Its time for a real Intel (x86) based replacement for the Raspberry PI !
It is time !!!
Yes, it is time for a replacement for the Raspberry PI and an Intel (x86) based device running real Windows 10. Why do I say this ?
The $99 Windows tablet has been surpassed !
If you read my past article, entitled “The $99 Windows tablet. Is it possible?” which I wrote about two and half years ago, not only has this goal been reached but it has been surpassed. Just this week Microsoft Store had a sale where you could purchase an 8 inch, Windows 10, tablet for only $49. Yes, you read that right, only $49. What is even more amazing is the specifications of the device. The tablet was equipped with the following:
NuVision TM800W560L Signature Edition Tablet
– up to 6 hours battery life
– 8 in Full HD IPS touchscreen (1920 x 1200), 10-finger multi-touch support
– Intel Atom Z3735F 1.33 GHz with Intel Burst Technology up to 1.83 GHz
– 2GB DDR3L-RS 1333 MHz memory
– 32GB eMMC
– Windows 10 Home, 32-bit
This tablet is so thin and light I am amazed and with a high resolution display of 1920 x 1200 pixels. I have only one word for this, WOW !!! And for only $49 ! Now you may have thought my past article about a $99 tablet was far fetched, but look where we are at now.
Raspberry PI, is great, but we could have something better.
The only thing missing with a Windows tablet is the GPIO (input/output) ports. Now let’s be fair here. While a Raspberry PI is cheap, by the time you add all the extra stuff you must have, such as a case, power supply, keyboard, display (if you want a small portable device), etc., the cost for the Raspberry PI is not so cheap after all. Now a Windows tablet has it all, except for the GPIO ports. It is truly portable, comes with a power supply/charger, has a display and an onboard (touch) keyboard. And all for less than an equally equipped Raspberry PI.
So what is needed ?
Rather than put the GPIO ports onboard, all that is needed is a simple external GPIO port connected to the Micro USB port of the tablet. Create standard universal drivers for it built into Windows 10, which can be easily accessed both from the WIN32 API (aka. a DLL accessable using a flat API) and a dot.net layer on top for dot.net languages. I must emphasize the need for a standard Windows DLL without all the object oriented stuff and without a need for dot.net. This produces a small, lean and fast input/output interface. But it offers something better. What is that ?
Access the the kind of programming languages, the Raspberry PI is in short supply of.
If you want such a device to encourage real programming skills among the young and also lead to more powerful applications using such devices, then two programming languages come to mind. The first is C, yes raw C. C++ and many other languages today would not exist without C as a parent language. C also is more procedural in nature than C++ and applications written in C are much smaller, leaner and faster than their C++ or even dot.net counterparts. Compared to scripting languages, there is no comparison.
But that is not all. In the hobby world, one language has surpassed all others as the language of the masses (hobbiests) The reason is its ease of use, while it also has caught up to C in raw power. That language is BASIC. Yes, BASIC. BASIC should have been the very first language created for the Raspberry PI, but it wasn’t and there is even a void in the Raspberry PI world for quality BASIC compilers. Notice, I said compilers, not interpreters. Despite common rumors, BASIC is not the old fashioned Interpreters of the 1970’s. BASIC, long ago left the world of interpreters behind and came into the compiler world, with speeds riviling a C compiler. Even when I was programming on a Commodore 64 back in the 1980’s I was using a real BASIC compiler. BASIC programmers have even been known to use assembler as well. I wrote my own compiler, using the Abacus BASIC compiler, just so I could get even more raw speed out of the computer. When I wrote business applications later on using BASIC, I found myself learning assembler so I could extend the language even more. BASIC, while easier to use than most languages, is also a professional quality language on par with C.
BASIC, really ? Yes, just waiting for the “Cherry PI” !
Yes. In the Windows world, BASIC has a long history and while there are a number of BASIC interpreters around, one would be surprised to know that there are many quality BASIC compilers around which can produce amazingly small and fast applications. If the hardware manufacturers could just see the real potential of a Windows tablet becoming the new Raspberry PI of the future and build either a standard external GPIO system for them or even create a new built in GPIO standard for them, plus with just a standard Windows DLL provided to access the GPIO ports, then the BASIC world is ready and waiting to fill the void of programming languages for them. BASIC not only can fill the need for teaching programming for school kids, but it also can fill the need for future IOT (Internet of Things) and Embedded development. Let me list a number of potential BASIC compilers which are ready and waiting for the “Cherry PI” devices of the future. (Cherry for Intels “Cherry Trail” Atom CPU’s).
Powerbasic rivals any C compiler for raw speed and performance. The great grand child of the famous Borland Turbo Basic, it is a WIN32 programmers dream language. The company recently made its classic 9.0 version available for free and continues to sell its current commercial version (10) for half is original price. (note: grab up these compilers quick, since the company is looking to find a buyer to purchase the companies entire product line and IP, since the death of the companies founder).
PureBasic is another excellent BASIC compiler. It also produces small and fast applications, but using a more open source approach using some open source libraries and tools in the backend. It is a commercial product though, but sells for a reasonable price. It supports a 3D engine based on an open source 3D engine.
Now here the price is right. FreeBasic is standing strong with many programmers using it. It is an excellent programming language as well. It too is a real compiler. Freebasic makes a good language for the open source world and the hobby programmer.
GLBasic is very interesting and while quite different than the others above, it is a powerful compiler which can target multiple platforms. It is more graphic oriented than some of the others. Definitely worth checking out.
While this is not as rich a language as the others are, it is unique in that it can be embedded into other applications and can compile directly to machine code. It can be used to build applications which generate compiled applications.
IWBasic is the current iteration of a previous language called IBasic. One nice thing is this company also offers a C like version of their compiler called Aurora. It too has some 2D and 3D graphic capabilities.
This list is not all there is. Check out this website which lists may BASIC’s:
BASIC over the years has also tended to cater to the game developers group, so some of the other BASIC’s are more geared towards 3D game animation. The list of these is extensive. Some are interpreters of a sort, while others are compilers. The point is that BASIC has not disappeared. While in mainstream programming, even Visual Basic has veared from the roots of BASIC, while in the hobby world BASIC is still very well alive. Some BASIC’s (ie. PowerBasic) even have been used for years in the commercial world, albeit much in the background. You might be surprised where BASIC is still being used today and I am taking about real business and industry using it. Find that hard to believe ? One of my customers (who develop hardware and devices, plus software for underwater exploration systems) sent me a link to this video:
Notice at about 4 minutes and 32 seconds into the video, they show a laptop (Windows of course) running the machine. The software on that laptop doing this was written in , “yes wait for it”, BASIC. Even the GUI framework they use was written in BASIC (I know, I wrote the GUI framework in PowerBasic and the WIN32 API).
Yes, BASIC is ready and waiting. A language well suited to the hobby world and if we could just get our Windows (x86) version of the Raspberry PI (I made up the name “Cherry PI”, but it seems fitting), then BASIC is most likely ready for the challenge of building the next generation of IOT , Embedded and hobby devices.