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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Raspberry Pi - a botched release?

[Short link to this article if you need it - http://goo.gl/Id4dW - or retweet me]

Let me start by saying I'm a big supporter of the Raspberry Pi project and have been following it with a lot of anticipation for a while, and I love the goals of this project and what they've done so far. Technically I think it's brilliant. However I'm afraid to say that the release of the first batch of devices to the public hasn't really gone as expected. It's also worth pointing you at the OSNews article which is very positive to the company, and less so to the two distributors.

They had said earlier in the week that they were going to make an announcement at 0600 GMT today (29th February 2012) and indeed they did - they changed to a static page (which stayed up - yay!) telling people that two distributors, the well known RS Components (Current Pi link is here) and Farnell Electronics (link here) were going to be shipping the first batch of 10,000 model B boards between them. The message said:

"We have ensured that both RS Components and Premier farnell will be taking preorders from the start"

Possibly not too surprisingly, despite Raspberry Pi taking steps to use other people for the ordering, and pre-ordering both servers were horribly unresponsive at 0601. RS was better, but when you got through it only showed a "Register your interest" page, no way to place an order (or pre-order). Despite this, there was a claim that "If you're only seeing "register an interest" on RS's site, you're on the wrong page" Now the instructions given (because Raspberry Pi seemingly weren't given the site's product' codes) were to "search for raspberry pi" ... something that appears not to have been tested before the message went out. For that reason I can't completely exhonerate Raspberry Pi for the ... well ... fiasco seems the best word.

Now I'm sure the conflicting messages were unintentional rather than intentionally to deceive, but it does point to a bit of a discrepancy between what they have publicised and what the message is from RS. I have no idea if it was a lack of communication, or a mistake on RS's part. I can only assume the former since it didn't get rectified. It did seem that Raspberry Pi weren't happy about it though. And at least one person who got hold of RS on the phone was explicitly told they wouldn't be taking pre-orders, and others were told by the suppliers that they wouldn't ship to individuals - again contrary to what Raspberry Pi were expecting.

What really concerns me is that many of the first batch of units won't go to the expected recipients (developers, and those who understand what it is) and with all the hype and interest today it's going to be less likely to determine who is a "developer" as opposed to and end-user person, but some of the publicity coming out to those who didn't know the history was along the lines of "Here it is running quake3 and acting as a media centre for £22" without the appropriate disclaimers:
  • Quake3 was specifically ported to ARM, other games won't work in the same way out of the box
  • The XBMC distribution shown as a Raspberry Pi Media Centre isn't yet available and the hardware only has the H.264 codec. Granted it's very widely used, but you can't consider it as something that can replace a normal media centre PC at present, especially given the fact that the CPU is relatively slow.
The Daily Mail referred to it as a "credir-card sized Wi-Fi gizmo" (it doesn't have wifi) It ended up on the HotUKdeals site (this thread, which has been flagged as spam and removed a couple of times now) with a load of people who clearly didn't understand what it was. Plus the site's generally supposed to be for special offers, not a device being sold at it's retail price... I just hope that those sorts of people aren't ones who were trying to buy them. I tried posting a comment on the HotUKdeals thread to clarify things since there was clearly a lot of unreasonable hype:

Please, everyone, bear in mind that unless you're a developer or have a proper use for it, then it's almost certainly NOT worth getting one of the first batch. Expecting this to suddenly be an answer to all your media center prayers is likely also naive - it's not going to do that straight away, and for one thing there will be very limited codecs available for it's hardware acceleration (although.it will include H.264). Also, other than the video decoding, it won't make for an especially fast "PC" - you're looking at the level of something from possibly about 10 years ago.

It's also, to make this clear to people who don't get it, NOT AN x86 SYSTEM, so it will not run x86 software. You will need ARM specific software. Unless you're interested in getting your hands dirty, it would be better to wait until there is more software available for it.

As per a previous post, I'm saying this to stop people expecting a fully functional boxed system from buying the damn thing and realising they can't do anything, and dumping it in a drawer. Let the people who will write the software get the first batch, then see if it's worthwhile getting one later.

It's also NOT a limited deal - there's just a limit on the first batch, so what the heck it's doing on here in the first place is a bit of a mystery.

And later on I posted again:

Please folks - if you haven't read my post on page 3 of this thread ... it's not an x86 PC. It's not going to run your windows games (Quake3 was ported to ARM), you can't stick a PC video card into it, XBMC has been shown working but there isn't an AVAILABLE distribution for it yet AFAIK, the video codec support is limited to H.264, and the original description on here says it has built-in wifi, which it doesn't. Also the price is the STANDARD price which you'll be able to buy from later as well, this is not a limited deal other than the first batch being 10K units. And it's JUST a circuit board with no power cable/case etc.

