Since its launch the Raspberry Pi has been phenomenally successful – with over 2 million units of the little computer sold around the world, it’s arguably kick-started a revolution in cheap, educational computing.
The only slight worry about this is how many Raspberry Pi computers have landed in the hands of kids (who it was really intended for) as opposed to 30-something computer nerds who are re-living their 8-bit computing childhoods, or networking the family toaster. Arguably there’s nothing wrong with that as the enthusiasts provide a ton of support but sometimes it’s easy to lose site of the goal of the project in the first place.
Then there’s the Raspberry Pi’s biggest competitor – the tablet computer. Many kids will be given tablets as they’re ‘educational’ devices – and given the choice of an instant on, readily usable ipad that can play games as well, the Raspberry Pi has its work cut out to avoid the drawer of forgotten devices.
So enter the Kano project – a kickstarter that raised over 1 million dollars, and effectively bundles the Raspberry Pi up with some nice hardware and some trendy design. Marketed as the computer you can build, it’s taking aim at the educational market in the hope that the kids will put down their iPads and have a go.
The Beta version of the Kano OS software part of the project launched this week so here are some first impressions.
In order to prepare your SD card Kano requires a burner program to run on a PC or Mac – although this does the job, it’s not quite as elegant as the NOOBS drag and drop method which has now become the standard for most Raspberry Pi software.
On bootup you get asked a few questions in the terminal, in the style similar to a text adventure. This is actually a rather nice touch. It neatly introduces the idea of the text interface and entering commands, and makes typing startx rather exciting (there’s a countdown!). I can imagine this being fun with a classroom of kids trying out the Raspberry Pi for the first time.
This first person theme continues as you use the computer – one nice touch is the bundled wi-fi setup app asks you to test your internet connection with the ping command (thus introducing the idea for later).
Once you get past this you’re presented with the Kano desktop. It’s beautifully designed with nice flat icons for the various apps. Chromium is the default web browser and it runs at a decent speed, and there are some bundled apps for creating programs.
Even as a Beta it feels quite polished.
Overall Kano OS is much simpler and less cluttered than other Raspberry Pi distributions and everything you really need is still there.
Lots of things here will be already familiar to anyone who’s used a Pi before – the command line is still accessible, so despite its user friendly interface there’s still the option to type proper linux commands.
The apps that have had the most work done to them are the programming tutorials – these allow you to mess around with a game of snake or pong using the drag and drop interface of scratch, and there’s also a split screen Minecraft app that is quite clever. It doesn’t take long at all to start really using the Pi and trying out different projects.
It’ll be interesting to see how this software progresses – there are definitely some good points, and as something I could load onto a Raspberry Pi and give to some kids to play with it perfectly fits the bill; and it does still include the vital command line for anyone that gets curious as to what’s running their computer behind the scenes – something that a tablet computer lacks.
One thing I wonder though is exactly how the Kano kit fits in with the other Raspberry Pi distributions – I’m not sure if the aim is to get this to fit alongside the other Raspberry Pi distributions (for instance including it as part of NOOBS) or to sell it separately. Raspbian’s open source nature has led it to be massively improved over the years by the community – and it would be a shame if Kano OS missed out on this.
You can try out Kano for yourself at kano.me
The kit launches sometime this year with a custom keyboard – I’ll be reviewing that as well.