The Raspberry Pi Foundation has updated the recommended Debian Linux build for its low-cost single-board computer a couple of times since we reviewed the credit card-sized Raspberry Pi device in June, and we've been trying out the new versions.
Based on the Raspbian build of Debian, the latest "Wheezy" version of the Raspberry Pi software released on 16 August contains a similar set of development tools to the original build, along with example source code for multimedia functions, according to the Foundation, but has numerous tweaks, including a few to make it more user friendly.
The first thing users will notice if they upgrade is that the newer release throws up a lot more messages onto the screen as it starts, possibly indicating that the device is loading up more drivers than before.
The Raspberry Pi then runs a configuration tool, Raspi-config, which allows the user to set various options, including the keyboard layout, locale and timezone, as well as expanding the root partition to fill up the SD Card, if you are using a larger card than the minimum 4GB size.
As before, typing "startx" at the Bash command prompt loads the LXDE desktop GUI environment, but Wheezy now displays a text message handily informing you of this. Alternatively, Raspi-config lets the user set their Raspberry Pi to automatically boot straight to the desktop on startup.
The desktop environment itself has changed only slightly, with icon shortcuts to all the relevant tools now placed directly on the desktop itself, along with a handy Debian Reference document that loads in a browser.
An extra browser, Netsurf, has been added to the Dillo and Midori options previously available, while the develop tools now comprise the Idle environment for Python, the Squeak programming language, and the Scratch environment, along with a set of sample games and other simple applications.
The Wheezy build also has numerous enhancements under the hood, including taking greater advantage of the processor's floating point hardware.
We found performance under this build still somewhat sluggish, but it must be kept in mind that this is a £25 computer designed for education and experimentation, and not a games console or fully-specced PC.
04 Sep 2012