MICROSOFT HAS FINALLY launched Windows 10 for the Raspberri Pi 2 in the form of the IoT Core Insider developer preview.
While Microsoft warned that the software is pretty rough around the edges, it is touted to give makers "the opportunity to play with the software bits early" to get feedback on how well it works.
The second iteration of the Raspberry Pi was unveiled earlier this year, offering substantial increases in performance over previous versions.
Boasting double the amount of RAM at 1GB and an updated quad-core ARMv7 900MHz processor, it features expanded GPIO pins and advanced power management and connectivity, making it possible to connect up to four USB devices, including powered devices such as hard drives.
Another really impressive thing about the Raspberry Pi 2 is that, despite the performance boost, it will still cost the same as the original, at $35 (£26).
It also has backwards-compatibility with all previous Raspberry Pi projects, and is said to be able to run "bigger and more powerful projects" owing to some upgraded internal specifications.
Raspberry Pi sold 4.5 million of the mini PCs since its launch three years ago, and the firm is hoping that the new model will expedite sales as people look to upgrade existing systems.
But the main thing here is not the performance boost, which means that the device now really comes into its own as people start experimenting with how to take advantage of the extra power, but the possibilities that come with support for new software.
The original Raspberry Pi used an ARM 11 processor, implementing the ARMv6 instruction set architecture. In moving to a new core using ARMv7, there's a wider range of supported operating systems that can run on the Raspberry Pi 2.
Historically, the mini PC has run an OS called Raspian, a custom ARMv6 rebuild of the mainstream ARMv7. However, the processor architecture upgrade means that two new operating systems come into view: Ubuntu and Windows 10.
Eben Upton, founder and former trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and CEO of the Raspberry PI trading company, explained at the press event at the time that his team had worked with Microsoft for the past six months to enable Windows 10 on the Raspberry Pi. And finally, here it is.
Upton admitted that this new support may "raise eyebrows", perhaps because many die hard fans could see it as contradictory.
As one of our readers, 'mooncat', pointed out, Raspberry Pi was supposed to be about low costs, freedom to develop and being creative and inventive, whereas Windows, to some people, represents corporate control, restrictions and excessive profits.
"They are polar opposites, what is going on?" the reader commented.
"It runs. But this is Windows 10 primarily targeted for Internet of Things [IoT] implementations," Upton said, explaining later that the aim is to offer a device that people can use to build IoT devices which have screens attached and can participate in the broad range of Windows 10 API support.
"The intention is you can take Windows 10 applications that you can run on a Surface, a PC, a Windows Mobile phone and now you'll be able to run it on a Raspberry Pi as well," he said.
The specially crafted Windows 10 for Raspberry Pi is free to the Raspberry Pi maker community through the Windows Developer Program for IoT.
In order to be in the know, you need to buy a Raspberry Pi 2 and join the Windows Developer Program for IoT to receive updates from Microsoft as they become available.
Running Windows 10 on a virtual machine won't offer compatibility for the IoT release as you need access to the SD card reader.
"We see the maker community as an amazing source of innovation for smart, connected devices that represent the very foundation for the next wave of computing, and we're excited to be a part of this community," Microsoft said.
Microsoft's optimising Windows 10 for the new Raspberry Pi is perhaps a result of the lessons learned in the failing Windows RT.
People will continue to run Linux on the device, but the addition of Windows support will give them other options. For example, a favourite deployment for many people is to use the Pi as a media centre, and the update will allow Windows Media Centre mods to be deployed.
Kevin Curran, a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and senior lecturer in computer science at the University of Ulster, welcomed the announcement from Microsoft.
"The full version of Windows 10 is known as ‘Industry'. This is the Windows 10 ‘Mobile' embedded version," Curran told The INQUIRER.
"Windows 10 of course will be free on all IoT devices including phones and tablets with screen sizes less than 9in. The Raspberry Pi 2 is just one of these new IOT platforms."
Curran believes that Windows 10 support is a good move for the Raspberry Pi community because it will speed up the process of exposing the masses to the development of IoT, especially in developing countries.
"It can only lead to more of the next generation becoming familiar with the Windows ecosystem and making it their platform of choice on all devices, thus keeping them onboard as users," he explained.
"This is crucial as the market for devices becomes more and more fragmented. Microsoft has made a good decision on this occasion."
Another great feature is the vibrant developer community which has grown around Raspberry Pi, something that Microsoft has definitely eyed up.
"With the lessons learned from the poor adoption of Windows 8, [Microsoft] is keen to get its next OS onto as many devices out there," Curran said.
"What is useful for Microsoft, and no doubt inspired this freebie, is that the Raspberry Pi 2 is upgraded from an ARM v6 processor to ARM v7 which is the same processor used by Windows RT.
"Microsoft is well aware that ARM is king on mobile devices, and that the Windows Phone line is failing, so it needs ARM more than ARM needs it at this time."
All this is positive stuff, but a fundamental problem with the IoT is that it has an increased exposure to remote hacks and privacy fears.
The deployment of these limited-function embedded devices on a large scale in households and public areas could lead to unique hacking attacks.
However, as Curran notes, having a platform like the Raspberry Pi 2 and a decent OS with support updates can only lead to more versatile and secure IoT devices in the future.
The Raspberry Pi 2 is available to buy now from the Element14 Community. µ
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