Open Source Hardware (OSHW), why it matters and what is pseudo OSHW



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”

Totally wrong! When I read this I said to myself, sure for one who deal mostly with software is not so easy to understand that the goals basically are same – to share knowledge and to learn from other people’s work.

And not only this, OSHW is not just for nerds and geek enthusiasts. OSHW is also very appreciated by the business, we got many industrial customers who prefer to use OLinuXino instead of other alternatives because it’s OSHW design:

  • they get and know everything about how the board is implemented and how it works, nothing is hidden
  • they have control over the design – they can alter and change up to their needs
  • they have security – if we decide to not produce this board anymore, they can produce themself or ask someone else to produce for them
  • our design is made with the help and suggestions for improvement from the community, we listen and we update our designs continually, some boards have up to 10-12 revisions with changes until they become what they are now

The boom of Open Source Hardware designs caused by the easy way to share and publish in Internet and GitHub though made RMS to change his opinion, he backed up the Novena hardware design then made his own statement about the Open Source Hardware, which he name “Free Hardware Desing” this is interesting reading released January 2016 🙂

Why all people love so much OSHW? Because every one love to learn something new for free and to see how other people did this or that and improve his own skills, this is why OSHW has many fans even among people who never released something as OSHW. This is how many people got infected with the Open Source virus, they watch, learn and at one point decide to give something back to the community.

OSHW became modern word and many saw this as good marketing pitch. So many projects are announced as OSHW but never actually comply with the definition. On OSHW summit in 2014 many of the people questions were “what licensee to choose for my project to may benefit most” this is totally wrong state of mind. If you want to share just do it, if you start making tiny estimates how I will sell more if I choose OSHW licensee or not you are in the wrong direction.
You can see almost all projects on Kickstarter are promising to be open or OSHW … when the campaign is finished … or when we return our money spent, etc. This is clear mark for one to detect pseudo OSHW designs.

OSHWA made perfectly clear definition of what OSHW is, but they miss one very important point, they do not specify when the CAD source files of this project should be made public, so using this oversight many peoples just play the marketing pitch and later forget to release the sources. The arguments are that somebody will make their project better or release earlier, but actually they lose the essential customer feedback which they could potentially receive during the development phase and make their product even better.

IMO one project is not OSHW until the CAD source files are fully released and available, all other statements are just marketing tricks.

The exponential grown of these pseudo OSHW projects on the Internet seems to made OSHWA to worry that the term OSHW may lose it’s value and they announced on the last OSHW summit that they will introduce OSHW certification process with penalty if one uses this OSHW term and logo but fail to release the CAD sources. This surely provoked many comments, some positive, some negative, caused by the absence of clear view who and how will do this.

Right now OSHW scene is Wild West – every one is doing whatever he wants, names his product how he wants, uses or not uses OSHW logo etc. and comply or not is something different, but the attempt to organize this seems to me impossible or even to cause more harm than good. Probably we should just leave it “as is” as any fear of penalty or administration just can choke the enthusiasm of the beginners – we all did mistakes when started something new.

My view is that we should make people more aware of what OSHW is, as still many people are just confused or don’t understand, and if they learn this they would easily recognize these pseudo OSHW designs and community will reject the pseudo OSHW projects without any authorities.

Or maybe a “wall of shame” on OSHWA web site where pseudo OSHW projects are listed by all community members with remark what is wrong or what corrective action is necessary to complain may help?
Then when the project comply with OSHWA definition it’s removed from this site?

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alex Bugeja
    Jan 13, 2016 @ 16:49:14

    A great article. One comment about the last part: This wall of shame idea is probably not a good one. It would not encourage companies that are moving in the OSHW direction. Constructive feedback should be discretly shared with them, but public shaming might make them retreat away from OSHW again.


    • OLIMEX Ltd
      Jan 13, 2016 @ 16:52:41

      I was thinking about this as last measure – for people/companies who keep using OSHW logo and tell people their board is “open” but do not comply with the definition even if people trying to point them what they have to fix


  2. Matija „hook“ Šuklje
    Jan 13, 2016 @ 21:21:55

    One option would be to register the OSHW logo as a trademark held by the OSHWA and with a trademark licence that says you may use the logo as long as you comply with the OSHW specification.

    In that case, if the company/person uses the OSHW logo, but the HW is not really OSHW, they don’t have the rights to use that logo and OSHWA can demand them to comply or remove the logo (even in court, if needed).


