First Week with the Raspberry Pi

by Troy Scott

2014/02/24

Its important to remember that the Raspberry Pi is designed for hackers or hobbyists that don't mind spending time learning about the device and the software.   Its not intended to replace the home PC or Apple TV. I spent the first week setting up the device as a media center and a web server. I installed raspbian and raspbmc on the device using NOOBS. This gives you the option of booting into either the Raspbian linux distro or the Raspbmc media centre.

The xbmc provided by raspbmc is light weight and a good option if you don't want to invest money in the Google or Apple eco-system. If you are going to use the xbmc I recommended investing in an external USB hard drive or USB Flash Drive (4+ GB). A USB powered hub is also important because the device only has 2 USB ports.

In fact one of the best ways to access media on the Raspberry Pi is the Dropbox addon that comes with Raspbmc. This is where the USB External Flash Drive is very important. Create the following folder structure in the Dropbox account:

  • pi
    • video
    • music
    • addons
    • pics
    • temp

You should be able to enable the Dropbox addon (dbmc) in the Raspbmc. If not you can download the most recent version here. Its important to configure the addon to cache the files on an external storage device. If you want to add media to your Raspberry Pi you just need to copy the media files into the appropriate dropbox folers. Obviously you will need to spend some time organizing the content. For example, if you want to create a photo album then create a new folder under pics to represent the name of the album like "Vacation 2014". The Raspbmc also supports air play for audio only. If you have an ipad or iphone and a good set of speakers plugged into the TV set you can use it as your media center. So why would yo want to use Raspbmc if you already had a device like Apple TV or Roku ? For me it provides full control of the content. Although i am using Dropbox to simplify the transferring of data i have control of what i put on the device. Secondly i can put any content i want on it. If you have music you burned from old CD's you can't store these on your Apple TV unless you use Home Sharing with one of your home PC's. Its also great for setting up music and video content for an event. The menuing system is easy to use since its is all file based.

Having said that, I found that the Raspberry Pi had more value as a web development server than a media center. I used to run linux servers with Virtual Box on my Windows 7 desktop. This becomes cumbersome overtime because the Windows 7 machine usually requires a reboot at leat once a week/month for security updates. The raspberry pi really is a $50 to $60 linux server which you can access via ssh from your desktop computer. I used the following configuration for the Raspbian development server:

  • nodejs
  • setup file share
  • use pagekite server to create external web server and ssh access
  • Use git to manage my files
  • full version of vim: sudo apt-get install vim

The file share is a good idea if you want to use development tools like Adobe Edge Code or Eclipse which are installed on a Windows Desktop. Just map a drive letter to the linux file share and start editing the files. These are just some suggestions to get you started. In future post I will discuss how to setup important tools like task and package managers which will aid in the development life cycle.