A promise of open hardware

Doghouse – Open Hardware

Article from Issue 222/2019

After 25 years of waiting for open hardware, Maddog predicts the era of closed, proprietary chips as the only option is drawing to an end.

For close to 25 years, I have been dealing with trying to develop and maintain computer systems over long periods of time. In dealing with the longevity issues, I have been suffering through the use of closed source firmware inherent in GPUs, BIOS, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. in particular, and closed source in general.

For the first 20 years, I was very patient. I realized that companies had business plans, and they did not know or trust Free and Open Source Software and Hardware (FOSSH) business plans. Some had contracts that they had signed as they bought and sold intellectual property (IP). Some companies could not expose the sources of the software they bought because of the contracts they had signed with the software or hardware providers. Who could possibly have the expertise to maintain the software provided with the hardware or produce software better than the manufacturer, right? Read that last sentence with sarcasm turned fully on.

In the late 1980s, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) had a world-class X Window System server that worked with "dumb frame buffers." The engineer who wrote the code refused to support shipping the source code due to the IP that was inherent in the X server. DEC was losing millions of dollars of sales, because we did not make our X server code available.


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