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Cambridge Uni publishes free Pi-OS baking course

12 step program to build a very basic OS

By Simon Sharwood, 3 Sep 2012

Cambridge University has joined the ranks of terribly prestigious universities giving computer science classes away online, releasing a 12-step course teaching how to create what it calls a "basic terminal Operating System" for the Raspberry Pi.

To create the OS you’ll need YAGARTO Tools and YAGARTO GNU ARM, a Raspberry Pi (not necessarily connected to a display), an SD card to insert into the Pi and a PC running Windows, Mac OS or Linux to get everything ready.

The tutorials start with some theory, progress into lessons explaining how to get a Pi's sole LED to turn on and off, and eventually explain how to display graphics and text. There's an obligatory Hello World exercise, and at the end of the course you'll have built a command line interface to play with, albeit one with just four commands.

Along the way participants get a decent introduction to many aspects of computing, with a lot of the assembly code required there to be cut and pasted. The section on graphics includes bitmap grids that will remind some of the free wipe-clean plastic cards used to ease the creation of custom graphics that your correspondent pulled off Spectrum magazine covers in the 1980s (and before such magazines devoted themselves entirely to games, but that’s another story).

The text of the course tries to be friendly and generally succeeds, but at times is also rather dense. Some sections include rather meandering descriptions or footnotes. The lessons are also also long: there’s a lot to do in each of the 11 formal lessons. Introductory chapter zero suggests the course is fine for anyone over 16 and should be fine for younger kids with some hand holding. We suspect many 16 year olds may need that help too and that anyone taking the lessons may find their attention spans challenged.

A downloads page offers solutions to the exercises in each lesson, along with a sample OS produced by the course's author Alex Chadwick.

Overall, the course looks a little more confronting than Coursera's Computer Science 101, which your correspondent survived half of before losing patience.

It is also just the kind of thing the Pi-pushers proposed when they summoned the machine into existence and far closer to their sentiments than pre-rolled media centre OSes. As such, this course is tantalising. ®

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