A bit of background before jumping on this journey
I bought this Raspberry Pi 400 as a gift for my youngest child's birthday in 2021. We were both excited; we installed it together and immediately played around with it. After that, we didn't touch it for a long time, so we moved the thing to a more accessible spot in the house. I placed it next to the printer for the rest of the family to use it as well, and they sometimes did, only to scan and print stuff quickly. Finally, a couple of weeks ago I decided to give it a better use, and keeping in mind I only have a MacBook Pro (from my job), I moved the Raspberry Pi 400 setup to my desk to start using it as my personal computer.
What the f*ck is a Raspberry Pi 400 anyway?
First things first, what's a Raspberry Pi?
Computing for everybody. From industries large and small, to the kitchen table tinkerer, to the classroom coder, we make computing accessible and affordable for everybody. https://www.raspberrypi.com/
If you want to know about its history, here's a 1-hour, 17-minute podcast episode on this subject for you to enjoy. ;) ;) ;) https://www.linuxuserspace.show/320.
OK, now... what's a Raspberry Pi 400?
It’s a Raspberry Pi designed into a keyboard. https://www.raspberrypi.com/products/raspberry-pi-400/
Raspberry Pi 400 is a complete personal computer, built into a compact keyboard. Featuring a quad-core 64-bit processor, 4GB of RAM, wireless networking, dual-display output, and 4K video playback, as well as a 40-pin GPIO header, it's the most powerful and easy-to-use Raspberry Pi computer yet.
Keeping my expectations low
I have used Linux distributions as my primary operating system many times before. Despite that, I was a bit concerned about the overall functionality and capabilities of the software that came out of the box. What apps will I be able to use on this thing? I mean, fluidly enough to work on personal projects like this blog, for example. But, as you can imagine, I was even more worried about the performance of the hardware on this minimalist computer—already expecting long and frequent delays even while using local apps, along with some impediments when trying to use complex online applications like Penpot or Telegram.
Now, after a couple of weeks of more serious experimentation, I have to say that I'm very impressed all around ❤
First, I have to thank my friend Grilix for helping me find out the best way to upgrade the OS version from what came in the SD memory by default because it was working a bit clunky. See the guide here.
To be completely honest, I'm amazed at how fluidly this tiny machine is working. It is allowing me to do all the work required to publish this blog: research online, interact with others, write and refine, create illustrations, take screenshots, and even edit images.
- Minimalist and robust design with standard input and output ports.
- The keyboard and mouse work smoothly while providing good physical feedback.
- Multiple usage possibilities: PC, media center, web server, IoT, robotics, and more...
- Do-it-yourself approach with great documentation and a large community.
- It is friendlier with the environment than most PCs out there.
- Just a fraction of the power consumption of traditional PCs.
- Completely silent, and it's always cool. ;)
- Free and open-source software, with a great diversity of useful apps available.
- Fully customizable, as far as you are willing to go.
- Less anxiety around potential surveillance and personal-data collection from the OS and the apps in it (at least I'm feeling that way).
- It seems that this is not an open hardware thing (none of the regular computers are, anyway).
- It requires a bit of willingness to learn and get involved along the way, which I personally find positive and fun. It could help us become more aware and intentional with the technology we use.
- I can't think of anything else at this moment; I'll come back to it in future posts.
Let's talk about the tasks I'm doing and my experience with the tools I'm using for each job.
TASK 0/7: Using the desktop environment (good experience)
The OS came with LXDE, and I only personalized the graphic environment a bit, moving the main navigation panel to the bottom, and installing a theme manager (LXAppearance 0.6.3) to be able to switch to a dark-mode as you can see (see the guide).
TASK 1/7: System housekeeping (good experience)
Logically, I'm using the built-in terminal to run some basic command lines, mainly to keep things up-to-date and also to install and configure new stuff. I'm not a Linux expert or anything like that. I'm just looking for help on the web and then following instructions around.
TASK 2/7: Browsing the internet (good experience)
I installed Firefox first, but I had some issues with it on this machine, so I went back to Chromium since it is the built-in browser. But overall, I'm having a good experience, doing emails, using instant messaging apps like Discord and Element, navigating complex and heavy websites, seeing videos, and more.
TASK 3/7: Syncing folders and files with other devices (good experience)
My friend Grilix recommended Syncthing to me, and I have to say that it is pretty good. I configured different rules for different folders and across three devices I'm regularly using, a MacBook Pro for work, this Raspberry Pi, and my old Android phone.
TASK 4/7: Writing down notes, ideas, and articles like this one (great experience)
In the world of taking notes, I'm always experimenting with new ways to do it. I have tried many apps and formats, from Obsidian and Logseq to Notion, many iPad pencil apps, etc. But no matter what, I'm always coming back to the invincible pen and paper. So the Raspberry Pi situation presented me with a new opportunity to try some new stuff. I don't even remember all the apps I tested out, but after having that feeling of "this is too much for me" over and over again, I decided to explore the basics by simply writing plain text files stored in local folders. So I started using apps like Nano over the terminal, Vim, and even Emacs. But once I found Ghostwriter I immediately knew it would be a long-term relationship ❤ because it is truly distraction-free, uses Markdown as its base formatting, and also looks great ;).
TASK 5/7: Designing illustrations for the blog posts and more (great experience)
My first love: Inkscape was the very first app I installed after getting the Raspberry Pi up and running. I hadn't noticed how much I was missing the freedom of this great design tool. Then, I started to explore the minimalist visual language I wanted to develop around this blog. Simply putting some geometric shapes together and digitally visualizing some ideas I had sketched in my paper notebook. Again, I was positively surprised by how fast and reliably the tool was responding to my actions. I was flowing as the ideas came to mind and never got distracted by any performance or instability issues.
TASK 6/7: Editing images for the blog articles (good experience)
I have a love-hate kind of relationship with my old friend Gimp, but it has comfortably demonstrated that it can still do the job. I needed a simple edit for the photo I used above in this article. So I have installed it, and while giving it a try, I was once again astonished by how fluently and straight-forwardly it was working.
Taking screenshots is also a common thing within my design process because it helps me explain ideas and support the storytelling in an article like this. So I installed GNOME Screenshot, which is working perfectly fine and has a pretty straight-forward interface. But I couldn't generate any screenshots of it to show you here; it does not take selfies ;P.
TASK 7/7: Putting the blog content out there (good experience)
When it comes to blogging platforms, I usually feel lost. Maybe because there are too many options out there, and some of them are only self-hosted, which is way beyond my current capabilities. On the other hand, I'm looking for a specific set of features and characteristics. For example, I prefer a minimalist approach overall, open-source, the possibility to migrate just in case, newsletter and RSS features, easy customization, and more... So I tried WordPress as the logical online option, but it felt too heavy for what I needed. Then, after trying many other options, even though I'm not looking to monetize any content here, I decided to give Ghost a try. And in Ghost's defense, I have to add that it is working way more smoothly than WP on my Raspberry Pi PC.
I've only been experimenting with using this Raspberry Pi 400 as my main personal computer for a couple of weeks, but I'm very happy with the overall experience so far. Good performance and stability all around. Pretty powerful capabilities for a minimalist device. So, I will continue doing all the work for this blog on this machine while slowly starting to work on other more challenging projects to see how it behaves.
To be continued...