I have often seen it implied (or even outright stated) that the Raspberry Pi isn't really all that usable as a computer in the "desktop PC" sense, so I decided to put those claims to the test by swapping out my usual netbook (the year-old model of the Asus 1225B, on which I run Xubuntu) for my Raspberry Pi Model B (512MB) Motorola Lapdock setup, which runs Raspbian.
Software-wise, I've set this RPi up to use the same things that I use daily on the 1225B - I ditched LXDE in favour of Xfce, installed Iceweasel (which, for those unaware, is essentially Firefox with a different name on it
), and then added two out of my three usual browser add-ons - Adblock Plus and NoScript. The only difference in what I'm using on the Raspberry Pi is the lack of Flashblock, which isn't necessary on the RPi, since Adobe Flash doesn't exist for ARMv6.
Speed-wise, the Asus 1225B has a 1.6GHz AMD CPU, whilst my Raspberry Pi is slightly overclocked to 800MHz.
I've now been using this setup every day for about three weeks, and am writing and posting this on it, and I have the following observations to share. Note that I'm not speaking of benchmarks or other such figures - just day-to-day usage, doing what I usually do.
1: It's not that slow. Perhaps my requirements for a computer are (much?) more modest than some (please bear in mind that I used a Commodore 64 as my only computer from 1989 until 1996), but for what I do on a computer or netbook (which for the most part consists of reading web-pages, and reading and writing plain-text files), there is so little difference between the RPi and the 1225B as to be imperceptible to me. It's not quite as nippy as some ARMv7 hardware (often set to the same speed or less) that I also use, but it's not too far off. I can really only say that Iceweasel is a little slower to start on the RPi (I haven't yet applied any tweaks that might speed up its start-up, but it is fine once running, and performs little differently to Firefox on the Asus 1225B), and some heavier web-pages (for example, Gmail's non-HTML version) can take some time to load and be a bit sluggish, but the latter strikes me as more a problem of poor coding of web-pages than something I can honestly fault a roughly-£25-ish computer for. I typically have anything between two and twenty-five tabs open at a time in Iceweasel, and the Raspberry Pi is fine with this (and I've even done some Christmas shopping on it). I've been surprised by how nicely Libre Office runs, too - it doesn't really seem to be too different to any other machine that I've used it on, even when starting up. I would say, though, that it may not be suitable for dealing with the rather large scanned images that I sometimes work with in pursuit of my other, non-computing hobby (sewing), as I think that I might need a little bit more RAM for that!
2: There are less distractions from actually getting stuff done. The lack of Flash, in particular, does not strike me as a problem, especially since it means that I have one less browser add-on to run in order to block it except where I want it to be, and I know that there are ways to get around YouTube's use of it, for the occasions when I need to view something there on this machine (though I haven't yet sorted all of that out on here yet).
3: It runs much cooler, and I don't need to charge the Lapdock multiple times in a day. The Asus 1225B, by comparison, makes some pretty lofty battery-life claims that I've never found it to live up to, which makes it a bit impractical.
4: It enforces good backup habits from the start. I've never had any issues with SD Card corruptions or problems, but the fact that it's possible has encouraged me to take proper care of backing things up, which I have occasionally been a bit of a slacker about on other machines. I like the fact that this can be done very simply with an RPi alone using standard Linux commands, as long as you have a second SD Card to run the OS from when backing up your main card, and somewhere to store the backup (I know that there are other methods, but I like the fact that this one is simple and will work without requiring access to any other computers).
5: This last one is perhaps a bit subjective, but I've found that it's actually more fun to use. Perhaps it's an innate trait of the Raspberry Pi and Raspbian, or perhaps it's just me, but it seems to outright invite tweaking, tinkering, and messing with software so that it works better for you - it's a bit of a contrast to other modern desktop Linux distributions for heavier hardware, which tend to spoil you a bit, and don't really give you much, if any, incentive to change things up. By contrast, the first thing that I did on this machine was to set up my own user account (with the same permissions and group as "pi" had), ditch the default desktop environment, and then install and set up my preferred one to my liking, and I learned things along the way, because (in spite of using Linux exclusively since 2008) I've never done any of these things before due to the aforementioned spoiling.
I don't actually see any reason to go back to using the Asus machine at this point, as I find it hugely frustrating to deal with it and its excessive power-hunger (not to mention, I'm actually in the process of switching over to ARM for all of my computing requirements right now). I will probably add an in-line USB battery-pack to the Lapdock sometime soon, so as to counteract the way that it cuts the RPi's power briefly when the lid is shut, as the ability to just close the machine and go is about the only thing that I actually miss a bit (I don't even miss battery status updates, because the Lapdock itself will notify you with a big, obvious red battery-symbol LED when it needs charging).
If this was the only computer that I had access to, and it was my intent to use it for standard useful computery things such as written work, research, and so on (as opposed to frivolities like heavy Facebook games and whatnot), I could actually get on with it just fine (indeed, for my day-to-day use, I already do). I'd also like to add that kudos are in order to the Raspberry Pi Foundation for making a machine this capable available at the price that it's sold for - I'm sure that as awareness continues to rise, it will become a real game-changer for the many who cannot afford an overpriced x86-based personal computer (in my view, synthetic benchmarks and claims from techno-centric folks that it's not usable mean nothing in the face of this - being able to get a useful machine that handles internet access nicely for this price is simply world-changing).
Has anyone else tried using a Raspberry Pi in this capacity? How have you gotten on?