The Impact of Ten Million

This column is from The MagPi issue 50. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition in your mailbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve its charitable goals.

Babbage Bear lies spreadeagled on a heap of Raspberry Pis

Last month, the Raspberry Pi Foundation hit a major milestone by selling its ten millionth computer. Besides taking the opportunity to celebrate – and celebrate we did – it’s also a good time to reflect on the impact that the device has had over the last four and a half years. As you may know already, we don’t just make an ultra-affordable computer. Our mission is to put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world; the Raspberry Pi computer helps us do that.

There are many ways in which the Raspberry Pi has a positive impact on the world. It’s used in classrooms, libraries, hackspaces, research laboratories, and within the industrial environment. People of all ages use Raspberry Pi, in these contexts and others, to learn about computing and to create things with computers that we never could have imagined.

But I believe the biggest impact we’ve had was to encourage more people to experiment with computers once again. It used to be that in order to use a computer, you had to have fairly good knowledge of how it worked, and often you needed to know how to program it. Since then, computers have become much more mainstream and consumer-friendly. On the one hand, that change has had an incredible impact on our society, giving more people access to the power of computing and the internet. However, there was a trade-off. In order to make computers easier to use, they also became less ‘tinker-friendly’.

When I was a kid in the 1980s, our family had an old IBM PC in our basement, that was decommissioned from my father’s workplace. On that computer, I learned how to use the DOS prompt to work with files, I created my own menu system out of batch files, and most importantly, I learned my first ever programming language: BASIC.

I feel very lucky that I had access to that computer. That kind of early exposure had such a huge impact on my life. For years I continued to learn programming, both in school and in my own time. Even though I’ve benefited greatly from the mainstream, consumer-friendly technology that has since become available, I still use and build upon the skills that I learned as a kid on that IBM PC. Programming languages and hardware have changed a lot, but the fundamental concepts of computing have remained mostly the same.

The Next Generation

I expect that the Raspberry Pi has a very similar impact on young people today. For them, it fills the void that was left when computers became less like programmable machines and more like consumer products. I suspect that, just like with me, this impact will linger for years to come as these young people grow up and enter a workforce that’s increasingly dependent on their digital skills. And if even just a tiny bit of interest in computing is the spark, then I believe that a tinker-friendly computer like Raspberry Pi is the kindling.

Here’s where that ten million number comes into play. Admittedly, not everyone who is exposed to a Raspberry Pi will be affected by it. But even if you guess conservatively that only a small fraction of all the Raspberry Pis out in the world serve to inspire a young person, it still adds up to an incredible impact on many lives; not just right now, but for many years to come. It’s quite possible that many of tomorrow’s computer scientists and technology specialists are experimenting with a few of the first ten million Raspberry Pis right now.


Richard Sierakowski avatar

Even if only 0.1% are inspired by the Raspberry Pi environment then their involvement will make the world a million times better for the rest of the humans:)


Matt Richardson avatar

I can’t wait for the future!

W. H. Heydt avatar

It’s coming…one day at a time.

Robert Zwemer avatar

What percent of the ten million Raspberry Pi’s are Raspberry Pi Zero? Still waiting to buy more than one at a time, or pay $30 each on ebay.

W. H. Heydt avatar

Even if you count the shipping as part of the cost of the Pi Zero, you can do a lot better than $30 each by ordering through an official reseller. You’ll just have to order them one at a time.

don isenstadt avatar

At this point it is rare for me to encounter people who have not heard of the Raspberry Pi. They might not know what they want to do with it but they know what it is. Now if I can only get them to view the web site! Nice Article!

W. H. Heydt avatar

Lucky you…even at the Computer History Museum (Mountain View, CA) where we hold Jams, I constantly talk to people who have never heard of the Raspberry Pi, let alone know what it is or have ever seen one.

Liz Upton avatar

I’ll echo what Matt says, Hal: I can’t express how much we appreciate what you and Jim are doing in Mountain View (and what all the other volunteers who run Jams do). Thank you!

W. H. Heydt avatar

Thank you for those kind words.

solar3000 avatar

And I want to echo my jealousy! East Coast! What’s in the east coast?

Matt Richardson avatar

Thanks Don and Hal for all your help getting the word out! For me it goes both ways. Sometimes I feel like we’ve become much more mainstream, other times I feel like we have a long way to go. Either way, we appreciate all the help!

W. H. Heydt avatar

Yeah…it’s fun when you run into someone and mention “Raspberry Pi” and they know about them. It’s also fun when you pull a Pi Zero out of your pocket, tell someone that it is a computer (not part of a computer, just “a computer”) and then have them guess what the official price is. I’ve had people start guessing at several hundred dollars. When they find out that it’s $5, they have to pick their jaw up off the floor….

Jose avatar

I grew also in the age where you had to figure it out things for yourself when talking about computers. My first computer was a Commodore 128 and it had a big influence on me. I have been following the raspberry pi project since it began and got several of the different raspberrys at home. Whenever I have a chance, I try to promote the project (And some times I even give some raspberrys) because I am convinced that using it will make a difference.
I live in a third world country and we need desperately to develop this skills and the raspberry pi is great for that.

solar3000 avatar

When I grew up we ate glass for lunch. We used to walk to school barefoot on 20 miles of ice in our underwear while carrying two boxes of lead.

