When One Project can be named Open Source Hardware?


OSHWA released this nice set of pictures which to easily explain when you can name your product OPEN SOURCE.

Arduino made Open Source more than movement, it’s huge community of people who share and learn together.

Now Open Source is buzz word and many want to ride the wave and use for marketing without complying with the requirements.

If you look on the web there are tons of articles naming Raspberry Pi, Cubieboard, Wanda board and all other thousands of closed source hardware “open source something” boards. Playing with the words like: open source community board, open source Linux board etc. etc.

Most of the articles are made this way non intentionally but just due to ignorance, as the authors just re-produce what they have read on the vendor web sites without making efforts to read OSHW definition and to learn what is necessary to be opened to call one board (hardware) open.

Some sites plain mislead their visitors that offer Open Source Hardware like:


Other remove the Open Source Hardware text from their web but still keep it in the meta description cheating Google when one look for real opensource boards 🙂


Even in linux.com have article named “Top 10 Open Source Linux Boards” where out of the 10 quoted board just one Beagle Bone is three are Open Source all others are closed source hardware boards.

No, it’s not enough for one hardware to run Open Source software to name it Open Source as well, nor it’s enough to have schematic in JPEG, PDF, Gerbers etc derivative files from the sources.

For one board (hardware) the sources are the CAD files, no matter with what product they are made. From these CAD files you can study, modify, learn, make. From the schematic in PDF you are missing essential information – how the PCB is layout, nor you can MODIFY the design. From the Gerbers you can make particular version of the board, but you still can’t modify it, it’s like to release compiled binary from the sources – you can use them but hard to modify.

To name your product OPEN SOURCE you should allow people to: Study, Modify, Distribute, Make and Sell. Some designs release even the CAD files but do not allow derivative work or commercial use, they also are not OPEN SOURCE no matter that release the CAD files, because they cut your rights to Modify, Make and Sell.



All these games with the fake “open source” hardware projects must have pissed Massimo Banzi (one of Arduino co-founders) too, who recently spoke about this:



6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. digitelect
    Jul 15, 2014 @ 11:25:31

    Goot topic.
    I have one questions. Olimex products are open hardware. If for example I get A20-OLinuXino-MICRO, and modify to have VGA port – can I sell the result? Original A20-OLinuXino-MICRO have VGA output on 6-pin 1.25mm (0.05″) step connector. So, the tack to do in not so big.
    The result product – what the name to use? It is almost the same as A20-OLinuXino-MICRO, but with very small change…


    • OLIMEX Ltd
      Jul 15, 2014 @ 11:52:49

      the license is clear – you can do your own derivates as far as you give credits to Olimex and open your derivative work under the same conditions

      you should not use OLinuXino name for your work, as this is Olimex trademark, but you can use “based on OLinuXino design” or OLinuXino compatible, like people who do Arduino derivates do


  2. christian
    Jul 15, 2014 @ 17:34:07

    Great article! Thanks Olimex for publish it!


  3. dhead666
    Jul 15, 2014 @ 18:05:35

    I’ve been waiting for such post, thanks, someone should put this issue all on the spot.

    Silly article in Phoronix about OpenPandora “open-sourced for non-commercial use” made me register to its forums just to let Michael know his article is BS, no freedom for commercial use no open source (see OS software licences: GPL, Apache).


  4. donotdespisethesnake
    Nov 27, 2015 @ 12:09:38

    Interesting to read the quote from Massimo Banzi, because Arduino are now doing fake Open Source as well. If you look on https://www.arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoBoardZero there is only the PDF. I challenged Arduino about this, but they did nothing except add the incorrect statement “Zero is Open Source hardware”. They are clearly not even following their own policy.

    Shame on Arduino.


    • OLIMEX Ltd
      Nov 27, 2015 @ 12:19:25

      you are right, this is not OSHW as per the definition, I see the Atmel logo and this probably is done with the expensive Altium so maybe the arduino team have no access to the CAD files at all. Even if OSHW I do not see any use of these CAD files for the regular thinkerer/hacker as no sane home developer will buy Altium 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: