|Raspberry Pi Looks To IPO In London
|Written by Harry Fairhead
|Wednesday, 31 January 2024
Raspberry Pi has been changing over the years and the latest upheaval is the proposed IPO. Now we learn that it is likely to be in London and as soon as possible.
Raspberry Pi revolutionised low-cost, and hence accessible, computing. It did it, initially at least, as a non-profit espousing the idea that children needed low-cost computing devices to gain access to the modern world.
At first I doubted the whole idea - after all programming is about software and there was, and still is, lots of redundant hardware around that could be used. I quickly realized that I was badly in error as the Pi took off with hobbyists and the embedded computing market - and indeed with me and my own friends and family.
Initially there was only the Raspberry Pi Foundation which was set up in 2009 as a non-profit to further computer science in schools. This was augmented by Raspberry Pi Trading, now called Raspberry Pi Ltd, as soon as it became clear that the first Pi was a success. The role of the for-profit company was, and still is, confusing. It was said that it would be funding the non-profit and that its goal was to develop the Pi range of hardware.
Right from the start there have been critics that stated that the Pi was not open source and this is true, but it was initially "open enough". Various binary blobs were needed to get the machine up and running, but mostly this didn't make a whole lot of difference, even if you were trying to do difficult things. Most of the time the information you needed was available.This is less true at the moment with the advent of the Pi 5 and yet few seem to be making a fuss, even though this gives us a good idea of how the future will develop.
The Pi has been a surprising success in the industrial setting. It provides a form factor that is between a microcontroller and a desktop machine. You can use it to control some LEDs or a chemical reactor and yet still play multimedia and browse the web. It is a desktop computer cheap enough and small enough to build into a coffee machine.
A great deal of its success in this respect is its operating system. Back in the early days Rasbpian was an independent port of Debian onto the Pi. Now, renamed Pi OS, it is the official OS and managed by Raspberry Pi. It is still open source, it has to be as it's Linux-derived.
There are lots of hardware alternatives to the Pi range, but what they lack is coherence. They generally ship with a half-baked modification of Linux that becomes abandonware soon afterwards. If you are developing something that you might turn into a commercial product, and this is the norm even for the most unambitious hobbist, then you don't want to put your faith in a company that might not be around next week. The role of Pi OS in the Pi's sucess is much underestimated and its importance in an IPO is also likely to be down-played. Building a commercial empire on open source software isn't a good bet.
So now we get to today. During the chip shortage. Raspberry Pi Ltd showed its true intent and the supply of devices to anyone other than industrial users dried up. We are now past this point and devices are reasonably readily available, even if many a Pi enthuisast has moved on to other things and vowed never to forget the betrayal.
Now is a good time to launch an IPO. And Eben Upton reported yesterday that they are in talks with London banks about an IPO as soon as the market conditions are right. This has spooked many a Raspberry enthusiast to become a former enthusiast.
The fact of the matter is that once shareholders are involved almost anything is possible. Even CEO Eben Upton's reassurances:
"We've always tried to run a business that does interesting work and makes money, and I don't think those imperatives are going to change. We will keep doing the same stuff. Certainly while I'm in charge." (The Register)
Well all of this could change big time when shareholders need to see the value of their shares going up and, more to the point, when increasing profit becomes the only goal. It is difficult not to think of what has been happening to Boeing since it moved from being engineering-focused to shareholder-focused.
People have been commenting that we could see a move to a more proprietary and less open Pi - but this is already happening. The Pi 5 isn't backward compatible with earlier hardware because it uses a custom RP1 chip and, guess what, there are no plans to sell the RP1. Without access to the RP1 it is very difficult to see how to produce a Pi 5 clone - the whole market belongs to Raspberry Pi. Not only is the RP1 proprietary, information about how it works is also difficult to come by. A rough draft of an incomplete manual was released recently, but it simply reveals how much is being kept back.
My best guess is that the Pi 5 is the start of a new Pi range. The CM5, the industrial version of the Pi, has already been discussed and it should be available later in the year. It sounds good, but it is going to present huge problems for any company trying to move custom software from a CM4 as the RP1 makes them incompatible. Of course, it also makes the CM5 proprietary.
I think Raspberry enthusiasts and industrial users, who in the main are also Raspberry enthusiasts, have a lot justifiable worries, but I doubt any of them will affect the IPO or the eventual price paid. I have a feeling that the golden days of the Pi as far as the enthusiast and educator are concerned are numbered - I just hope I'm proved wrong.
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|Last Updated ( Wednesday, 31 January 2024 )