The Raspberry Pi Foundation proclaims that the Raspberry Pi is a
"capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your
desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also
plays high-definition video." This quote taken in isolation might
suggest that the Raspberry Pi is a desktop replacement in all respects.
that is not a reasonable assumption to make, the Pi still has
a lot to offer as a desktop if you recognise its limitations.
To assess whether the Raspberry Pi has the resources to be an
effective desktop replacement, rather than as a developer board, we
took one of the unofficial Raspbian images which runs the resource
friendly LXDE desktop environment and installed it onto a 16GB SD card.
By default, Raspbian
boots into a console and takes around 35 seconds to get to a login
prompt, which reflects the number of services and daemons that are
started up. Exercising the trusty 'startx' command to start an
X server and the desktop environment takes a further 12 seconds.
Web browsing using Midori was fairly reasonable even in the
absence of accelerated X drivers. Unfortunately there is no support for
Flash on ARM, so we were unable to watch media segments on
websites. In any case, the GPU does not support flash video. There is
also no support for HTML5 presently.
Further, the absence of hardware accelerated drivers means
that scrolling on complex pages is slow, and a bit jerky. However, once
hardware accelerated drivers are available, we would expect this issue
to disappear given the
specifications of the GPU. Plugging in a Raspberry Pi to your TV will
then offer the real functionality of a smart TV.
Loading another fairly simple program, Filezilla, took about 13
seconds. Filezilla is an excellent FTP client which supports FTP, SFTP,
and FTPS (FTP over SSL/TLS). On the Raspberry Pi, screen redraws were
pretty slow, making the software feel a little sluggish when
navigating especially when compared to my day-to-day desktop machines.
Nevertheless, the software is still usable on the Pi.
The Gnumeric spreadsheet is part of the GNOME desktop
environment: a project to create a free, user friendly desktop
environment. Given the Foundation's reference to spreadsheets, we
wanted to see how a fairly lightweight spreadsheet would perform on the
Firstly, Gnumeric was a little more sprightly starting up
compared with Midori and Filezilla. Again, the software was hampered by
performance, but overall the experience was perfectly adequate.
Gnumeric is fairly frugal with memory, especially compared
with LibreOffice Calc, the spreadsheet component of the LibreOffice
software package. With a fairly small spreadsheet loaded, Gnumeric
consumes only about 12MB of memory.
Loading a more CPU-intensive application, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation
Program), did expose the limitations of the Raspberry Pi's CPU. The
latest version of the application (2.8.0) took 82 seconds to start up.
Creating a new image, using the airbrush tool, image editing, applying
scripts and plugins all seriously taxed the CPU for significant
periods; with the CPU monitor in the task bar being constantly maxed
Another useful application that also pushed the Pi's CPU is
Shutter, our favorite screen capture utility. This feature-rich
application took 28 seconds to start.
In general, the Raspberry Pi is pretty reasonable at running
desktop applications. Whilst some heavyweight applications are almost
out of bounds, in many cases there are lightweight alternatives
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to Do with the Raspberry Pi
Last Updated Sunday, June 03 2012 @ 07:35 PM EDT