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July 27, 2008

Sketching in Hardware Day 3: David Mellis

Open-Source Hardware vs Open-Source Software

what is open source hardware?

  • ex: Arduino, OpenSPARC, RepRap, Chumby

  • seven layer open source model from (PT and ladyada): physical, schematic, parts list, layout, firmware, drivers

  • people care about different parts

  • David's def: "Provision of the digital artificats necessary to reproduce, understand, and modify a piece of hardware"

how does it differ from OS software?

  • money!

  • this bothers OS software people - you need more money to do hardware

  • but if you're spending all this time, like in OSS, you could just spend money and save some time in OSH

  • distribution is essential - especially internationally - but it's not a problem in OSS

  • tools aren't good (ie, version control is really hard, and standard file formats aren't actually the source code)

  • Eagle and CAD are proprietary and expensive, in OSS you can use great free tools

  • testing is expensive and slow - it can take hours or weeks, so rapid iteration is hard

  • and collaboration is difficult - you can't just email a patch and run it

  • first off - what's the equivalent of a patch in hardware? then you'd have to have it manufactured to test it - so lots of people sending in little patches isn't practicable

  • so forking is the norm, not as political as in sw

  • so there are lots of Arduino versions - they don't stay together in one canonical form

  • encouraging entrepreneurship - distribution channels almost require starting a business. it's not just about creating the thing (the piece of sw) doesn't see it as a good thing or a bad thing - it attracts a different kind of person, and he's positive about startups

  • can't upgrade after release (given what Nate said) - you can do a new version, but people will still own and use the old one

  • extra knowledge required: sources, manufacturers, distributor relationships, etc - it's more than just source code

  • OS sw licenses may not apply to hw - you can't copyright a circuit, though you can patent it and you can copyright the expression of a circuit in a form - someone might be able to just redraw your file and not have to keep it open source

  • discussion: how to do licensing effectively?

core similarities

  • the four freedoms still apply

  • start with the minimum useful thing

  • you need more than just the source file: documentation, etc

  • there are many ways to contribute: documenting projects, teaching workshops

  • people are driven by many different motivations: making money, getting name known, helping others

  • community is key - support makes the difference in what's successful

  • there are many different governance models

  • it's okay to make money

  • it helps to have a thick skin - refers to talk by Subversion developers

what lessons are different?

  • the centrality of the source code: central repository isn't as big a deal; there's not One Big Thing everyone is working on

  • what happens when "compiling" hw gets cheap? maybe all these differences are just contingent on the difficulties of making hw - maybe open source software and hardware will look more similar?


  • Leah: relationship btw Arduino and sw?

  • Dave M what works is that they're all designed for each other

  • Phil: there's a community, a locus

  • Brian: well, also -- you just have to install one thing.

  • Jan: the big thing is the total usability of the package

  • Phil: it's just that someone took the time to do it

  • Jan: Layer 0 of the seven layer model added: the material science and the specs

  • Nate: traction point: how do you get critical mass of the community that's so necessary?

  • DaveM: Davide and Massimo's workshops, and the personal connection of knowing the developers, and when Tom Igoe started using it at ITP.

  • Nick: like pirated sw back in the day - you had to know someone - and then there's a movement to wider downloading

Posted by egoodman at July 27, 2008 7:50 AM


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