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What Can the $35 Raspberry Pi PC Do for You?
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Basic Computing Tasks

Before we delve into the niche slices of Raspberry Pi, it's worth noting that the PC is perfectly capable of handling everyday computing tasks well enough, making it a great low-cost solution for accessing the Internet. That said, the Raspberry Pi won't break any benchmark testing scores or even load YouTube videos — there's no Adobe Flash support. However, the basic Linux operating system allows users to surf the Web and check email just fine, its user interface is very friendly to boot. Likewise, the hardware has enough oomph to watch H.264- or MPEG-4-encoded videos or edit basic documents and spreadsheets, though early users say it takes several seconds to open apps and files. eLinux's Raspberry Pi wiki is a great resource for learning how to get started.

The Pi as a Media Center PC
As a media center things start to get interesting. The Broadcom processor powering the Pi can play both music and 1080p HD video, while HDMI (not VGA) and RCA ports handle outbound audio/video signals — making the Raspberry Pi an intriguing multimedia device. As mentioned, the PC supports H.264- and MPEG-4 encoded video by default, while low-cost MPEG-2 and VC1 video licenses are available directly from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

A Raspberry Pi-focused variation of the popular XBMC media center app has appeared in the form of the Raspbmc Linux distribution, bringing along DLNA compatibility, an attractive interface, automatic updating, full remote control, and Apple AirPlay support. It's fairly straightforward to setup, though digging into some of the more advanced features might take some homework. Once Raspbmc is set up, all you need to do is connect the Pi to your network or an external hard drive and settle down with some popcorn.

The Pi as Cheap Network Storage
Speaking of external hard drives, plug a sizeable one into the Raspberry Pi's USB, then connect the Pi to a network, and voila!, you've got a large, cheap network file server available to share files with a number of other devices, including Windows and Linux PCs, Macs, and Android phones ... or you can set up another Pi as your media PC.

But setting up a media center is a bit more complicated than just surfing the web. Mounting a USB disk and setting up the Samba file server software requires tinkering with configuration files and adding lines of code. Fortunately, the folks at eLinux explain how to do each with simple, step-by-step instructions.

If that whets your whistle and you're feeling adventurous, Instructables can walk you through setting up a Raspberry Pi as a basic web server. It's not quite for beginners, though.

Learn How to Program
We all secretly want the Pi to brew our coffee, but for the beginner programmer, there's a lot to learn. But that's the whole reason the Raspberry Pi Foundation created the pint-sized PC! The Pi was built with Python, a beginner-friendly programming language designed to help wannabe programmers of all ages get into the coding game. Then, with the command line and basic coding principles mastered, the sky's the limit. Watch out Starbucks!


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