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Wednesday, 26 September 2012 15:09

Open Sourcer miffed by Raspberry Pi

Written by Nick Farrell

RaspberryPi Logo

Purify education from proprietary hardware

There are moments when Open Source religion gets in the way of a jolly good thing. Raspberry released a cut price computer with Linux on board to help kids learn programming. What could be wrong with that?

Everything, according to Peter Zotov, who is a noted Open Source developer. Writing in White Quark, Zotov damns the Pi for not obeying the rules of true Open Source and therefore ruling it out for education purposes.

He said that kids will not understand the reality of computing because the Pi is “a black box tightly sealed with patents and protected by corporations. It isn’t even remotely an open platform,” he wails. Apparently kids can only learn programming if everything is completely open source, true and pure as God, or Richard Stallman, intended.

He said that the Pi is based on the ARM chip, which apparently has closed documentation. It seems every kid in school needs to read documentation to write code and keep track of their pencils. “ARM includes extensions for running Java applications codenamed Jazelle, and the lack of documentation for these extensions prevents any open-source Java VMs from using them and also gives ARM absolute control over the market of JVMs used on ARM processors,” you can hear the spit hitting the back of the room.

Zotov thinks that they should be using OpenSPARC or OpenRISC chips, even if these would make the cost of the project stupid. At least they would be “pure.” Zotov also mutters about the PI's Broadcom based technology and GPU which can only work with a closed source firmware.

Strangely Zotov does not think he is an Open Source idealist. “I can understand and, to some degree, accept the business goals which led to inclusion of a patented CPU and closed-source drivers and firmware in my smartphone. In fact, I don’t care about patents, and vast majority of people don’t care about openness of drivers,” he said. Wait for the but....

“But the Raspberry Pi is not about business, and for educational means an open system is a thousand times better than a fast system. The Pi is often compared to BBC Micro; the latter was an excellent device for students, but it was slow even if compared with other computers of those days.

He claims the whole thing is because of the “sweet supply” deal that the PI has with  Broadcom and its director works for Broadcom. Even if they deny it, the whole Raspberry Pi community has promoted the Broadcom brand quite a bit.

Funny, because I have been writing about the Pi for a while and this was the first time that the Broadcom connection has been mentioned. We guess you have to be really looking for it, which is something that only a pure open sourcer would do.  

Zotov said that before writing this off as another conspiracy theory, we should take a look at the sister site of Pi Foundation. That’s right, instead of promoting free, open and royalty-free standards like WebM, the Foundation sells licenses for two proprietary and obsolete video encoders.

Also, if you want the Foundation to send more documentation to you, they require you to provide a business model. This has nothing to do with education and everything with marketing.

So there you go. You get an affordable hobby computer out that encourages kids to tinker and you manage to offend someone. Of course Zotov thinks that instead of the Pi we should be using Beagleboards which are a lot more expensive. But at least they are pure. It must be nice to think that anything can be truly pure.


Nick Farrell

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