Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Oxford Raspberry Jam meetup 3

    So last night a bunch of us made our way down to Electrocomponents HQ again  for Oxford Raspberry Jam meetup number 3. As before, a fairly informal show-n-tell format with plenty of scope for discussion, and a lively exchange of ideas.
The serial terminal in action
    It was noticeable that people are starting to get to grips with the Pi's hardware. Our previous meeting has featured limited hardware demonstrations, but this time people had brought complete projects to show us. A serial display from a POS terminal, a Pi used as a network client for an audio industry control standard, and a very neat little serial terminal using an Atmel processor and destined to become a commercial product that can fit in the top of a Pi case.
    It was also encouraging to see a discussion of the Pi's application in education. How to capture the excitement of a huge bunch of kids when you only have a lunch hour to do it in. I realised at that point that I must have been an unusually geeky teen, having saved up my 30 quid for a second hand ZX81 I needed no such encouragement to get stuck in.
RiscOS blowing raspberries.
    On the software front we had a demonstration of the latest RiscOS build. Looking very slick, but with the intriguing promise of more to come as GPU support is included. I was a willing convert to RiscOS on my Pi because of its speed and ease of use, so I am especially looking forward to what the Pi and RiscOS community can achieve in porting more up-to-date software to the platform.
    I brought along two demonstrations to the meeting. The first was a shameless use of the Pi as an appliance, a DarkELEC image. This is an OpenELEC fork that includes all the clients for UK TV-on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer and 4OD. It's an impressive distribution in that it delivers very good performance from the Pi, and a stunning picture on the Electrocomponents meeting room TV. I must have made copies of the SD card for most people in the room.
    DarkELEC might seem a frivolous use of the Pi to some, but I think such appliance distributions are important. They mean more Pis will be used rather than lie forgotten on experimenters desks, and they provide a handle to gain the interest of young people in their Pi, making it more than just a geeky toy.
Yes, that's Internet Explorer 3. Best viewed in...
    My other demonstration was at the same time a joke and a serious demonstration of the Pi's capability. I ran Windows 95 in a Bochs virtual x86 machine over Debian on my Pi. And it was just about usable, despite no effort having gone in to tuning the Bochs setup. I can think of no practical application for Windows 95 on a Pi, but it is not impossible that perhaps someone might have to run a piece of legacy DOS software somewhere and might find Bochs a useful means to do it.
    Anyway, a few tech details. Bochs is in the Debian repository, so a simple apt-get installed it. I installed Windows 95 from the CD that came with a laptop in the '90s to a 100Mb Bochs hard disk image on my desktop PC and transferred it to the Pi on a USB disk. The Pi has no CD-ROM drive and I didn't fancy trying to extract the ISO file to do the task. I used the X-windows Bochs display library, so the Debian desktop was always present in the background of the Windows 95 session. A much faster result could probably have been achieved had I compiled the SVGAlib package and run it without X, but this was more a demonstration for the laughs than practicality. As I said, "You've seen an open OS on your Pi, now here's a wide-open one!".
    So that was it. Another Oxford Raspberry Pi meeting. I look forward to seeing you at the next one.


  1. Can't wait for my Pi to arrive so that I can join in the fun ;)

  2. Thank you for the write up John, good point about more and more Pi's appearing with hardware attached!