As previously mentioned, my $35 Raspberry Pi computer was added to our entertainment system last year as a way to stream music from other computers in the house.
The operating system is called Raspbmc (soon to be rechristened OSMC, for Open Source Media Center). It is flashed to an SD card, like the one you may have in your digital camera. The Raspbmc name derives from XBMC, an OS developed for the Xbox gaming system. Raspbmc was adapted for the Raspberry Pi by Sam Nazarko, an 18 year old London student.
There are other OS (all free) you can use with the Pi, such as OpenElec (a more stripped-down media center) or Raspbian, based on Debian Linux, and offering a Windows-like interface, and many free software packages.
I use my Pi primarily as a media computer, but I did experiment with Raspbian. That experience launched me into other interesting directions.
The most delightful Raspbian package for me was an adaptation of Atari800, an emulator of the old Atari 400/800XL computers. I bought a 400 in the early 80s to see if I might want to get into computers as a career (I did; 5 years later, I embarked on a 23 year stint as a realtime coverage programmer at American Airlines/Sabre/EDS).
My 400 was frequently employed as a starship simulator in the game Star Raiders. It created an amazingly detailed and realistic (for the time) Star Trek/Star Wars-derived universe, all contained within less than 8,000 bytes of 6502 assembler language code. (Its playability has not been equalled in subsequent incarnations.)
I unloaded my 400 a year or so after going to work for AA, but developed a bit of nostalgia for Star Raiders over the years. With the above hardware and software, I had it back on our 65″ TV (which has the same aspect ratio as the Enterprise’s bridge screen).
In this implementation of Star Raiders, all movement is controlled from the keyboard, definitely not an improvement over the original Atari joystick + keyboard. And while it worked, the software behaved a bit flakily at times. In the process of getting Star Raiders running on the Pi, I learned that the Nintendo Wii could be hacked, “rooted”, and made to run the Homebrew Channel. And one package that could be installed via the Homebrew Channel was WiiXL, yet another adaptation of Atari800.
I soon had our Wii running all this, though not without a few white-knuckle/sweat-bead moments highly reminiscent of my days patching and making changes on the realtime Sabre computer system. However, I made no irrevocable errors that might have “bricked” the Wii, and was soon enjoying Star Raiders once again on a dedicated gaming platform, this time with a Wii controller embedded in a flight control yoke + keyboard.
In addition, I was able to enjoy many other Atari games from the early 80s, including ones from Compute! Magazine that I had typed in by hand and saved to cassette data recorder, such as Caves of Ice and Dragonmaster. I remember copying Froggie, a Frogger knock-off, onto diskette at the old Woodland Hills location of the Hardesty library (I am now a volunteer at the new one).
The hacked Wii system allowed me to add a small external hard drive and save all our Wii discs. Now all of our Wii software can be called up on a menu without handling discs.
When my wife upgraded her Android smartphone last year, I inherited her old one. Turned out it could also be rooted and exploited in various ways without incurring any cost…
(to be continued)