Microsoft announced Monday that it will make its new desktop operating system, Windows 10, available free later this year to users of Raspberry Pi 2, the latest iteration of a low-cost computer brain often used to power Maker movement and Internet of Things projects.
Raspberry Pi 2, also unveiled Monday, costs $35 and features a 900 megahertz processor and 1 gigabyte of memory, or, respectively, six times and double Pi's first iteration, which debuted in 2012. The new version of Pi will be backward compatible with the original, while remaining at the same price point.
"There comes a point when there's no substitute for more memory and CPU (central processing unit) performance," Pi founder Eben Upton blogged Monday by way of explaining the long-rumored upgrade. "Our challenge was to figure out how to get this without throwing away our investment" in the first version of the product.
Pi's more powerful board should be a boon to the burgeoning IoT industry, which promises to connect 33 billion devices to the Internet by 2020, roughly triple the current number, according to a Strategy Analytics. The news also signals Microsoft's determination to remake itself as a nimbler consumer-focused company. Microsoft noted that free access to Windows 10 would be available to those who register for its Windows Developer Program for IoT.
"Microsoft has been telegraphing for a while they want to be a big part of the Internet of Things," says Frank Gillett, tech industry analyst for Forrester Research. He notes that much like chip-maker Intel, which has had a tough time making the leap from being inside computers to powering mobile devices, "Windows is in many PCs but not in anything else, which is why (Microsoft) isn't charging a licensing fee for being in phones."
By offering free access to Windows 10 for IoT developers, "that's Microsoft's way to get in early with all these people who are fiddling around with inventions," says Gillett.
Kevin Dallas, general manager of the Windows IoT group, wrote in a blog post that the Maker community in particular is "an amazing source of innovation for smart, connected devices that represent the very foundation of the next wave of computing, and we're excited to be a part of it."
Dallas added that "Raspberry Pi 2 is a surprisingly powerful device that opens up the world of computing and programing to a huge range of people and skill levels."
Search online for do-it-yourself Raspberry Pi-fueled creations and you'll get everything from a automated pet-food dispenser a supercomputer created by a father-son team using 64 Pi CPUs.
Pi's original board also was at the heart of a London-based startup called Kano, whose mission is to encourage children to dive into the world of coding by building their own rudimentary computer.
Kano's Lego-like $150 kit launched in the U.S. last fall, and is part of a growing effort to make sure future generations grow up schooled in the digital language that powers a growing segment of the 21st-century's economy. Raspberry Pi is registered as an educational foundation based in England, with a stated mission to advance education in computer science and related fields.