Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Arduino vs Arduino battle ranges on

Here's an interesting blog post from a "genuine Arduino reseller". Or, they were, until quite recently.

The Arduino vs Arduino argument one of those things that created a massive fuss in the "maker community". But having never really been fans of Arduino (for a whole slew of reasons, not just because of the association with hipster-wannabes) it's an argument we've not really had much of an opinion on.

Except that we recently decided to try to open-source one of our ideas. It's something we've been against for a long time. There are too many people who believe open-source means "you do all the work and I'll just bitch from the sidelines until you change your product to be what I want it to be then hand it over to me for nothing". We get requests for all kinds of things from the number of blog posts on here.

We don't mind sharing ideas, schematics and code. But we release only as much as we want to. Sometimes we don't release anything. We have no commitment to "openness". Because, in the main, a lot of Open Source Fans tend to be quite militant.

It's why we've never tried or claimed to make anything open source. On this blog we just brain-dump whatever is being worked on; sometimes full code listings are included. Sometimes just an explanation of how something works and a few diagrams. Sometimes we'll reply to emails asking (politely) for help with something. Aggressive demands for source code/schematics/abuse for not publishing under an open-source licence are just ignored.

Arduino was originally designed as an open-source platform to enable people to get stuff done. It's not the best platform for coding, and it's certainly not the best hardware compared to other, similar, microcontrollers. But it did allow people to get stuff made quickly and relatively easily. And it became very popular. Partly because it was open-source. So why is there even a lawsuit, when all the schematics, source files and code have been published as open-source? They're all out there for anyone to make their own copy of the hardware.

Well, it seems that now, Arduino is not a platform, but has become a brand. And in doing so, the people behind Arduino seem to have forgotten the reason it exists. With so many capable clones available so cheaply, people pay a premium to support "original" Arduino because they believe in the whole architecture and want to give credit where it's due. It's not because one "arduino" board from the "official supplier" is better (or even different) from a cheap Chinese clone. But official arduino suppliers enjoy lots of loyalty from informed customers who are willing to pay more for their boards, to support the whole ecosystem.

But now, the people behind the original Arduino are actively discouraging sellers from selling Arduino-branded boards into different territories. They're not just making it difficult, but imposing commercial restrictions on who can sell their "brand" into which territories.  The summary of the blog post (by a company who want to sell offical Arduino) is quite telling:

It's a real shame that Arduino LLC seem to have lost any of the Maker-vibe it had.
They seem more pre-occupied in playing at pretending to be one of the big boys with lawyers working double-time and focussing on "brand identity" to the detriment of anything else.

What a crock.
Here are some tips:

  • Don't make resellers stock twice as many SKUs for no reason. It hurts their ability to stock your product which is dumb.
  • Everyone sells worldwide now. This agreement affects pretty much all of your resellers. They should be angry (I know we are).
  • ...<snip>...
  • No one else cares about this. Not resellers, customers, or existing users. Only you. It might be worth thinking about that.

The bottom line sums up the situation quite nicely.
No-one really cares what an Arduino board is called (Arduino, Genuino, Funduino....) in the user-world, it's a generic term for the platform. Much like we push a hoover around to clean up the carpets, not a vacuum cleaner. Arduino is a term used to easily describe the hardware/software/architecture. There's no point being precious about it. Hoover don't try suing people who say they're doing the "hoovering" while pushing a Henry or a Dyson around. The only people who seem to care about "brand Arduino" are Arduino LLC.

What really caught our attention about this particular post was the very essence of open-source hardware seems to be fizzling out in recent years. While the end-users are getting more militant about insisting on getting stuff for free for no input / developers honouring the "purest" open-source principles, the people who originally embraced openness as a way of furthering their products (through a community-based debugging and improvement re-iterative development process) suddenly started turning their backs on open-source, in return for stocks and shares and venture capital investment.

Bre Pettis and Makerbot are the ultimate example in this. The way Makerbot actively encouraged the community to get involved, make and show-off their improvements to a once-open system, only to take these ideas and then obscure them behind walls of lawyers and patent applications demonstrated that even the loudest advocate of openness didn't - once cold hard dollars were involved - actually believe in it.

But now, it seems, the guys behind Arduino have got tied up in this kind of nonsense too - what was originally a by-word for an open platform that anyone could learn to build stuff with has become a euphemism for infighting and stupid, commercial, restrictions on who can and can't buy the "official" Arduino hardware.

Arduino isn't a trademark.
Well, it might be.
But so is Hoover.
But we still push hoovers around to clean the carpets when we actually mean vacuum cleaners.
The truth is, no-one cares what it's called.
So why are the people behind Arduino going out of their way to annoy the very people who actively want to support them? Do they still live by "openness"? Or are they more concerned about protecting a "brand identity"? (and if so, who else other than themselves cares about a "brand"?)

Adafruit have managed to demonstrate that you can be commercially successful and still embrace openness. It just seems curious that the people behind Arduino are throwing away the goodwill that the community wants to show them (by buying their hardware at a premium cost) and imposing commercial restrictions on resellers.

And all the while, this just makes the idea of open-hardware all the more confusing. If leading lights behind the original "maker movement" no longer live by their founding principles, where does this leave the very idea of "open source" hardware?

Maybe we should just save ourselves a whole load of hassle and abandon our plans for releasing anything as "open source" now, before we get going. From what we've seen going on with (Makerbot and) Arduino, it might just make things much easier in the long run! After all, we've never really been committed to it anyway. And those who once were seem more concerned about protecting their commercial interests and trademarks nowadays too......

Interesting post from Hernando Barragan.
He's the guy who invented Wiring.
And Arduino is built on Wiring.
But there's something wrong with Massimo's version of events; he claims a lot of credit and makes a lot of inferences about "open source" as if Arduino is improving or changing the terms of Wiring licencing. Turns out, it's nothing of the sort. In fact, Massimo Banzi doesn't come out of this very well at all: