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A few years ago, when Jonathan Oxer, former Linux Australia president, author, and owner of a web design company, started playing around with the Arduino, he was doing it for the sheer intellectual pleasure.

His experiments have yielded unexpected dividends - soon, under the label Freetronics, several products built using the Arduino as a base, will start appearing on the shelves of Jaycar Electronics, a popular store in Australia.

Interest in open hardware has also grown to the point where it is beginning to look likely that an open hardware conference may take place in Melbourne this year.

Oxer told iTWire that five resellers in Australia, two in New Zealand and one in Germany would sell the products, things like an ethernet shield and ethernet midspan injector.

The Arduino is a cheap, tiny computer system that was originally designed as a teaching tool and building block for people who want to add some intelligence to objects such as kinetic sculptures and other gadgets.
Jonathan Oxer
"That's (the Jaycar deal) obviously a huge deal for us as a business, but it's also very significant to the open hardware community in general because it means that, possibly for the very first time, a major Australian retailer will be selling hardware licensed under the TAPR Open Hardware Licence," Oxer (left) said.

"It's a major validation of the whole concept of open hardware, just like in the early days of Linux it was significant when major companies like IBM started supporting open source commercially."

The development of products came about as a spinoff after Oxer wrote a book called Practical Arduino. "When working on the book, my expectation was that I was going to provide parts of this information so people could go off and build their own projects," he said.

"But what happened was that a lot of people contacted us afterwards and wanted to buy kits and other things related to the book. So I started investigating how hard it would be to put together some hardware.

"This is where one of the interesting differences between open hardware and open software come in - with open software it's quite easy to publish the source code and the whole tool chain, like compilers or whatever else is necessary. You can give everybody, at zero cost essentially, everything they need to reproduce your work and to develop and build on it.

"With open hardware it's quite different. I can give someone the design parts for a project but then they need the actual materials or the tools and resources to reproduce it in order to improve on it or collaborate with me." (Below: the ethernet shield with PoE)

Ethernet shield with PoE


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.