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Recently I have been considering purchasing an Arduino Duemilanove device, in order to 'play' with it. I am very inexperienced as far as microcontrollers go (I have done some minimal programming on an ATmega16). IRL I don't know anyone who has used Arduino, so I'm hoping I can get some opinions about it here, on LQ. I'm also wondering if there are similar devices out there (I stumbled upon Arduino by accident). The main problem with Arduino, as I see it, is the actual programming part. They seem to be using their own stripped-down version of "C/C++", and that's not something I'm too happy with. I consider myself fairly good friends with both C and C++, and I'd also have no trouble programming Arduino in assembly language for the ATmega328.
It doesn't use a stripped down language exactly, it just does most of the setup and system bits for you. The Arduino "Sketch" that you write could be 5 lines long in their IDE, but the actual source to be compiled will be many times that as the IDE fills in all the support functions and gets the hardware up. The idea of their environment is not to prevent you from learning C/C++, but saving you from having to deal with all the little details of getting code running on a microcontroller.
That said, I know there are ways to use avr-gcc and write whatever code you wish without the Arduino libraries or support applications, but I have never done it personally.
I actually don't have a "real" Arduino, I have a Freeduino, which has all the same functionality as a regular Arduino and is compatible with all the Arduino software. The only difference is that the design of the Freeduino is completely open, so for instance you could change around the board layout and get new PCBs printed if you needed something special. The Freeduinos are also generally cheaper, mine was only ~$15.
For that price it is a neat tool to have, though I have not used it very often. I got it so I could use it as a general purpose ADC and things like that, not to really build a whole project around.