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Hardware

Open-Sourcing Discontinued Hardware 91

LinuxWhore asks: "I work for a company that recently accquired two 3Com/USR TOTALswitch units. It seemed as though we had I nice product by the price that they were going for online ($1500-$3000). However, further research had revealed to me that 3Com had decided to discontinue all work on the line shortly after their merger. All updates to the product have thus ceased. Now I am left in a situation where the product has little documentation and no chance of future security/bugfixes. If companies like 3Com were petitioned to release the souce and hardware specs to their dicontinued products, how much interest would there be in the community to write updates to code for these types of products so that they remain useful, instead of becoming a $3000 doorstop?" It's a good idea. Convincing the hardware makers will be the difficult part.
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Open-Sourcing Discontinued Hardware

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  • ... maybe it's not such a great use of your time to study obsolete stuff -- unless you enjoy that more than doing new stuff, or the economics really do make sense (your labor is cheap, equipment change is expensive).

    A few other thoughts:

    1. If manufacturers standardize document formats (docbook etc) and use them internally, the price of publishing will be minimal when/if they decide to do it. Release of docs for outdated equipment can't economically happen on any other basis IMO, so docs format standards are step one.
    2. Plug-compatibility docs should be legally mandated, and their release in a timely manner should also be legally mandated, to ensure the public benefit of fair competition.
    3. Why wouldn't a h/w manufacturer want to release API details (as opposed to internal design), unless there were some software company that was twisting their arm because they want the knowledge exclusively (because they can't compete on technical merit and marketing ability alone)? There's where laws and oversight could help, for the benefit of all (except dirty-poolsters).
    4. Credit where due dept: Don't we owe a lot of the PC revolution to IBM's relatively open handling of PC specs?
    5. Really quite good h/w docs were available for my 16-mhz Compaq 386 (hottest thing going at the time) I spent $125 (IIRC) on technical docs. That was optional, but I got a lot out of it. Mobo schematics, BIOS details, really pretty open (though the physical system itself was full of proprietary stuff). But back then the cost of a color video (EGA) card was more than a bare-bones system is now. IOW, the economical least replaceable unit has changed, and hence the need for docs has changed.
    6. For expensive, long-life equipment, I guess it's up to customers to demand maintenance docs up front. Except nobody expects anything to last long enough to worry about it. Moore's Law is just too overwhelming.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I used to work for the company who bought the company who developed this switch, before the whole lot got bought by 3Com. That's why this is an AC post...

    The TotalSwitch was a rebadge of a switch developed by AmberWave. It was a sweet idea:
    * a small, cheap chassis with cheap PC power supply
    * 4 slots for switch cards
    * 1 management slot
    * a vareity of switch cards, including 10x 10Base-2, 10x 10Base-T, 5x 10Base-FL, 2x 100Base-T, 2x 100Base-FX, and maybe more!
    * Funky "wings" that allowed the too-tiny box to attach to a 19-inch rack

    Each card was pretty independant with a "dumb" backplane linking them. You could mix and match cards, which was really nice for LAN admins with 10Base-2, 10Base-T and Fast Ethernet all in the same place. The cards used a cool proprietary ASIC called the Amber1 which handled just about everything, so all the cards were pretty similar on the back end. Almost all of the nuts-and-bolts firmware work was done by the same guy who designed the chip, a real genius! Sadly, no one else could really figure out how to work with the hardware...

    There was a serial-based management, SNMP, and even telnet and web management in the works, but I don't know if the web-based ever came out.

    Sadly, the switches did have problems. The biggest was that the Fast Ethernet ports did NOT get along with the ports of many other vendors' Fast Ethernet ports. This caused slowdowns, loss of packets, etc... Also, the firmware was never sorted out to my satisfaction and the switches seemed to get really overloaded in high-traffic situations, like the center of a network...

    They worked fine for the most part, and I always kicked myself for not buying one when I had the chance. They're not really up to modern switch standards, but for 1996 they really kicked butt!

