The Raspberry Pi is a fully featured computer, and you can do almost anything with it that you can do with a desktop computer. When you switch it on, it has a text prompt, but you can use a graphical windows desktop to start and manage programs.
The Raspberry Pi is at its best, however, when it’s being used to learn how computers work, and how you can create your own programs or electronics projects using them. It comes with Scratch, which enables people of all ages to create their own animations and games, while learning some of the core concepts of computer programming along the way.
It also comes with Python, a professional programming language used by YouTube, Google, and Industrial Light & Magic (the special effects gurus for the Star Wars films), among many others.
It has a General Purpose Input/Output (GPIO) port on it that you can use to connect up your own circuits to the Raspberry Pi, so you can use your Raspberry Pi to control other devices and to receive and interpret signals from them. In Part V, we show you how to build some electronic games controlled by the Raspberry Pi.
Instead of running Windows or Mac OS, the Raspberry Pi uses an operating system called Linux. It’s a leading example of open source, a completely different philosophy to the commercial software industry. Instead of being created within the heavily guarded walls of a company, with its design treated as a trade secret, Linux is built by companies and expert volunteers working together.
Anyone is free to inspect and modify the source code (a bit like the recipe) that makes it work. You don’t have to pay to use Linux, and you’re allowed to share it with other people too. Unless you already use Linux, you won’t be able to run the software you have on your other computers on your Raspberry Pi, but a lot of software for Linux is free of charge.
This is an edited extract taken from Raspberry Pi For Dummies by Sean McManus and Mike Cook, published by Wiley. It is on sale for less than £10 from Amazon.