Pros and cons of Windows 10 IoT for Raspberry Pi and Arduino builds

Big ups to Windows for an attractive interface, but as one maker points out, "This is still pioneer territory."

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Last summer, when the Windows Dev Center announced Windows 10 support for IoT devices, there was a lot of excitement--and skepticism--in the maker community. Anecdotally, at least, it's a Linux crowd. If nothing else, the maker movement has grown up with an open source mentality.

It's been about six months since the announcement and the community has had ample time to try some Raspberry Pi and Arduino builds using Windows 10 IoT. So how's it going?

To find out, I reached out to John Cole, founder of Dexter Industries, which supplies robotics kits and components for DIY builds.

Turns out John recently followed along on a build to see if his company's $200 GoPiGo robot car kit would work well running Windows. The short answer is yes. Not surprisingly, Windows 10 IoT is a capable and in some ways advantageous alternative to a traditional open source OS.

But it's not perfect, and the advantages and drawbacks of Windows for the Raspberry Pi, which appear at the bottom of my interview, offer a great preview of a new phase of the debate between two occasionally rabid camps. The prize? The bajillion IoT devices that are beginning to streamline our world.

Quick note: The GoPiGo build John followed along with was masterminded by three ambitious contributors: Jon Robson, Steve Langston, and a maker named Paul Binder. If you'd like to give it a try yourself, here are the build notes.

GREG: First question: Why do this? I'm curious what the ambition was here.

JOHN: After Windows support for the Raspberry Pi was announced, our forums were on fire with the question, "Will the GoPiGo work with Windows 10?".

We can now emphatically say "Yes"!

GREG: Interesting that people were so curious. I would have thought there'd be more hesitation among your community members.

JOHN: Right, and let's take a step back and acknowledge that Windows 10 isn't open source, and that's not entirely in-line with Dexter Industries' mission of teaching robotics with open source technology. However, because of the popularity of Windows, and the fact that Microsoft has made Windows 10 on Raspberry Pi free for individuals, we were excited to see if we could bring the GoPiGo to even more developers in the world. Hopefully by growing the open source software around the Raspberry Pi and around the Windows environment, we're making robotics more accessible for everyone (even Windows developers!).

GREG: So your contributors decide to take on this project, and you're following along. What were the early challenges?

JOHN: Yeah, three courageous contributors, Jon, Steve and Paul, took off with the idea of bringing the GoPiGo to Windows 10. One challenge to getting set up was that the directions require you to have Windows 10 setup on a PC first. Fortunately, I don't throw away any hardware, and I had an ancient PC sitting around.

GREG: Was it using an ancient version of Windows?

John: [Laughs] After a bit of time upgrading, I found a few tutorials on installing Windows 10 on the Raspberry Pi. To be honest, none of them worked by themselves. This is still pioneer territory. But there were a couple I did find very helpful. One is the official Microsoft resource and the other is a tutorial by Scott Hanselman.

GREG: So how did your contributors fair?

JOHN: Much better. While I'm struggling to get setup, Jon, Steve, and Paul are cranking out the new code and examples. They did an amazing job and wrote out some easy examples. You can see the code on Github. You can also check out tutorials for getting started on our brand new Hackster account.

There's also a video of the GoPiGo testing servo control, which you can control through a visual interface (below).

And of course I captured my exciting first run of the GoPiGo on Windows 10 (below).

GREG: Okay, so give me the takeaway. How did Windows treat you?

JOHN: In my personal experience, I think there are a couple of advantages to the new Windows Operating System on the Raspberry Pi. The first is that great interfaces are really possible. Steve took the lead on putting together a really nice looking interface for the GoPiGo example. Visual Studio gives the opportunity to really write some beautiful looking interfaces.

Also, lots of folks run Windows. Ubiquitous it still is! Having a native platform for the Pi will have it's advantages.

And don't forget, Visual Studio is still a great environment to develop code in. It's pretty, it's powerful, and it's your option for C#. Once you learn it, it's great.

GREG: Right, so that's the good. Any complaints?

JOHN: There are a few drawbacks to the new system, and I hope that Microsoft can address them. First off, It's painful to install the image and get started. Contrarily, Noobs is pretty easy to get going.

As I mentioned, directions are still a little unclear. Putting Windows 10 on a card is not too confusing, but getting some code up on Windows 10 is a lot more complex than running a Python program.

Another obvious complaint is that wifi doesn't work. At least not yet.

And here's the biggie: You need Windows 10. Indeed, this might not change. Microsoft no doubt wants to sell software, and we may not see an easier way for Windows 7 folks to get in on the action any time soon. That means even Windows users who have held out might need to bite the bullet and upgrade.

Many thanks to John Cole for sharing his thoughts.

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