Raspberry Pi review

Gareth Halfacree finds out whether the £29 credit-card sized board with a 700MHz CPU and 256MB RAM can be used as an everyday PC.

Software

Software is the Pi's Achilles heel as expected because the first boards are only just being shipped to customers, and previous beta boards have been in short supply. As a result, the software available for the Pi is far from mature.

The default Debian remix designed specifically for the Pi and recommended by the Foundation is a prime example. It's perfectly usable, but the fact it ships without hardware accelerated video makes it awkward to use for web browsing, while the lack of working ALSA drivers in the current build can make audio software a pain too.

Raspberry Pi - desktop

The Pi is able to run a GUI and software improvements are expected to enhance functionality

Other distributions are in an even more perilous state: the Fedora Remix is visually better than the Debian distro, but is incredibly slow. Installing the Lynx terminal-based web browser under Fedora took over six minutes on the Pi, compared to under a minute using Debian.

Even assuming the distribution itself isn't causing problems, a surprising amount of software has yet to be ported to the Pi's ARM11 instruction set architecture. At present, it's impossible to view Flash content, the only version of Firefox available is the archaic 3.6.3 version, and getting Java to work is an exercise in futility.

As increasing numbers of developers and hackers get their hands on the boards, this will change. Oracle is being drafted in to create a Pi-centric Java VM and Adobe is rumoured to be looking into the possibility of porting an existing ARM build of its Flash Player to the Pi.

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