    There were many more products in the pipe that used the Amber1 and Amber2 at USR. There was an 8-slot TotalSwitch, a cool linkable stackable product, an integrated Netserver/Switch, and some more things.

    On the other hand, since this one switch was REALLY reliant on Amber firmware, and in my experience, writing for the platform was DARN hard, I doubt open-sourcing this particular product would do any good. Still, if any vendor has more general-purpose hardware to retire, an OS license would be sweet! It would take a lot of the risk out of buying into the products of a new company!

    PS: Try this on your TotalSwitch serial console: ^XBG, debug, "amber"

    PPS: Try this on your USR Courier modem: ATUSRX or ATUSR for older ones...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Threaten them with your giant penis.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "There is no source to hardware"

    Actually, if you knew anything about the hardware he is referring to, you would know that it is controlled by firmware (software stored in a PROM), which is usually upgraded regularly as bugs are discovered.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    They discontinued that item not because it wasn't doing it's job, but to force users into buying their new item. This has happened throughout time, and companies like 3com love to abuse and stick the end-user. If you were able to make that unit useable and serviceable, then their new and improved item will not sell (Face it Network manages could care less of the new model had prettier colors) and therefore they will lose money. It is immensely more profitable to screw the users and discontinue an item and replace it with basically identical items but changed so the patches/upgrades will not work on older hardware. The moral of the story, Get used to it. My company is going to use out 3com 1100 switches forever,and our other older routers/switches/etc... and rely on a Linux box as our security (If you have a security breach from inside you have more problems than any "software" can fix.) The final question.... does the hardware work now? yes? then let it sit in the network closet until it rots, doing it's job. As for me, I run every piece of old stuff happily, and if it breaks? I will buy cyclades, because they support their older stuff forever. PS: dont touch the cisco crap... they love to stop updates faster than 3com.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Say that we had a law that stated, if you have developed a good or product and are "discontinuing" it, then it must be released to public domain. I like this because if a company is reluctant to "discontinue" a product because they feel it has some secret they want to keep, they'll be forced to continue to support it. So it works that way. These discontinued products and their design documents would help educators and the community learn more. Learning is a wonderful thing.
  • This is something I'm seeing much more often lately, and it's beginning to worry me. It's the implied meaning in statements like this:

    how much interest would there be in the community to write updates to code for ...

    There's an increasing trend for people to treat the "Open Source Community" as a free labour pool. That denies the real strength of Free Software, which is that you the user have been given a great gift and a huge liberty to change your own situation, and not rely on others.

    But it seems we're seeing more of "Linux Kernel deadline slips" and "When will my driver be finished". People are treating Linux like a free ride, not a liberating choice.

    To be fair, perhaps this particular writer didn't have this meaning or intention, but there are definitely people out there who seem to think Free Software is all about someone else doing all the work for free. That's not what Free Software is all about.

  • Well, if there was one company which ever did this (at least to some extent) it was Apple Computer back in the late 1970's. If you may recall, the Apple ][ Reference Manuals came with fold-out schematics in the back. Damn, that was nice.

    Actually, the two products (of significance) that I can recall having the schematics were the Apple ][ and the Moog Rogue synthesizer (recall the article on Robert Moog [slashdot.org] from a few weeks ago). Never got around to building any of the stuff, but with a little bit of electrical engineering knowledge, you learned a lot about how to solve some complex and interesting problems.


    --

  • I'm surprised you don't make your OWN head hurt every time you look in the mirror and wonder why your mother ever let you into this world.

    You clearly understand nothing about firmware and the open-source concept. There really isn't much else to say or do about that.
  • Actually, while they won't ever publically admit it, this is the number 1 reason for it not happening. Many companies derive a significant portion of their revenue source from support contracts. By allowing a user to support themselves on a piece of obsolete hardware, the company has not only denied themselves the revenue from the product sale, but also that of the sale of the support contract. Many of these companies are publically held, which means they have, as we've read so many times here, a legal obligation to maximize profits for the shareholders. To be quite extreme, opening specs to obsolete hardware is illegal.
  • The Apple II was referred to in another post, in that the schematics were openly available (and provided) with the earlier versions of the machine. Those were the days. :)

    I've read several posts on the relevant newsgroups (like comp.sys.apple2) where people had tried to petition Apple to allow someone else to bring the Apple II series back and update it. (You may remember that the last of the Apple II line was a 16-bit system running at a "screaming" 2MHz.) Apple refused.

