Google’s Coder is for more than just Pi

coderlogoGoogle’s Creative Lab has released Coder, an operating system image for the Raspberry Pi which can be booted from an SD card and offers an easy to use environment for learning about coding in JavaScript, HTML5, CSS and working with Node.js. It is in fact a relatively portable Node.js application which could be hosted on the desktop, in the cloud or wherever it is needed. Google have crafted the image for the Pi so that its an easy to deliver, and dare we say attention grabbing, way of putting the technology in educators hands.

So what’s in Coder? Its more like an educational Web IDE which quick launch buttons for projects. A simple panel of launch buttons, plus one “+” button to create new projects, greets the user. Selected an application lets that application run. Clicking the “Hack” button in the top right brings up some variables that can be changed to get people into that basic idea of that yes, you can change things. Clicking the “Coder” button brings up a multi-tab IDE with syntax colouring and the option the edit the HTML, JavaScript, CSS or even the Node.js server file for the application. There’s also a media browser/manager and an app preview mode. And that pretty much covers it. Here’s a gallery to let you have a look at it.

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So, a good general purpose tool. The archive comes complete with a image-to-SD writer for the Mac which simplifies the process by detecting the SD card to be written by asking the user to plug it in. Under the covers its the Raspbian version of Debian with various extra scripts and configuration buts bolted on.  I ran the image on one of the Raspberry Pi’s here and it all seems to work with some caveats. Connectivity is odd. Much is made of the optional Wi-Fi support but I tried two different Wi-Fi dongles with no success. I’ll be digging in to find out whats up with that when I’ve got a chance, but if you are going to try Coder plug in an Ethernet cable – it’ll save time.

When setting up, be warned that Coder does my favourite password anti-pattern… reject passwords on the basis of rules it didn’t tell you beforehand… you’ll need upper case, lower case and a number in your password. Otherwise, it looks good, and its quick enough on the Pi though beware, it uses mDNS to make itself into “coder.local” on the network so if you set up a couple for a class you are going to need to tweak the images; the project appears to be working on classroom management tools too though and this is only version 0.4 of Coder.

If you haven’t got a Raspberry Pi, then you can always build it for desktop system. One Hacker News reader (fdb) offers up a quick recipe for running it on a Mac with Homebrew (if you have a Mac and code and don’t have Homebrew, get it) and the routine should be pretty much similar to that for other platforms. Also interestingly, the project is hosted on GitHub rather than Google Code but thats for pondering another day. It’s all under an Apache 2.0 Licence. Good work Google… Mozilla have shown similar tools, but Google’s Creative Labs team seem to have worked out that its all about how you package and deliver to the classroom to make a difference.

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