6 of the Best Open Source Holiday Gifts for SMBs

By Carla Schroder | Posted December 09, 2014

'Tis the season to look beyond the usual humdrum small business gear and give your favorite small business owner something new and unusual. In this roundup we'll look at a little flying and rolling camera drone, a mobile library and Webserver, a new-generation 3D printer, a clever customizable key organizer that you can print with the 3D printer, a cutting-edge programmable LED flashlight, and an Android smartwatch.

Some of these picks should be useful for your small business, and they all make superior gifts for employees and customers. Forget the Christmas hams—give cool gadgets instead.

Open Source Holiday Gifts for Small Business

1. Parrot Rolling Spider Mini-Drone

You know you want this. Who cares if you can't make a good business case for it? It's only $100, and surely you need to spend some time with it to explore its potential. The Parrot Rolling Spider Mini-Drone is a charming little quad-copter that flies—though only for about 10 minutes on a charge—and also rolls about on a wheeled chassis. It has a little video camera, and you control it with a smartphone app.

Open Source Holiday Gifts

Figure 1: The Rolling Spider Mini-Drone.

Parrot also has a line of higher-end drones for mapping and surveying, inspection, and a precision agriculture drone for inspecting and mapping large acreages.

The idea of flying cameras everywhere snooping on us is creepy and horrifying. But they're also incredibly useful, so please use yours with discretion and courtesy ($99.99).

2. LibraryBox

The LibraryBox is coolness itself, an itty bitty combination Webserver, USB storage drive and wireless access point designed for areas with poor or no Internet. Load up the LibraryBox with books, music, documents, whatever you want, and then anyone with a Wi-fi-enabled device and Web browser, such as a smartphone, tablet, or computer can easily connect and share the bounty.

Open Source Holiday Gifts

Figure 2: LibraryBox

The LibraryBox draws less than a watt of power, and its built-in rechargeable battery lasts for 5-8 hours. It can run from an external battery pack such as the New Trent iCarrier, which provides about 25 hours of power. And you can charge it from portable solar chargers, such as the Mercury 10 Solar Panel Portable Solar Panel Charger.

Now this is all impressive coolness, but what's it good for? If you're in a big city with all the amenities it may not seem useful. But suppose you want to give a presentation without hassling with projectors: load your presentation on the LibraryBox, and all your attendees have to do is connect to the LibraryBox wireless network, open their Web browsers, and done. You can address giant audiences up close and personal, trot all over the globe with your presentation, and always be assured it will work with minimal fuss.

Teachers get around unreliable school networks with LibraryBox, and teachers in countries that try to control Internet access use it to get around government firewalls. Librarians use them in outreach programs at farmer's markets and schools. The non-profit organization Worldreader uses LibraryBox to distribute books in Ghana. If knowledge is power, LibraryBox is a mighty tool ($150).

3. LulzBot 3D Printer

The LulzBot TAZ 4 - Open source 3D Printer is a sophisticated, completely open-source 3D printer with open software and hardware. (We've talked about 3D printers before.) This means no tricky legal pitfalls, and you can do what you want with the device. What a concept, doing what you want with your own stuff.

Open Source Holiday Gifts

Figure 3: Lulzbot TAZ 4 3D Printer

This is a 4th-generation 3D printer all full of great improvements. It's sleek, very sturdy, fast, and it prints with multiple materials: the usual plastic filaments, plus wood filament, and nylon. It has also an extra-large platform for printing larger objects ($2,094.95).

4. BladeKey Pocket Key Organizer

So you need something to print on that 3D printer, right? So download a free script to print your own custom key organizer. The BladeKey keeps your keys tidy so they won't poke holes in your pocket. Customize the size, and you can even print lettering on the side like My Keys, your name, phone number, or whatever you want.

Open Source Holiday Gifts

Figure 4: Print your own BladeKey pocket key organizer.

Want to give your customers something cooler than a calendar or logo pen? Make them a personalized BladeKey. And if you're not into the whole 3D printer thing, you can simply buy BladeKeys to give as gifts.

5. Flex Open Source Flashlight

The Hexbright Flex Open Source LED Flashlight is rechargeable, sleek, and bright, with three regulated brightness modes and multiple color options. It is made of machined aluminum with an ergonomic grip. It's weather-sealed and virtually indestructible.

Open Source Holiday Gifts

Figure 5: Flex Open Source LED Flashlight

So what makes this open source? You have access to all the schematics, and you can hack both the hardware and the software. You can make it blink, have more brightness levels, use different circuit boards or LEDs for different effects such as colors and different light patterns.

It's also an excellent justification for owning a 3D printer, because you might want to make a bicycle mount, a fancy holster, a Cyclops visor...or how about a crenelated strike bezel? I am not making this up: "tactical" flashlights come with crenelated strike bezels, which are little jagged points for gouging an attacker.

All right, so maybe there isn't a lot of practical value in hacking a flashlight. But it's still cool.

6. Android Smartwatch

Now you can literally chain yourself to Google with your very own Android SmartWatch. Strap that puppy to your wrist and never be unconnected again. All day long, everywhere you go, people can find you, and send you messages, and it can remind you of scheduled events or give you directions, and you can give it verbal commands like "What's the weather?"

6 Small Business Gifts

Figure 6: Multiple Android smartwatch models

To me, that level of connectivity is a horror beyond description. But I expect a lot of people will like the convenience, and some of the smartwatch models aren't too bad-looking.

There you have it. Six excellent open source gifts. Enjoy your holidays, and here’s to a wonderful 2015.

Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook,and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She's the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.

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