be in the pipeline. RISC OS, which has a strong following in education, has already been seen in the wild.
Next page: Firm Foundation?
Re: Linux computer?
It runs an ARM11 chip, which (confusingly) uses the ARMv6 instruction set, as opposed to the ARMv7 more commonly found in your garden variety smartphone, so support for the chips isn't that widespread. In theory it'll run any OS you can compile to run on ARM11, but you'll quickly find that that list of OSes quickly degenerates to just Linux, and once you start considering usability that list degenerates even quicker to pretty much just Debian (for now, anyway). It's quite a step from common arm chips and a far cry from your typical x86 beast, so whatever OS you want needs to be one that is supported by a broad community of active and talented developers.
Aside from Linux, RISC OS is the one that's already been mentioned, and you should have no bother running Android on the thing, but after that you're out of luck. There'll be no chance of Windows on Arm because the RPF aren't a windows partner (plus MS aren't selling licenses to end users, just OEMs per device). But really, it begs the question, given the nature of the device; a low cost, educational/hobbyist PC/embedded electronics platform, why would you want to run anything but linux on it?
And another thing...
It's pretty disappointing that a lot of comments on El Reg about the RPi show that the spirit of doing something for and by yourself - even thinking - is so degraded, while the expectation to get things handed out on plates is strong. The fact that the Pi /can/ be used as a desktop PC is amazing, not that is /should/ be used as such.
Myself, I'm planning to use them as cheap experiment platforms for a rural wireless grid, where low power is crucial (no mains on the top of a mountain) and the ability to add local intelligence to a node should be good. For example, a local node can provide a little web server that has localised info to its won area without needing to use backhaul bandwidth, remote cameras or weather stations can be set up, nodes can be used as points in e-orienteering - all kinds of things are possible. But, and this is what the "I want it on a plate" brigade will miss, we'll have to think of the ideas and make them work all by ourselves, something the Pi makes possible. We may fail, but we'll have fun finding out. And I'd rather fail having spent £30 than £300 or £3000.
Not sure how developing something like the above using something like a Pi as ONE component, albeit a crucial one, squares with commentard 1's assumption of lock-in though. If I've done 95% of the work myself, I doubt I'l lock myself in.
Come on guys, I've still got some popcorn left.
I know it's ridiculous. I would have thought 640K ought to be enough for anyone.
Re: too much of a salesman
Considering the fact you bought a netbook to run 1080p video you're probably too dumb to bother with this device anyway. If you think all it's good for is embedded electronics you're just plain silly.