    The reason is clear: Apple (and most companies are of like-mind) doesn't want anyone else to profit off of a technology that has (for whatever reason) been discontinued. There are several reasons floating around on why Apple discontinued the Apple II series, but they won't permit someone else to profit from THEIR technology, even if it's a bit archaic.

    The Apple II is a good example; there's still a surprisingly large following for the system, and there's interest in re-designing it to something like a StrongARM processor and other stuff. The theory is that it could be brought into the realm of the "modern" computer systems, and still be able to run the programs that were written oh-so-many years ago.

    The interesting thing is that the more I think about it, the more I see the logic to it, even though I don't agree with it. I would like to see companies be willing to give (or sell) a license to others (at the very least) that are willing to do the maintenance/update work. If the Parent company wished, they could require a percentage of any profits from the sales of the resulting equipment (be it hardware, firmware or software), so it wouldn't be a total loss to them. This would probably result in a jump in the cost to the End-User (depending on the requirements of the Parent Company), but if there's enough interest in it, it will be worth it.

    Just another computer geek....
  • Microsoft wrote substantial portions of OS/2 1.X, such as the HPFS file system (Gordon Letwin).
  • First off.. you hit the nail right on the head.. I've spent a lot of time with hardware company reps so I've learned some things.. one of my favorite things is when the rep from a certain digital camera company told me that the current line of cameras had all the features the new model would have.. only that they'd been disabled on the circuit board.. all so that the company could make people buy the new model when they released it six months later.. without them having to pay for any new R&D or even any major changes to the design as all they had to do is activate the features by connecting power to a certain input on the IC they were using.

    That being said, I think the practice is completely wrong. The only way to make companies give us the specs is if we can make it look like a benefit to them. When you go to buy something write a short letter to various companies that sell that type of product and ask them if the specifications are open and outline the reasons you are concerned. These things do work their way up the mgmt chain the more attention you, the consumer, bring to it. Write a letter to your favorite newspaper or magazine talking about the issue. Open software is big right now, convince the right reporters that open hardware is the next big thing and you may begin to get some response. Hardware companies have the benefit that even if they open their specs someone still has to buy their product (unlike software which can be downloaded) so play that kind of thing up. If you can convince even a few major companies to make such a move then the rest of them will begin taking the idea seriously.
  • So who here has a BOLT drive that will only store/restore a few megs with the ide-tape driver from 2.2.14?

    Now that Aiwa computer products is no more, what are the chances of us ever getting the info to support these things?

    If you're bored, call:
    1-800-321-AIWA (1-800-321-2492) option 5
    and ask for the info needed to support this discontinued hardware on linux and BSD.
  • The thing that annoys me to no end is that many 'discontinued' products have absolutely no information provided. When I buy a surplus 10 megabit hub and I am unable to even find the voltage for the power supply, something is wrong.

    I often purchase surplus items and many times the manufactures including HP, INTEL, SUN, and others barely acknowledge that they ever made the units that initially sold for over $10,000.

    I'm not going to buy a new item anyway, I don't have the money. But I want to gain experience with technology other than wintel systems. I suspect that they spend more telling me and others that they don't have the information than they would if they released at least minimal specs.
  • Although 3-Com may be persuaded to open up the specs for the hardware, the possibility of outside support is slim.
    The problem lies in several areas. First of all, how many other people who are interested in writing OSS have this rather expensive equipment? You need to have it in order to update it. Second, and more importantly, who would want to?
    As I understand, open source drivers/hardware support is written when somebody needs to use some peice of it under Linux. Thus, only those in your situation would really want to work on the project. And, as in the first point, how many of them are there?
  • Although it might not be in their economic
    interest to release the specs for older products,
    it certainly is in mine. Some of us are at the
    bottom of the food chain, so to speak. And these
    end-of-life products still does duty on my
    network.

