[lead]Part 1: A Raspberry Pi On Every Desk [/lead]
This post is the first in a series dedicated to highlighting examples of new ways to reshape the workplace, both for businesses and governments, by encouraging practices designed to benefit employees and customers while protecting the environment and making/saving money.
The Raspberry Pi, developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in 2011, was developed to help teach basic coding and computing skills to school children. The size of a credit card, or a small block of cheese, the Pi costs just $35 each, and hundreds of thousands have been produced since it’s inception. No longer does a user need to spend large sums of money on computing when all they need to do is plug their Pi into their television, insert an SD card loaded with a free operating system, and turn it on. Blog posts abound of examples, and step-by-step how-to tutorials of Raspberry Pi’s being used as media players, sound mixers, graphic design engines, and wireless hotspots.
Fortunately, the Raspberry Pi is only the beginning of a new trend of simpler, cheaper computing solutions. This trend stems from the issue of increasingly rising IT costs for businesses, governments, and users that forces monolithic solutions upon everyone. Expenditure of large sums of money in order to use the tools & services that conventional IT provides is now almost required, with even ubiquitous tasks like word processing requiring expensive, license-laden software that frowns upon user creativity. And once the hardware is no longer needed, it either sits in warehouses or storage rooms for months/years at a time, or ends up in a landfill, with the toxic contents of its precious metals ending up in the soil, or worse, the groundwater. The makers of Raspberry Pi don’t agree with this approach, and others are following in their footsteps. Arduino, Kano, and Intel’s Compute Stick are just some of the examples of how computing has gotten smaller & cheaper, stayed powerful, and encourages customization. And when these boards have outlived their usefulness, or an unfortunate accident renders them inoperable, they are not only cheap to replace, but dropping them off at your local Best Buy or county recycling center for disposal is a simple option that requires little effort.
But what if this new trend of simpler, cheaper computing solutions were applied to businesses? Or governing? If a Raspberry Pi can be used as an MP3 player, then it could easily be adapted to use as word processors and financial trackers, right? The truth is, when you combine cost and customization with a computer like Raspberry Pi, you get a unique solution for carrying out simple tasks easily and with minimal cost. Such a solution puts the desktop computer into perspective, which looks increasingly like using a bazooka for pest control – sure, it gets the job done, but it’s gross overkill. We don’t need to be tied down by software that is governed by burdensome licenses, hardware that is both bulky and hard to dispose of responsibly, network wiring that is measured in miles rather than feet, and electrical loads that add to our bills and carbon footprint. Instead, with new technologies like the Pi, the opportunity exists to fundamentally change the workplace AND the workstation, reducing costs and increasing functionality at the same time.
Imagine, for a moment, a workplace in this new environment, either in a business, or a government office:
- The generic laptop or desktop has been replaced by a Raspberry Pi, which is connected to a USB hub that sports several dongles connecting to the wireless keyboard, the wireless mouse, and even the office WiFi.
- The operating system of the Pi is a slimmed-down version of Debian Linux, a free and open source (FOSS) operating which runs on a 32GB SD card plugged into a socket on the side of the board.
- Since the Pi doesn’t work with traditional computer monitors, the desk sports a TV instead, offering more options for connectivity.
- For word processing, the user has downloaded and installed LibreOffice, an open-source office suite similar to the tools of Microsoft Office, but free.
- Instead of storing documents & projects to the SD card, the user takes advantage of free and cheap resources like Google Docs, Evernote, and Dropbox. But just in case, the user has a 64GB USB stick for local storage, just in case they have files that are too large to move between users and they need to share them quickly.
- The user’s board is enclosed in a custom-designed 3D-printed case for protection. The case can be almost any color, and even sport virtually any logo, whether it be of the user’s favorite band or the company they work for. This will be the topic of a later blog post.
- The mobile nature of the workstation made it possible for the user to write a customized music streaming program while at home, and bring it in on flash media when it’s done. Now they can stream music from their 2TB hard drive, which is also plugged into the USB hub.
- An electronics recycling bin is set up near the garbage can so that any hardware that is no longer usable can be easily discarded, after which it would be taken to a local recycling facility.
In theory, the investment needed for just one user to do their job in this scenario is a fraction of what it traditionally would cost, both in real dollars and environmental impact. Businesses can bootstrap themselves more easily to fund critical infrastructure, while at the same time funneling precious capital into the products that will ultimately grow their market share. Governments – local, state, and federal – can even perform their jobs cheaper than before, reducing costs for the taxpayer. It’s an unconventional strategy to do conventional tasks, while even introducing small amounts of creativity, initiative, and environmental awareness into the process. Today’s world is a digital one, and you can’t survive playing an analog game; you’ve got to adapt or be swept into the dustbin along with Radio Shack, 8-tracks, and Betamax. Reducing IT costs, while creating an environment for customization, is a step in the right direction.