  3. Trackback: Open Hardware Summit 2016 date announced | Firmware Security
  4. 99guspuppet
    Jan 14, 2016 @ 02:42:08

    How fun…. fighting in court about sharing intellectual property ( an oxymoron as far as I am concerned )


    • LinuxUser
      Jan 15, 2016 @ 02:13:00

      Well, if you wouldn’t fight for your rights, everyone else cares even less about your rights. So if you give up your rights, do not be surprised to learn everyone cheats you, fools you, locks you out, robs you and doing all other sorts of nasty things. And court … ok, its just civilized way to defend your rights.

      And since opensource things could be tempting prey for mega-corporate sharks, etc – it takes some care about some self-defence and getting these pesky sharks to behave.


  5. LinuxUser
    Jan 15, 2016 @ 02:08:33

    Uhm, there’re quite many pests who pretends they are “open” while it is actually not a case at all. And even if source available, it takes quite some care to ensure license is anyhow adequate. E.g. some would release things under license prohibiting most uses, e.g. CC-BY-NC is a problem for PCB, because, uhm, it is even hard to get idea when it getting commercial. E.g. what if I make PCB, it is not my business, so I do not gain directly. But I use board to create microserver, it runs some site and e.g. I’m getting some money from subscribers or ads. Does it qualify as commercial use? Not like if I want to meet in cout to check it.

    That’s where difference between “open” and “free” (libre) lies. “Libre” assumes at least certain set of liberties. “Open” can mean quite a different set of things and so it got abused for marketing bullshit.

    …but for the real, its not even about throwing source away. It actually about “sharing and caring”. When done properly, one can get number of people chewing on same task, “because they need it”. Like it happened in Linux. Just blindly throwing source away hardly makes something “real” opensource though. It also takes changing development approaches and interactions to make it really working. It takes some degree of being open-minded and taking care to lower barriers and ensuring taking part is convenient and costs nothing on its own. People are already paying by their time.

    Demand proprietary compiler… and only few proprietary-minded people are your allies. Use proprietary OS and you can’t expect truly open community around it. Open-minded people would stay miles away from it. They are aware what “vendor lock” means and why proprietary things are going to put them nasty surpriese.

    E.g. Torvalds has been using proprietary BitBaker version control. They gave free licenses, etc. Free as free beer. Those who cares, forewarned it could be an issue. They proven to be very true in their concerns: eventually, company doing BitBaker revoked license to use their thnig. Though Torvalds proven he isn’t easily cornered – he just put all his might on designing new version control system, which would do, would come on sane terms and do it right ways working for large, distributed teams. Git has appeared. It core principles were sound enough due to expertise of Torvalds in structures & algos. Its behavior is what most programmers would expect from this kind of thing, because it created by programmers, for themselves. And people can be sure most of us learned the lesson: we’re going to stay miles away from proprietary things. Which can suddenly change regardless of our wishes, ruining all our plans. With no means to override. E.g. I do not like Win8 or Win10 user interface. But I can’t get Win7 or XP back, no matter what. I can’t support them since due to lack of source I can’t fix bugs or develop it further. That’s a major issue. In case of Linux and other opensource SW I just do not have this problem. If I really hate some change, I can revert it back or pay someone who can do it, etc. Just not going to work this way with proprietary SW. Actually, I have some little patches against Linux kernel. Or u-boot. Or something. They are making my boards to behave the way I like/need it in particular task. Not going to work with proprietary OSes, boot loaders/bioses, etc.


  6. NOOB
    Jan 16, 2016 @ 19:05:15

    why not just do it?
    Make/choose a ranking service and have people weigh in on the openness of OSH claims. Perhaps this should include a ranking/index of OS component providers. Like freescale i.MX 6 CPU’s vs Allwinner A20 et. al. for example.

    Because it is one thing to have OSH CAD files of boards, that have proprietary components. Its another thing to say ‘this is more open’, because not only is there freely available CAD files of a board that uses all open hardware.

    Is this not a side effect of a social review? Fine grained reviews and open discussions of the hardware available to consumers and vendors.


  7. arnebab
    Jan 17, 2016 @ 17:13:14

    Why not use a wall of fame which lists the real OSHW projects?

    That’s then also advertisement for the ones who do it right. And it encourages doing it right instead of punishing those who got it wrong once.


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