    I send an e-mail to NCD about their MCX terminals
    and they just send the standard drone reply asking
    for $100 before they tell me anything.

    I guess there is no incentives for most of them to
    release any specs if it exists. And one person
    asking for it will probably make no difference
    at all. A group of people on the other hand....

    Cheers
  • Actually, Intel or other companies still support P90 chips, and older. They don't for the purpose of putting them into PC's, obviously, as there are better alternatives, but these chips are good solutions for some embedded applications. I think you can still get 486 processors as well. (They cost about $2, if anyone knows if there is a 4 or 8 processor board available for this let me know!)

    I have thought about doing the first post thing too, I just never get there in time.
  • It's the other way around: WinNT contains code from OS/2. Originally OS/2 was going to be a collaboration between IBM and Micro$oft, but they went their separate ways after a short time. If OS/2 were opensourced, the only thing that could not be included would be the DOS layer, as that belongs to Micro$oft.
  • 3dfx has released full specs.
    Matrox has released most of their specs.

    There are open source 3d drivers for both.
  • Easy to say, hard to pull off.
    But you're quite right, though many things have changed since the ZIP vs. ARC days, Phil Katz's recent death was a reminder to a lot of us of a time when the community banded together and passed judgement against SEA (makers of ARC). SEA no doubt thought the court papers would be the final word on the matter, but it was only the judgement of the community as a whole that mattered in the end.

    If a similar flexing of community power took place today, the results would undoubtedly be that we would get whatever we wanted. All the reasons given why this simply can't be done would vanish in a explosion generated by competitive pressures.

    But I'm not holding my breath.
  • Problem: power consumption. It would take only 3 486s to equal the avg power output of an avg Coppermine or Athlon system, but you'd need 12 486s to equal the processing power.
  • While it's probably legally unenforcable, I'd love to see this. All the lingering bugs in my Windows video drivers, gone.. I might actually go a week without a crash, imagine that.

    What about a noisy consumer group, instead of or in addition to a law? A Consumer Reports for computers, that comes back and does yearly re-reviews of old products. Tie them to a legal group that would support class-action lawsuits on behalf of abandoned customers, and we might have something.
  • Let's look at this from 3Com's perspective... if you have a dozen people writing software for switch products (and this is not just firmware; there's a lot of software involved in managed switches), do you want them investing time in supporting the software for hardware you no longer manufacture and sell? Trust me, they have more than enough work supporting the stuff 3Com is selling.

    People will be quick to point out other manufacturers that continue to support their hardware for years after they stop making it... to them, I offer the obvious: 3Com is not Cisco. Cisco has a very well integrated uniform software model [IOS] that they shoe-spoon into everything (even in places it really doesn't belong.) However, even Cisco discontinues products; they provide an upgrade path for your existing hardware, tho'.
  • Those 2 things could prevent much or maybe even most hardware and associated specs from being made available to the public, but couldn't a new product enjoy greater demand if purchasers knew that when it was discontinued, updates might still be available? This doesn't get around stuff with still-secret designs but maybe a manufacturer's curiousity would be piqued if this possiblity were advanced?

    just my 2/10ths of a cent.

    "A witty saying proves nothing." -Voltaire

  • It really bugs me when OS bigots start talking about "open-sourcing" something that has no actual source code, such as hardware. I know in the body they used the term "spec" instead, but the title still is "Open-Sourcing Discontinued Hardware." Repeat after me: "There is no source to hardware, open-sourcing everything is not the answer to all the world's problems." Opening specs for hardware is good, but not necessary, and is not "open source." Stop yelling that everything good is open source and vice-versa, you people make my head hurt.

    -----------------------

  • Why would you buy a WINmodem if you need to use it under Linux?

