At around the age of six, my parents gifted me with a Toshiba T4500C. It was not my first experience with a computer: we had a Windows 95 box that I had so disturbingly racked up countless hours of Doom, DeathDrome and HOVER! on at the age of four. But, what it was, was the first personal machine I had. It was my laptop, and I was free to do what I wanted with it.
This amazing machine had some decent specs for its day, circa, 1993. A 20Mhz processor, an 80 or 120MB drive (I had the 80MB) and an 8.4″ LCD display. I remember I had DOS 6.22 with Windows for Workgroups 3.11 on it. DriveSpace let me get an extra 20MB out of my hard drive, though I can’t say I ever went near the limits of the then monsterous 80MB capacity. What did I do with this machine? In all honesty, spent a lot of time playing Lemmings and messing around.
But it taught me a few things.
Apostrophes? > /dev/null
Having my own machine meant I could mess with it. My initial learning of the inner workings of a computer was formed from the breaking and subsequent attempts at fixing problems. This taught me a few things, but more importantly it sparked an interest in computers, that not only continues, but thrives, to this day.
And that’s where the Raspberry Pi comes in. Not everyone would have this opportunity, and yet, with the introduction of this new device, we get closer to such a possibility. Everyone should have a chance to have their own machine to mess around with, whether they just want to Facebook with it (or play Fun School), or want to learn a new language such as Python. I was lucky to have my own machine. I know I wouldn’t have been able to mess around breaking and fixing stuff on the family machine. The stuff I learnt was pretty basic, but nonetheless, it sparked curiosity. Stupid things, like how you could automate the DOS 6.22 > Win 3.11 bootup by adding “C:\Windows\win.exe” to autoexec.bat. DOS helped me learn the command line, instead of being tied into a UI. From an early age of six I could use fdisk, cd, deltree, and even say Hi to myself at bootup with echo. This machine was my childhood.
And the Pi will be someone else’s childhood. A Linux distribution will teach them some useful CLI skills, and bring curiosity and intrigue to people. It really will, and more so than DOS and Windows ever did for me as a kid. The problem now is this reliance on the ‘automagic’ concept. Great when something works, but it is essential to know how, because sooner or later, you, the user, will have to fix something. This new device will allow people to explore things they wouldn’t have done so before, be it for fear of breaking the ‘main computer’ in the house, or the fact that they simply don’t have access to one. This puts a computer in kids hands for £22. That’s pretty damn good.
And that’s why the Pi will be someone else’s introduction to the world of Computing. But not mine.
My Toshiba died on me in 2002 if memory serves, the screen just stayed white when turning it on, and there was no longer any VGA output to any external monitors I connected. I cut my losses and moved on. By this point in time I had my own desktop, but I liked to fire it up occasionally to see the Windows 3.1.1 splash screen. It brought back brilliant memories.
I fired it up. One last time, to hear the whirring noise I’d been so greatly accustomed to back in its day.
I’m getting old.