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Where do I get started with microcontrollers? Answered

I would like to start using microcontrollers. I was wondering if there was a cheap starter pack, maybe something that can run Linux software, or come with free software, etc. so I don't have to pay $85 for one chip that can hold 20 lines of code and a CD full of crappy coding software. My budget is about $ 20 + shipping and handling. Also, can I connect a microcontroller to my computer and have it do things on my computer, such as send e-mail, etc.? Thanks!


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