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The Curious Case of Raspberry Pi Consumerism

Homer's picture

Much like the Cult of Apple

Rotten Raspberry

I find the attitude of many within the Raspberry Pi community to be strange and offensive.

I first discovered this odd phenomenon (odd because it contradicts the ethos of the project's academic foundations) back when it first started, as many within the Raspberry Pi community took an extremely hostile attitude toward academic freedom, apparently in defence of various parties' highly dubious intellectual monopolies (Broadcom and MPEG-LA, for example).

I pointed out the irony and hypocrisy of their attitude at the time, explaining that they were more than happy to leech Free (as in freedom) Software for their own benefit, but then balked at the prospect of freely sharing the results, and in particular this contradicted their stated academic goal of facilitating better computer education in British schools, an environment that rightly demands open access to knowledge.

Some of their arguments were frankly bizarre, including one where it was claimed that releasing the sources to Broadcom's VideoCore IV graphics would not be useful, since no one outside that company could possibly understand it, citing the supposed thousands of man-hours required to write it.

This conveniently ignores the fact that the Free Software community has written many graphics drivers before, often from scratch using nothing but electrical signal analyses of the hardware (clean-room reverse engineering).

Another ridiculous argument was that MPEG-LA "deserved to be paid" for its patents, despite the fact that it has never actually invented anything (or even made anything at all, as it's just a sort of debt collection agency working on behalf of opportunistic patent trolls), and moreover the supposed "inventions" in question pertain purely to software, which cannot legally be patented in Britain, the foundation's core demographic (this was supposed to be about British schools, remember). So haughtily demanding that British schoolchildren have some kind of legal and moral obligation to pay an American company's unlawful extortion fee is rude at best, and may actually be fraudulent.

This is without even considering the salient point that the Raspberry Pi was supposed to be purely an academic tool, not an entertainment device, and therefore the inclusion of proprietary codecs was redundant, indeed suspiciously like the result of a boiler room deal to appease the MPEG-LA extortionists. That would certainly put the already bogus "they have to be paid" argument into a whole new context.

Over a period of time, the foundation made various extravagant and highly publicised claims of releasing more and more sources to their proprietary software, all of which turned out to be false, as the "source" in question was only for a so-called "shim", a wrapper that sits between the OS and the proprietary driver.

Two years and much sneering later, the full sources to their binary blob were finally released, completely undermining all of their own former arguments.

Then there was the revelation that apparently the foundation had struck a deal with Wolfram to bundle Mathematica with the Raspberry Pi. Sadly however, like their drivers, Mathematica is also deeply proprietary, which again contradicts the academic principles of open access to knowledge that this project was supposed to champion. This is especially galling when there are already excellent Free Software alternatives that the foundation could have promoted instead, such as Sage (no, the other one). Again, as with every other suggestion that perhaps an academic tool ought to favour Free Software, opposition to this proprietary bundle was met with great hostility.

More recently it seems that someone at either Broadcom and/or The Raspberry Pi Foundation has scuppered the efforts of a project called Odroid-W. Details are sparse, but some are of the opinion that the rivalry between these two projects caused someone to shut it down with legal threats:

I know that many people here don't like Odroid-W ( because they consider it a stupid clone of the RPI. In my opinion it wasn't - it was a completely new form factor inbetween standart RPI and the complicated RPI compute module. Due to its small size and advanced power options with battery charger it was perfect for mobile applications and perfect for own PCBs. It uses knowledge gathered in the RPI community: Thats not stealing, its the meaning of Open Source to share its knowledge!

Unfortunately Broadcom stops supply Hardkernel with the SoC. There are rumors that RPI Foundtion uses its personal contacts and influence to stop Broadcom selling SoCs to Hardkernel. If these rumors are true, I'll instantly sell my RPIs and move my projects to other plattforms. Because it would show, that RPI Community has become a religious movement, not understanding the true value of open source and open hardware."

Given the belligerence with which the supposedly Open Sauce® Raspberry Pi Foundation defends intellectual monopoly, I don't find this in the least bit surprising, but it's a sorry state of affairs nonetheless.

Whatever academic goals this project started with, sadly it quickly degenerated into a sort of consumer cult, much like Apple's.

The explanation may lie in an analysis of the sort of people the project attracted, very few of whom were Free Software developers, but mainly comprised teachers and electronics enthusiasts, both of which groups are notoriously defensive of proprietary solutions.

I still struggle to understand why, exactly, especially when it comes to British teachers, but one only has to witness their belligerent opposition to Free Software in the classroom, to understand why the Raspberry Pi was probably always doomed to be nothing more than yet another proprietary, commercial product, fully detached from any nobler aspiration.


Anony Mouse's picture

When is Creative Commons not?

Here, here.

Love the moldy raspberry analogy!

I had a curious "debate" over the ODROID-W with a Raspboobly and I got a headache. As often as I pointed back to the RPF CC licence it still came back "you are not to build a copy". Even in the face of CC supposedly being (CC words not mine) "devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share."

I think, ethically, RPF may be outside the CC licensing intent and I am not sure why CC themselves have not come in to reign them in or to deny their use of CC licensing - because I would argue it actually may reflect on credibility of CC.

Homer's picture

Creative Commons can be a Non-Free license

The confusion stems from the fact that Creative Commons deceptively promotes its licenses as "Free", but sadly they aren't necessarily so, since they contain various optional clauses that prohibit one or more of the essential four freedoms, such as prohibiting commercialisation or derivatives.

I assume the Raspberry Pi foundation has activated these non-free clauses, which is what has stopped the ODROID-W cold.

Anony Mouse's picture

Thanks for pointing to it

I was one of the guys who had preordred RPI, because I thought it is a great (and cheap) plattform for hacking. And I was thankfull to the RPI Foundation to deliver this product. The education stuff was a nice addon :)

As you have written, on the forums no criticism is allowed, everything done, every design decision by the foundation is sacred. Other systems do not exist or are stupid copies at most. The board isn't even real open source, since schematics are still missing.
They have copied their new HAT-identification system for RPI B+ from the BeagleBone (real open source btw), celebrating this invention without mentioning the orginial inventors. In the world of open source, where acknowledgement is the only reward - thats a really bad move.
Therefore I really think that RPI foundation has stopped Broadcom selling Socs to Hardkernel.

The reasons on the foundation side are simple in my opinion. Its like suddenly becoming a top-ten music star. All the money, all the admiring fans.
On the side of the fans, I think most of them are beginners, just started programming with the python tutorials. I wonder how many of them really think linux was invented by the RPI foundation. These fans are obviously not capable of realising the real value of an open source video core and of the open source community (Dunning–Kruger effect).

Homer's picture

Dunning–Kruger effect

It was worth reading your comment just for that reference.
Thanks :)