Back in 1999 Richard Stallman had interview commenting on “Free Hardware” for Linux Today, where he says “freedom to copy software is social imperative, but freedom to copy hardware is not so important as hardware is hard to copy”
SO even man with such visionary as RMS didn’t understand quite well why people would have motive to make Free Hardware Designs (also known as Open Source Hardware Designs).
Somewhere else he also have said something like: “We do not need imperatively free hardware, but well documented hardware” to may write proper software for it. Looking from Software point of view he is probably right, but he was missing something important: Free/Open Source Hardware is not done just to allow other to replicate it. It serves much deeper goals.
- Spreading knowledge – when people have access to the design files they can learn how the original author created this hardware and study the design from inside.
- Getting vital feed back and improving the design – the author who opens everything can get free expertise from many other people who works on same problem and thus to combine the knowledge of the community about this. In long run product which is collaboratively developed is with better specs and features than the one who is done in closed company.
- When your hardware is with open specs this gives your customer additional value – they know everything about your hardware, they are not dependent from single source of manufacturing, they can modify and customize for their need. All else being equal OSHW design will be preffered and gives more value to the customer.
- By opening the designs you give access to the technology to casual people who can innovate and no need to be big companies with lot of money. Just have look at what 3D printing and Arduino did.
This is why it was nice to see the evolution with RMS view on the Open Source / Free Hardware which he published in Wired yesterday named: Why we need free hardware designs?
In this article RMS says:
We need free digital hardware designs!
Free hardware designs offer practical advantages. Multiple companies can fabricate one, which reduces dependence on a single vendor.
Having circuit diagrams or HDL code makes it possible to study the design to look for errors or malicious functionalities (it is known that the NSA has procured malicious weaknesses in some computing hardware).
If you design hardware, please make your designs free.
Although naming “Free Hardware Design” what we know more popular as Open Source Hardware, RMS correctly spots the advantages vs closed non-free Hardware Designs.