In my opinion depending on what you are doing, you don't need to spend a dime on software for programming. There are many companies that have free non-commercial products that will get you started. Maybe he has something in mind as far as what language he wants to learn or are you just looking for suggestions? Do you have any idea what language he is using with these robots?
There are so many compilers out there for free, for pretty much any language you want to learn. All you have to do is type in online compiler and you have 100s at your fingertips. Eclipse is a popular free comiler also that every school I have ever been to seems to push for students to use at home.
In general I agree with you two, but what you guys are thinking is what I imagine his son will be doing in a few years when he's more "advanced".
When it comes to Robotics (or any embedded systems) you generally have two ways of going about things
1) Program the device directly. Typically done in C with libraries provided by manufacturers and compiled to a binary (then loaded on the chips EEPROM via USB)
2) The manufacturer provides some software to interact with the board being used
The first is what you guys are talking about such as the Arduino, Teensy, and others. Of course they have wrappers so you can develop in a more 'friendly' language like Python, but at the end of the day you're still loading a raw hex onto the chip.
Robotics at his sons level is almost always in the second class...and more so they are meant for teaching kids so they use visual programming (things like https://scratch.mit.edu/
). No C, Python, or any other programming language. Almost everything here is proprietary so for robot X you must use the visual programming IDE for X and it does not work on robot Y.
The good robots anticipate people moving forward in the domain and therefore also provide the C libraries which makes things easier once kids move on to more advanced things, but this is not always the case
I'll ask what he is coding in now at school. 800 includes the price of the laptop too. And I am open to suggestion as to what language he should start with as well. Like I said I only know the basics when it comes to using a computer.
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Also where would be a good place to look in to a used laptop?
Again, I'll hold off real suggestions until I know exactly what it is he's doing now and can guide you in the right direction. Especially for the which language to learn topic which is a very controversial topic lol.
As far as where to buy used...I've always had good luck on craigslist. Also check out some big stores and ask if they have any open box items. I bought my first MacBook Pro at fry's because they found it in the back, opened and without a price, and the manager just gave it to me for $1000.