The Raspberry Pi has been likened to Acorn's BBC Micro, but will it produce the next generation of British programmers just as its predecessor did in the 80s?

Mention the Raspberry Pi to any technophobe and they’ll probably lick their lips and curse their sweet tooth before searching the room for a dessert. The mere mention of it to any technologically-minded member of the public or web developer however, will certainly get a lick of the lips but for very different reasons. Look closely and you may well see a twinkle in their eyes as they remember their days learning the art of programming in the 80s with Acorn’s BBC Micro.

That is of course the inspiration for the Raspberry Pi and the low-cost computer was created by academics and stalwarts of the UK tech industry in a bid to educate the next generation of programmers, just as its predecessor produced by Acorn did in the 1980s. But how will this credit card-sized gadget teach our children how to write code and just what does it offer the schoolchild with £22 burning a hole in their pocket?

Order one of these mini marvels and you’ll receive it uncased and without a keyboard or monitor but for the price, what do you expect? What has really got teachers and IT professionals excited is the potential for its use in educating the next generation of software architects, systems developers and network analysts.

After its launch, one supplier’s site crashed due to high demand and its emphasis on teaching not just how to use a computer but how to produce the applications and commands that come to life behind the monitor has obviously touched a nerve with British techies.

The first model on sale is the £22 version but a cheaper model at the ridiculously reasonable price of £16 will appear later on this year. Affordability is a big part of what the Raspberry Pi team is trying to do and although the price is small, the benefits and features belie the initial outlay.

The Pi runs on an open-source operating system Linux and Iceweasel, Python, Debian GNU/Linux and Calligria Suite are all bundled with your initial purchase. Also, the GPU is now available via binary blobs and the Linux drivers are closed source. Since February, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has offered a proof of concept SD Card image that will enable any budding programmer to load it onto and SD Card in a bid to produce a preliminary, bare bones operating system. It’s the perfect head start for Pi enthusiasts, based on Debian 6.0 (Squeeze) and boasting the LXDE desktop, Midori browser and a host of other programming tools to get young minds racing. But that’s not all – to top it off the image can also do the job on QEMU so the Raspberry Pi can be emulated on other platforms, meaning the possibilities really are endless. With the addition of Raspberry Pi Fedora this month (the Pi’s recommended Linux distro) and the Foundation’s plans to produce an app store website in order to enable young Pi enthusiasts to exchange programs, it looks like the Pi’s future is bright.

As far as the basics go, all you need to do is hook your Raspberry Pi up to your average computer monitor, use the additional ports provided to attach a mouse, keyboard and any other peripherals you wish to add and you’re away! The Ethernet port also means that the device can access high-speed Internet connections so there’s likely to be a growing community based around this little piece of kit.

The Pi’s burgeoning reputation and phenomenal popularity suggests that the likes of the BBC Micro and other stripped-down computers are not hobbies of the past but very much an endeavour for the bright young things of today. Who knows, in 15 or 20 years we may well see the fruits of the Raspberry Pi.