In celebration of FEZ Spider’s 1st birthday, we’d like to share the FEZ story with you. There is a 50% coupon code at the end so start reading!
Why FEZ? Why the monkey? This is the story…
A few years ago, GHI Electronics only worked with professionals like most electronics companies. GHI had no interest in education or hobbyists. Due to the simplicity of NETMF prducts, we started seeing some hobbyists using USBizi Development System. Here is an example of an old Youtube video of someone who controlled an old 5 1/4" floppy drive motor using USBizi DevSys.
These hobbyists were challenged as the offers were designed with professional developers in mind, yet many still used it and loved it. At that time, Arduino was catching on very quickly as “the way” for hobbyists to build projects. Its biggest strength was in the large open community that built demos and code for almost anything you can think of. During this time many ideas were tossed back and forth at GHI to see how we can make our boards more user friendly. We didn’t want to make “toys,” nor did we want to be perceived as such a company. Instead, we wanted to take our commercial offers and make them easier for educators and hobbyists.
On a dull winter weekend in 2009, Joe Issa was flipping through the pages of Circuit Cellar checking on advertised platforms like Arduino and BASIC Stamp. It was at this moment when a light bulb went off. He thought, “why not use GHI’s commercial chipset running .NET Micro Framework and Visual Studio.” Joe called Gus Issa and explained that there was already a market for it. The more they talked about the idea the more it was accepted. They spent hours thinking of a good name for the new product line. These products were highly-capable yet easy enough for students and non-professional programmers and hardware designers.
After throwing ideas back and forth, they thought, “it is easy–very easy. No, it’s freakin’ easy. It’s actually so easy a monkey can do it.” What would be a good name for that? Then Joe said, just use “FEZ” for “Freakin’ Easy.” They looked it up online to make sure it’s not copyrighted and what they found out is that fez is actually a hat which sealed the deal. They’d use a monkey wearing a fez.
On Monday, the idea was shared with other employees and they immediately fell in love with the idea. But there was a catch, this market was completely new to GHI. We weren’t sure how to fit this new line with our commercial offerings so we decided to keep the FEZ line away from our main business. We were afraid that GHI’s image would suffer by making these “toys.” So we started our experiment on a separate website, TinyCLR.com. If you didn’t know, TinyCLR is the name of the “tiny” CLR that runs .NET Micro Framework. GHI’s main website had nothing to do with the FEZ line. That’s when Josh Young and team were tasked with building a complete website within a couple weeks. The website was up and ready by the end of 2009. TinyCLR even said “Freakin’ Easy” right on the home page and we used monkey art everywhere, even in documentation. The first product, FEZ Domino was announced on January 9th, 2010. It was a big hit and the only thing left to build was the community to back it up.
TinyCLR started building a community as GHI added FEZ Mini and FEZ Cobra to the line-up. GHI wasn’t sure how the community would react to new offers. FEZ Rhino was supposed to be the best offer for hobbyists, but GHI actually took a loss on it to everyone’s surprise. After months of talking with the community, we learned more about their needs. Using their feedback, FEZ Panda was released and quickly became the most popular FEZ yet. Thousands were sold worldwide and Panda was updated to FEZ Panda II. Over two years later FEZ is still in full production and loved by many.
Out of all this success a new problem arose. FEZ was now on a separate website with no real catalog; far from GHI’s main website. We needed to put them together. The move was not simple as GHI’s catalog was not suited for these offers. That’s when GHI and TinyCLR were rebuilt, GHI now held the catalog and TinyCLR became the community website.
FEZ became an important part for GHI and its commercial users. Some engineers were not happy seeing “Freakin’ Easy” in documentation as they were not sure how to explain it to their managers. Professors and educators were not happy with it either due to students using these materials. The catch phrase, “so easy a monkey can do it” was loved but some didn’t agree, so over time, FEZ became “Fast and Easy”.
When .NET Gadgeteer came around to make things “fast and easy,” GHI had already been working in this area, so adopting Gadgeteer was a no-brainer. Especially since the Gadgeteer team had used GHI’s Embedded Master Module (an older EMX) to develop Gadgeteer. On July 29th, 2011, FEZ Spider was born. The first .NET Gadgeteer offer in the market and still the most popular offer. In November 2011, FEZ Hydra followed to cover users who needed 100% open-source with more horsepower. For users who wanted an extremely low-cost open-source board, FEZ Cerberus and its derivatives were made available on March 2012.
MikeWe want to thank the TinyCLR community, who’ve helped us build this great social hub. Some even consider TinyCLR their new “facebook” since they check it so often. To give you an idea, logged in 478 times in June, that is about 16 times per day! Not only that, he never asks any questions, he only helps others. Another notable figure is Architect, our highest ranked member. He and many others are not short when it comes to providing help.
The 50% one-time coupon code is embedded somewhere on the FEZ Spider page. Edit: No longer available, coupon was found and used, congratulations to Ian lee.