Don't order from the first batch unless you have a clue what you're getting yourself into. You're not going to suddenly get an amazing media centre by the weekend if you order this. Let the developers take them, and be able to use them.

I want the first batch in the hands of real developers who will play and make this do the stuff that everyone else wants. I suspect we have more than just developers trying to get the first batch, some of whom quite possibly either just want to make some quick money by reselling - which I feel is disgusting behavior towards a company registered as a charity (there's still no word when the first batch will actually ship, or when the next batch will be, which means anyone who hasn't ordered doesn't know if they should pre-order with Farnell, or wait for RS's allocation from the first batch) or they soon will realise, due to the things I've mentioned, that it's useless to them and stick it in a drawer when a real developer could have had it. I see one person, who I can only consider to be a waste of human molecules, has put up a batch of 10 they don't yet have for £95 each on ebay.

In fairness, there's no question that this launch has generated a lot of publicity for the device, which is great, although it means that when RS do start shipping it will probably have even more interest than this morning. Whether that's a good thing is probably still up for debate (who will be buying them?) but I still believe that the initial intention of getting the first units into the hands of technical developers is absolutely right, to get it ready when more of the end users get hold of it.

I still love Raspberry Pi - the device, the philosophy, and the goals, but this release has been a bit of a mess in terms of expectations, so I hope they'll learn appropriate lessons and get the distribution/publicity sorted out from now on, otherwise it won't do the company's reputation a lot of good. I wish Pi the best of luck. Maybe the warm-up to the release announcement was too much (which is how it ended up with the wider publicity beyond the technical community) but that's easy to say with hindsight. Then again, if you take the approach that "all publicity is good publicity" then it's far from a botched release, and being able to say they brought down two large electric component supplier's web sites sounds impressive.

I'll now get off my soapbox, and wait until I can get my Raspberry Pi :-)

4 comments:

  1. I was amazed the raspberry pi announcement didn't have direct links to the appropriate pages on their supplier's sites. Just linking to the home page and leaving you to go find it was a bit lazy / unprofessional.

    From what I understand the suppliers (RS & Farnell) are directly paying the manufacturer and then a royalty to raspberry pi. This means that the foundations limited funds shouldnt restrict manufacturing runs which is a good thing.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Yeah ... I considered including this tweet in the original post, but seeing as you brought it up :-)

      kgs42: Sorry to say that, but this could have been better prepared (I mean NOT to use serach, just simple link to order)
      Raspberry_Pi: @kgs42 If either partner company had ponied up with a link, we'd have done just that.

      (Reference: http://twitter.com/Raspberry_Pi/status/174749011281063937)

      Kinda just backs up the "botched" title of the article I think - missing some joined up thinking on both sides. I hope they'll learn from it from now on - to be fair there are only 6 people working on it. And I'm in 100% agreement about the unrestricted manufacturing runs that we should be seeing shortly!

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  2. Just found out about a post in the HotUKDeals thread:

    "epicvibe321
    Why all the hate for people selling these on ebay?They obviously made the effort to order at
    6:00am this morning while the rest of you were lying in bedI managed to bag one without to
    much hassle, ok it did take a while (about 40mins for a pre-order)
    Do I know how to program it:No
    Do I want to put it in a draw...:No
    Do I need this to close my curtains,garage door, make me tea: No
    Do i want to sell it to some nerd on ebay for profit.. you can answer that one (it wont
    take a degree in IT).Before you all start preaching about charity, they got the price they
    wanted for it!The guys selling on eBay are just trying to make a quick buck, nothing wrong
    with that."

    While I take what this person is saying, as far as I am concerned they are the scum of the
    world. An charity organisation trying to do something with the motivation of improving
    computing education who was hoping to get boards to developers in the first run. "They got
    the price they wanted for them". Well yes, because they managed to manufacture them at that
    price and not bascially rip off people who are really interested in the device (although
    Farnell seem to be managing that themselves with various reports of people being invoiced
    at £29, £31, and £36). I suppose at least if this one goes on ebay it's quite likely to end
    up in the hands of a legitimate developer. There were plenty of people who got up at 6 and
    didn't get one - and that's precisely because of this sort of person.

    But I wish such people didn't exist in society. I hope they're happy with their profiteering.

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    Replies
    1. Raspberry Pi could fight that type of behaviour by putting ones on ebay every week with a buy it now price of the usual RRP. That should stop people trying to profiteer.

      P.S. Farnell charged me £24.55 + VAT = £29.46

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