    I purchased my laptop back when I was still using Windows. After I made the jump to Linux, I didn't have the spare cash to replace my laptop, so I have to suffer with a WinModem. I imagine there are other folks in situations similar to mine.

  • Also, there are very often going to be trade secrets from *other* companies that prevent the company in question from opening up the specs. In other words, very often it's hard to 'open source' (I use quotes because in the case of hardware, 'source' is a misnomer) things that weren't designed to be open source, because very often you're licensing code from someone else who won't let you open it up.
  • >i don't think i've ever heard of an open source hardware project.

    I have:

    a 32000 based motherboard project. Did 2 board runs.
    Here on /., open sourced processors http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=00/02/29/084520 1&mode=thread
    Ham radio schematics
    Computer schematics (as swapped at the Homebrew computer club, etc)

    Need more?
  • But without the source, I have nowhere to begin.

    Bullshit. You can reverse engineer it. Would having the code make your life easier, you betja. Is this a good use of your time? That is something you will have to decide.

    The NetBSD people do this kind of thing all the time. Getting a Dreamcast to boot BSD is an example.

    For all you know the project was poorly documented, and 1 or 2 engineers wrote all the code, and when they left the project died.

    The 32 engineers who left apple and the newton projects had the working knowledge of NI. No staff, no product. (ok, so 32 is more than 1 or 2 but hey, its a fake example based on a RL example)
  • Well, I suppose I was assuming that the discontinued hardware would work. But I think that if what you have is satisfactory, then all other things being equal you'll tend to buy more of the same.

    - Michael Cohn
  • I can't agree there. Our whole modem bank is USR/3COM TotalControl. Awesome product. It all depends on what cards you run in them.
  • this would be very (very!) nice indeed, but there are two problems i see with this:
    • consumers would have far fewer reasons to buy new devices in that line. if we had access to the hardware specs and driver source, we could write workarounds for any shortcomings and defects present in hold hardware. so why would we want to buy the new one? this may not be true for all types of hardware. and products that have been discontinued because their market is dead should be easy.
    • outsourcing. it's very likely that a dead product line will still contain some components that the company outsourced and does not have the right to open up. patents, intellectual property, etc etc. once again, products that weren't/aren't successful anymore should be easy to get access to.
  • "Many of these companies are publically held, which means they have, as we've read so many times here, a legal obligation to maximize profits for the shareholders."

    Just because you have read that a thousand times here on Slashdot doesn't make it more true in the terms people are using it in these discussions. A company is NOT legally bound to maximize profits by exploitation, harming the environment/customers and generally doing bad/unpopular decisions. Blaming this for not sharing with the rest of the community is a lame excuse IMHO..

    Now if they do all this anyways, couldn't they be sued for having terrible policies, therefore affecting the net value of the company negatively? That's just as crazy!

    Money has no value it just represents it. If companies are not free to try out new things, the market will stagnate.

    - Steeltoe
  • Agreed, yet again it's the publics ignorance that makes a few people loaded and companies expanding, becoming more draconian. They aquire the taste of blood.

    However there are lots of good reasons to open up the specs (even if they are third-party, don't people and companies know how to ask/demand??):
    * Publicity and PR, especially among tech-savvy people and Linux/Open Source/GNU zealots
    * Education, people will experiment, solder and come up with new inventions faster! It's also alot of fun and can be used in educational institutions
    * Environment gets less polluted
    * More usable hardware out there, everyone can have their own cheap server!
    * What's the point of buying a product that will not work anymore (e.g with new hardware, OSes or software?)? In too many situation a customer buys a product that is ALREADY discontinued (happened to me when buying an OEM notebook!).
    * People will get more and more dissatisfied and will go somewhere else where they won't get screwed again!

    And folks, please don't tell me it's impossible! That's just lame.. I can think of much harder tasks also "impossible", already been done.

    - Steeltoe
  • Let's stipulate that there is hardware company X who has belief and faith in open source development/support. The real advantage open source could bring from a hardware companies perspective is reducing support costs on the peak of lifecycle products.

