Just some basic questions

Hi, I'm just thinking about getting into this stuff so if some body would be oh so very nice to just give me a run down on what I'd be getting into. I've read some projects and the website but I would rath somebody who knows what their talking aboutexplain stuff to me allittle bit more in depth also are clones like Freeduino or Roboduino just as easy to use and program as the arduino and will all the preassyembled parts work just as wel

I would say there there are basically two kinds of "clone":

1) Shield-compatible clones. In addition to duplicating the electronic content of the arduino, a shield-compatible clone will have connectors in the same physical locations so that the "shields" can be attached normally. Not all of these have the same physical size as an official Arduino, but the main connectors will be in the right places. Examples of this sort include the NKC Freeduino and the recently announced "Induino" (http://www.arduino.cc/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1267541811) (which is interesting because of its relatively drastic departure from the normal size and shape.)

2) clones that are NOT shield-compatible. Usually these have some other physical mounting goal in mind. For example, MDC's "Bare Bones Board" and Adafruit's "BoArduino" are designed to be usable with protoboards, and the lilypad is "wearable"...

Another important difference is that some of the smaller board models does not have the FTDI chip on board. It is the FTDI chip that creates the virtual serial port used to communicate with a PC/Mac/whatever when putting the program on the ATmega processor or when the program is running.

These boards require that you buy a special cable or converter that has the FTDI chip in it. This cable can then be used with any number of the FTDI chip less boards.

The advantage is that the boards are smaller and cheaper without the FTDI chip.

Also some of the boards run at 3.3 volt as opposed to the 5 volts that the "standard board" uses.

If you are just starting up and want to experiment and learn i suggest you go for the standard board, or one of the clones with the same layout / functionality. This will make it easier to use the available shields.

If you have a specific project, then you should evaluate your needs, and think about things like how much space do you have?, how fequently are you going to reprogram the board?, will the board need to communicate with a PC other than for being reprogrammed? what voltage is present in your project to drive the board?