The Arduino Wars officially ended last October, and the new Arduino-manufacturing company was registered in January 2017. At the time, we were promised an Arduino Foundation that would care for the open-source IDE and code infrastructure in an open and community-serving manner, but we don’t have one yet. Is it conspiracy? Or foul play? Our advice: don’t fret. These things take time.
But on the other hand, the Arduino community wants to know what’s going on, and there’s apparently some real confusion out there about the state of play in Arduino-land, so we interviewed the principals, Massimo Banzi and Federico Musto, and asked them for a progress report.
The short version is that there are still two “Arduinos”: Arduino AG, a for-profit corporation, and the soon-to-be Arduino Foundation, a non-profit in charge of guiding and funding software and IDE development. The former was incorporated in January 2017, and the latter is still in progress but looks likely to incorporate before the summer is over.
Banzi, who is a shareholder of Arduino AG, is going to be the president of the Foundation, and Musto, AG’s CEO, is going to be on the executive board and both principals told us similar visions of incredible transparency and community-driven development. Banzi is, in fact, looking to get a draft version of the Foundation’s charter early, for comment by the community, before it gets chiseled in stone.
It’s far too early to tell just how independent the Foundation is going to be, or should be, of the company that sells the boards under the same name. Setting up the Foundation correctly is extremely important for the future of Arduino, and Banzi said to us in an interview that he wouldn’t take on the job of president unless it is done right. What the Arduino community doesn’t need right now is a Foundation fork. Instead, they need our help, encouragement, and participation once the Foundation is established. Things look like they’re on track.
A Tale of Two Arduinos
Until late 2014, there were two “Arduinos”: Arduino LLC, which took on the task developing the IDE and guiding the community, and Smart Projects, which was the manufacturing arm of the project that incidentally owned the trademark on the name “Arduino”, at least in Europe. All legal heck broke loose in November 2014, when Smart Projects changed its name to Arduino SRL (an Italian form of limited-liability corporation) and stopped funneling profits back into Arduino LLC. Arduino LLC filed for a trademark in the US, and Arduino SRL countered the filing based on their EU trademark. Arduino LLC filed a lawsuit in the USA, which resulted in two years of uncertainty about which company was the “real” Arduino, confusion in retail channels, two websites, and two versions of the IDE. It wasn’t pretty.
In October 2016, the lawsuit was settled out of court. The settlement documents themselves are under a sort of non-disclosure agreement, and we were told that there are around 500 pages worth. But a very short version is that a new Arduino corporation (Arduino AG) would hold the trademark and rights to produce the boards, while the Arduino Foundation, a 501(c)(6) non-profit corporation would be established to develop the firmware and the IDE.
In a nearly Solomonic decision, Arduino AG is 51% owned by the previous owners of Arduino SRL, and 49% owned by the previous Arduino LLC principals. Federico Musto, the largest shareholder of SRL, is now Arduino AG’s CEO, and Massimo Banzi, the largest shareholder in LLC, is picked to be the Arduino Foundation’s president.
So there are still two “Arduinos”, but their incentives are now aligned instead of adversarial. Arduino AG owns the trademark, manufactures the boards, and makes the money. The Arduino Foundation will be funded by at least Arduino AG, but also by any other stake-holders in the Arduino ecosystem that wish to contribute. Arduino AG is now in a sense just a company that makes development boards, while the Arduino Foundation is in control of the rest of what makes Arduino “Arduino”: the non-tangible environment.
As a result, the community should care a lot about the Foundation. The choices made there will change your programming experience most directly, and if you’re interested in contributing code to the mainline distribution, the Foundation will be the gatekeeper — as much as there can be a gatekeeper in entirely open source software.
Progress, but Slow Progress
So why is setting up the Arduino Foundation taking so long? We’d claim it’s not, and that the signs…
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