    They don't really care about the obsolete products -- as others have pointed out they want you to buy the new thing. If they are smart at all they also don't have much leftover inventory that they need to get rid of. In other words, there is little advantage to open sourcing obsolete products, and several disadvantages that are described elsewhere.

    If I were going to try to sell this idea to hardware company X (stipulated to believe in open source, if you remember), the key would be using obsolete hardware as a test case for the current stuff. Let's think of a bunch of reasons why open sourcing hardware standards will lower the costs of support for the manufacturer -- but they don't want to risk their next big hardware release on an 'unproven' support methodology; so let's use obsolete hardware to test and prove that open source tactics are capable of improving hardware profitability.
  • > If you wanted 'community support' then you should have bought hardware/software that had been made 'by the community'.

    i'm not the most incredibly open source literate person on the planet... for sure :) but i don't think i've ever heard of an open source hardware project. has there been one (many)? and how successful have they been if so?

    personally i'd love to see someone (ahem) dream up verilog and chip/board specs for a floating point (scalable, of course) graphics system...

    i'll pretend i'm dreaming until it happens.
  • If DEC or whatever company was supporting a PDP-10 at your site as a service back they might decide to relegate it to DNS duty, as you suggest. It would be more profitable,however, for that service company to take back the PDP-10, which is still their property, and recycle it. This would especially be the case if there was an electricity use limit built into the service contract. This is the basic idea of the service model. I like it because it creates the right incentives in the service company, the organization, and the IT staff. Use a tool that is powerful and efficient enough to do the job, but not more powerful, and not less efficient.
  • You're missing the point that 3com doesn't want to make new networking hardware. They are getting out of the networking business so they can focus on the higher profile, more profitable PDA market.

  • This is just like M$ discontinues support to their older versions of software in order for you to buy the new ones. I think there should be a law that forces the companies to support their discontinued products, at least for a few years.
  • ...the one at http://www.libranet.com/petition.html?

    Go sign!

    ___________________________________

    Linux by Libranet - The TOP Desktop

  • I recently purchased a new USB device for one of my computers. As far as I know, it's functionality is unique.

    Unfortunately, there's no stable driver for it under W2K -- and there are no drivers as at for FreeBSD or Linux. So I'm stuck with the vendor's late beta. The vendor is clearly dropping this product line, and I'd be willing to write a driver for it, just to get it working. (To be honest, given what I want this device for, the vendor probably won't want some parts of my final driver, since it will support a single-use protocol that...well the company certainly doesn't care about. No matter. Most of the driver would be useful.)

    I understand the vendor's concern, mind you -- this device also has some features that they are using for competitive advantage for other items in the product line, and they really don't want their competitors stealing those advantages. I'd be willing to not be given those parts of the spec, though; I just want access to two features. I wonder if there's a well to get part of a spec without getting the whole thing.
  • I know if it were a tosss up between hugging a tree, and making some money I'd choose the money everytime.

    as a temporary tenant of this planet, you are in no position to make decisions like this which will affect your children and mine for generations. It's a toss up between making some quick cash now and letting our descendants pick up the cleaning and repair bills, or showing some common courtesy, decency and consideration for your fellow people (yeah, other species too but i don't think you want to listen to that).

    For example, I can open a nuclear power station, get electricity with very few chemical discharges, great. Except that my descendants will be paying for security, cleanup and processing of waste and decommissioning costs to the tune of many thousands of times what i've paid for, or gained from, my lovverly nuclear power station.

    I don't know about you, but I'd like my descendants to be able to enjoy their income on a beautiful, green, clean planet, not spending every penny on a futile attempt to keep the filth of their ancestors under control.

    TomV

  • the enviroment is cleaner than it has been in 50 years

    50 years is the merest blink of an eye. What I was referring to is the cleanup operation which will continue for generations. It can take more than 50 years for a landfill site to reach the water table. Once that happens, the water supply in the region could be contaminated for centuries.

    We've been industrialising since the late 1700's. The environment is considerably filthier than it was 250 years ago.

