aren’t filled with actual
your oWn components at food. They contain plans
for making food using other
home? to some that is the open foods, which is hardly that
much different from plans
source hardWare dream. to create a technological
thingamajig using other
But unlike cookbooks, open source hardware faces several challenging questions.
How would business benefit from open
sourcing hardware? A cookbook publisher
sells cookbooks, but tech companies sell
products—they sell the prepared food. Why
give away the recipes? Who is really going
to make their own cell phone? What use are
these plans anyway?
developed over the years which tease apart
these distinctions, and software developers
choose a license that suits their goals. In practice, much of open source software is also
free software, and so the two concepts have
become closely aligned.
This reality of open source software development leads directly to the most obvious
complication for translating the open model
to hardware—how can “stuff” be free? One
reason that open source works so well for
developing software is that software is virtual
and can be replicated at virtually no cost.
The answer, of course, is that “stuff”—
real, physical stuff—can’t be free. The costs
of building circuit boards from scratch can
run into the tens to hundreds of thousands
of dollars. Fabricating integrated circuit (IC)
chips requires facilities that cost into the billions of dollars.
But information for how to make stuff,
using building blocks already available, is the
meat and potatoes of open source hardware.
Imagine an open source iPhone. Many people
agree that the iPhone is cool technology, but
to some, it is a gadget filled with unrealized
potential, locked down by Apple’s business methods. To varying degrees, the same
applies to most consumer electronics. Open
source hardware advocates envision a future
liberated from proprietary control over physical products.
Speaking of meat and potatoes, open
source hardware might seem like an obtuse,
if not radical, concept for developing technology, but it shares much in common with
cookbook publishing. After all, cookbooks
Open Source in 3d
Many layers of technology make up a physical product, and there is no clear consensus in open source hardware how far—or
shallow—one can drill to enjoy the “open
source” label. For example, a mechanical
CAD diagram can supply you with the layout
of components in a product, but is a diagram
alone useful enough to contribute to “open
sourcing” a piece of hardware?
Hardware vendor VIA recently released
the OpenBook, a subcompact notebook
designed to compete in a class with the Asus
Eee PC and HP Mini-Note. In addition to
releasing the OpenBook computer itself,
though, VIA opted to release the CAD specifications for the device as well.
What would a consumer do with the CAD
files? Probably not much. But, says VIA,
other vendors could use them to create their
own subcompact notebooks. Perhaps they
will replicate VIA’s reference design, or modify it, substituting different components in
place of the originals whether for improved
form or function.
Why would VIA give anyone, not to
mention other vendors, any of their product