I started out with the TRS 80 Color Computer. We also had many green computers too. I first owned a Commodore 64.

I remember playing ‘ninja’ on a green screen and some adventure game on a text console.

I remember our ‘network’. The teacher would yell ‘type cload’ which is computer-load. And then he would press play on a machine that had rolls of tape. Minutes later we would have ‘logo’ on each computer. The code was ‘forward 10’, ‘right 90’ and so on.

Ange avatar

My TRS-80 was monochrome. I learned TRS-DOS before MS-Dos.

Susan avatar

I only recently discover the Raspberry Pi but I’m so grateful to have been introduced! My former company is now looking at using them as learning tools, that our employees can bring to their kids and their communities, to spark interest in tech jobs!

SimonFD avatar

“the first 10 million: they were the worst
The second 10 million: they were the worst too
The third 10 million: I didn’t enjoy at all
After that, I went into a bit of a decline…”

mahjongg avatar

That’s about years, not PI’s.

SimonFD avatar

I just couldn’t help myself :)

Elfen avatar

Isn’t it more than 10million though? I mean – its 10million for the raspberry Pi Foundation, but what about the Clone R-Pi’s that are floating around, like the Red ones made by China and other Asian countries? Are they counted into the mix? I do not think so. They must have a couple million more for their target audiences as well.

It’s great that the Raspberry Pi has reached and continues to surpass this level, especially in such a short time – less than 5 years! May you guys continue on with the great work!

mahjongg avatar

There are no “clones”, all the PI’s, even the red Chinese ones are official PI’s.

Elfen avatar

Does not answer my question, are they counted as part of that 10million?

SimonFD avatar

Such a fantastic achievement and a great story!
I was in the queue on the first day and got a Pi B ver1
Then I got an A+
Then a Pi 2B
Then a Zero (2 actually) via MagPi cover – I kept one still in it’s wrapper
Then just last week a new Zero and camera adapter cable

Matt Richardson avatar

Thank you for all of your support of the Raspberry Pi Foundation!

SimonFD avatar

I should point out that these things have helped my Linux knowledge balloon from what is was. I’m controlling servos, reading sensors, re-exploring RiscOS
I’m going to set up a wildlife camera using the zero and then look at robotics and AI proncples
So many things to do – so little time

Thank you, Raspberry Pi Foundation

Milliways avatar

It is not just the young. I designed an built my first computer 40 years ago, and while I still program on my laptops, it just isn’t as much fun.

After a serious illness and long hospital stay, I bought my 1st Pi over 3 years ago as a rehabilitation project. I now have 5 and there is always one with some wires emerging for my latest project. I even have one in the lounge room (because it is more comfortable than my workshop).

W. H. Heydt avatar

Pis are like potato chips (“crisps” to our friends on the east side of the Pond). You can’t consume just one… I’m too scared to count all the Pis all the Pis I have. avatar

A Raspberry Pi B+ and a Code Club book our library had was how I learned Python.

Warren avatar

I’m a 20+ year IT professional. The Pi has reignited my interest in learning stuff that I don’t get to use day to day in my work. In particular, I have begun to enjoy Linux again, programming, IOT, and pen testing.

Thanks for bringing back the fire I once had when I first started learning about computers.

D. Nendza avatar

I wrote my first program in 1964. Yeah, that’s right, not a typo. I spent
nearly $7000 on a dual 8 inch floppy IMSAI 8080 system in the late 70’s. It’s all been great fun from monster IBM computers to desktop micros, but the Raspberry Pi has brought back the sense of awe of what can be done with such a small and inexpensive device. I’m having a blast learning more about Linux and continuing to use PERL on several Pi’s with Postgresql db and multiple interactive programs. Wow!

Manoel avatar

I bought my first pi in 2012. For three years it was just an Openelec media centre. In 2015 I finally started to use raspbian in a serious way, and I bought one Pi 2, also. As much of you have said, it brought a hapinness and awe with computers that I tought was lost in the 80’s with my teenager years… How did I live so many years with no SSH servers in my house when I was out? How could I keep using Azureus, since I learned to use transmission from command line and bash scripts?

Geir Thorud avatar

Talking about 1964 and things that affected once life later on. Maybe there are others that remember a Philips electronics hobby set in the early 1960s. You could build a radio, a beeper for practicing morse code and many other projects. It had 2 – TWO – transistors. I still have many of the components.

Matt avatar

Ever since consumer PCI hardware MPEG decoder cards started coming out in the late 90’s I was looking for a device that could output broadcast quality video and graphics for a fraction of a typical broadcast TV budget. Boy, did RPi fit right in! On a couple of occasions I had a bunch of Pi’s feeding hundred-thousand-dollar worth HD live production trucks as their main source of video. If that’s not uber cool I’m not sure what is :) Thanks to RPi foundation people for all the fun I had (and all that’s still to come)!

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