    In the words of John Maynard Keynes, "in the long term, you and I are both dead". THAT's the long term. TomV

  • It is a little bit harder than you think, I am trying a similar approach for getting philips usb webcam specs [linux-usb.org] free.

    I do get a lot of reactions, but I get the idea that most people although they agree don't actually send the message......

    Jeroen

  • I have a bunch of "old" SGI boxes, that really rock. However, getting them repaired or upgrading them is almost impossible. Since SGI either doesn't repair them or asks Outrageous prices for spares, it's hard to keep these machines running. Really, if the specs would be available, I'd love to have them running linux, XFree for the Crimson RE, whee... How about getting a CPU and patching the board and PROMS/NVRAMS yourself, so you can finally get this R4400SC 150 MHz in your 100 MHz R4000 box? All this can be done, it won't really cost them revenue on new sales, but would make them more valuable because of the reduced writeoff of their equipment.
  • 2. Designs employ proprietary specs possibly used under license from other companies.
    If I'm not mistaken, #2 is one reason why IBM is unlikely to ever opensource OS/2. Doesn't it contain some code written by MS?

    Sun faced the same problem when they wanted to release the source code of Solaris 8, I believe it still contained lots of code from BSD. They rewrote most of that code and then released as much as they could.
    Why can't IBM do the same? (using a *real* opensource license unlike Sun)

  • I have alot of old hardware that this would be great for.

    To bad its never gonna happen...
  • I can't see hardware companies ever releasing specs for even outdated products as it would probably give away trade secrets. Just because the product is old doesn't mean they wouldn't use the same techniques in their current line of products. You might be able to compare this with a Coppermine and an old Pentium 90 chip. I doubt Intel is supporting the old chip, but there probably are some similarities in the cores of the two chips.

    Heh, sorry about the first post crap, I just couldn't help myself.

  • I'm sure that fir some applications a beowolf cluster of lots and lots of 486's could be fairly cost effective. used bourds, like 5 to 15 dollors, prosessors 2 dollors nic's like 30 a piece, power supply 30 dollors cableing would actually be a signifigent chunk of your cost.
  • But really, can you expect these vendors that are just barly opening up their graphics specs to allow good cross platform game development, and wont let linux users get software for their modems (I mean relaly, how could a WIN modem be such a trade secret that they wont open it up) unless it's M$ preventing them because it ties into a "secret" part of the OS and they don't want it to get out.

    anyway my point is that if a 50 dollor modem or a 200 dollor graphics card (though it appears that graphics vendors are startting to be cool now) can't be opened, why are they going to let us see the inner workings ofyour $3000 doorstop?

    Even if they have no way of prophiting off it now that they abandonned it.
  • >I don't see any incentive here for the companies.

    The incentive could be made with legislation. If the law would require the manufacturers to dispose the old hardware in enviromentally sustainable way it would make it profitable to:

    -put less toxic materials to their products

    -make them last longer, in one way or another

    Of course you would need an Apache (and I mean the chopper, not the server!) to get anything like this pass the corporation lobbyists.

    ---------------
    Fire Your Boss!

  • Maybe we should all email the fine folks at 3Com a copy of Chapter 17 of _The Magic Cauldron_. That is the appendix in which Eric Raymond explains "Why Closing Drivers Loses A Vendor Money" [tuxedo.org]. The basic argument is that copying someone else's technology is a dead-end business due to today's rate of product development. Any competitor foolish enough to base their business on a copy of today's products is simply guaranteeing they will always be a generation behind due to the lost opportunity for innovation. Any loss of sales will be more than offset by increased consumer loyalty.

    If you're in an emailing mood, send one off to Xircom, too. They still won't release their old technology because of the same misguided fears about competition. They managed to turn my CEM2 PCMCIA card into a piece of unsupported junk and lost a customer in the process. Did they really think that by making the CEM2 impossible to use I would really rush out and buy one of *their* new products?

