CEO controversy mars Arduino’s open future

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Things in the normally placid world of open source hardware are heating up as major figures in the Maker movement have begun speaking out against the current managing director of Arduino AG, Frederico Musto. The Italian engineer became a part owner in the company after buying out one of the original five founders and ultimately came to run Arduino AG, a holding company that owns the trademark for the project.

Now Musto is facing scrutiny, initially for exaggerating his educational credentials and, ultimately, for seemingly pulling open source licenses, schematics, and code from the Arduino hardware line-up.

The suspicionss arose when Musto met with Limor Fried and Phil Torrone of Adafruit. Fried asked Musto about his MIT credentials and Musto, according to Fried, cut the meeting short. Musto has removed his higher education credentials from his LinkedIn page, leaving only a Montessori Kindergarten in Torino, Italy.

He explains that he never attended those schools officially but is dismissive of the claims.

“It was 25 years ago. I was a visiting student. I spent three months at NYU and two semesters at MIT thanks to a scholarship from Olivetti,” he said. Fried, for her part, told Wired that Musto’s degree inflation was damaging, especially as a woman in tech.

“When you go to MIT, there is always this murmur that they had to lower the standards for you,” she said. “And after you graduate, you get asked all the time if you were actually smart enough to have earned your credentials. It’s a little bit insane that this guy has gotten this far without ever being questioned.”

Fried and Torrone have been working to uncover potential favoritism in the Italian courts thanks to help from Musto’s father, Paolo, as well as fraud associated with signing his documents as a Ph.D. Further, the Arduino Foundation that Musto promised to launch in order to support the open source project has yet to materialize.

The vast majority of the controversy hinges on whether Musto and the Arduino Foundation will ensure that Arduino remains open source. “Are these products open source?” wrote Torrone in a Listserv post. “If so, where are the open source files?”

Most, he said, are missing.

In the egalitarian world of open source hardware, obfuscation is the ultimate betrayal. Hardware is hard enough to build within the confines of intellectual property and corporations but it is immensely more difficult in the open source arena. But this does not stop countless makers from having a go at it and often succeeding. A person like Musto, in their eyes, is a fraud at worst and a carpet-bagger at best. Ultimately it leaves the fate of Arduino – and, more important, popular support of Arduino – in a troubling cloud.

Or maybe it could all just be about cash.

Adafruit and other maker-focused sellers carry and even manufacture many Arduino products, a fact that Musto suspects might be driving their attacks. Musto also believes the maker movement is contracting especially considering a move by Intel to roll back some of its Arduino support.

“As I mentioned it looks like I’d be insane if I’d do anything to change the DNA of Arduino. Arduino is open source and open hardware and it will stay open source and open hardware, full stop,” he said. “The maker movement is in some way reducing and everyone is concerned about how we can protect our investment. The only way to increase the market share is to work together.”

“I believe it’s just about money,” he said.

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