PiFi: Raspberry Pi as a wireless network adapter

Does PiFi mean WiFi isn’t pie in the sky?

If you want to be able to connect your RISC OS kit to your wireless network, R-Comp’s stand at the forthcoming Wakefield Show might be worth a visit – they will be launching a new product called PiFi, which aims to allow you to do just that.

“PiFi,” explains Andrew Rawnsley in his announcement, “is an SD-based OS/environment that turns your Raspberry Pi into a RISC OS-friendly WiFi solution. With a compatible WiFi adapter connected, the Pi becomes the gateway for your other RISC OS systems (and more) to wirelessly access the world.”

In other words, a WiFi adapter is connected to a Raspberry Pi, which is in turn booted from the PiFi SD-card, and the Pi then shares its wireless connection with whatever is connected to it – such as a RISC OS computer.

No technical details have been shared in the announcement – presumably R-Comp want to encourage people to see it for themselves at the show – but I’d guess the SD-card contains a Linux variant, set up for the specific purpose of sharing a network connection provided by a USB wireless adapter. It also seems likely that the connection from the Pi to the RISC OS computer will be via ethernet, but it’s not too difficult to imagine that a small router or hub could be connected to the Pi, and this used to share the connection with multiple machines.

Connecting to such a secondary router might at first sound odd – if you’re connecting to this secondary router with an ethernet cable, why not just connect to the main router that way? The answer is that this might be preferable to laying a suitable cable from the router to where the RISC OS computers are located.

With a good enough router, it’s also possible to connect it wirelessly to the primary router, and thus provide a connection to the wireless network that way – but routers that allow that are probably going to come in at a slightly higher price that a Raspberry Pi, USB WiFi adapter, and R-Comp’s PiFi.

The announcement says that “PiFi is designed to be compatible with RISC OS web browsers such as NetSurf” – so it seems likely that the OS provided on the SD-card is running a web server to provide a web-based configuration screen, which has been designed to work with the likes of NetSurf. Devices providing network services, such as routers, often provide a web based interface for configuration – and they usually require browser features that NetSurf currently lacks. The same is often true of wireless network adapters that connect to a computer’s ethernet port, making them quite impractical for use with RISC OS computers, unless a PC is also available for that initial configuration.

Although PiFi is initially to be sold as a WiFi solution for RISC OS, R-Comp says that because it’s a full OS, it could be useful for other things, and they’ll be looking into the possibilities in future. For example, it could be used to provide USB facilities over ethernet to older RISC OS computers that lack USB connectivity, and server facilities for USB devices that RISC OS itself doesn’t understand, such as many types of printer.

No prices have been revealed as yet, so pop along to R-Comp’s stand at the show for more information and to buy PiFi, along with suitable WiFi adapters – or keep an eye out on RISCOSitory for a show report, and the RISCOSitory YouTube channel for a video of R-Comp’s talk.

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