  • Diamond Fireport 40... will never see another bios/firmware :( Had to buy an Adaptec 2940u2w@!#
  • It's not necessarily wasteful. Take the example of a PDP-10. A PDP-10 is a completely obsolete computer, but capable of useful work, like serving DNS or any number of simple tasks. However, it's far more wasteful to run it than it is to recycle the machine for its precious metal content, because an operating PDP-10 needs about 100 amps of electricity and 20 tons of refrigeration. You need to look at the whole cycle...
  • Your arguement about WinModems is a bit of a scarecrow.

    Do you seriously think, even if it were fully disclosed code, that Linus and the Kernel Commandantes would compromise the whole kernel's performance just to save several dollars on a modem?

    WinModems do not just have 'drivers' which are obfuscated. The main processor must execute real-time digital signal processing. That just doesn't fit in with the Unix timesharing philosophy. WinModems don't make sense on Linux, they never will, and crying about the need for a 'driver' to use them shows ignorance on the part of the complainer, nothing more.
  • Hey, that's a cool idea.

    We should have governmental oversight of all new technology.

    When Linus and 'the boys' want to add new features into the Linux kernel, they could apply to a committee. If the added features meant systems running the kernel would need additional RAM or other resources, the committee could weight that against the benefits of the new features.

    I'm sure that a change that meant that about 50% of the kernel developer's resources would be tied up in government paperwork wouldn't impact anything important. People, in particular hackers, love government paperwork.

    A nice stiff bandwidth tax on the Internet would also cut down on frivolous 'net usage, which would be a very green thing indeed.

    High uptime figures on workstations and servers that 'the committee' doesn't find critical to an organization could also be restricted. Those 300 day uptime figures sure seem mighty brown, particularly on personal workstations that are actively used less than 8 hours a day.

    We've got to start thinking of the trees! And Mother Earth the Goddess, or whatever.

    'Here Comes the Green Gang' - the Legendary Pink Dots, from the Crushed Velvet Apocalypse album.

  • This sort of topic is a two-sided coin, which boils down to this: is 3COM (or any company that might come under this sort of scrutiny) in business for business' sake, or are they in business in order to further the technological community?

    Mind you, these two aren't mutually exclusive, but it's a point of view that defines _why_ and _how_ they'll respond (or _if_ they'll respond) to this sort of question.

    Of course it would be great if they "open sourced" or otherwise publicised the specs for their unsupported products. At least a portion of their customers would be able to enjoy an extended useful life for that product. Their brand recognition would increase. Everybody would be happy, right?

    On the other hand, such a venture is costly, time consuming, and utilizes human resources that, in the mind of a purely in-business-for-business firm, could be better spent producing the next item on the shelf. It's not that they don't recognize the potential for a community investment; they just don't feel that's their role.
  • You know who might benefit from open sourcing their drivers and firmware? Some company who is behind in terms of quality/stability for their product due to less than optimal drivers - or even a new firm.

    Unfortunately I am certain quite a few (companies who could gain from this approach) are nervous after watching Netscape's long gestation period. Granted that a web browser is a huge effort compared to a driver, perhaps a spin-off from one of the open source software companies would be more tractable. Long live the Red Hat/FreeBSD modem!

    I honestly can not see a successful and profitable firm with matured software opening up their product. Companies who are leaving the business world doing so (if it would not violate another company's rights) would be fantastic, unfortunately they're often just going through the motions of closing shop.

    Andrew Borntreger
  • =\

    About a year ago I purchased a TOTALSwitch for $250 from onsale.com; 32 ports- perfect for LAN parties. I knew they were a discontinued and unsupported product; but for my use it didn't matter. They listed the retail price as something like $4400.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you just bought one recently for $1500, you got the shaft (tm). We picked one of these up on auction 2 years ago for $300. 3com is no longer supporting them, but that doesn't really matter. The latest firmware revision works fine. The only problems are that the 100bt cards don't support full duplex, and there's a backdoor that you can get into through telnet (see my bugtraq post from a few years back). This is easily solved by either not setting a default gateway, or firewalling access to the telnet and www ports from the internet (which you should do anyways with this kind of equipment). Our Totalswitch is still working great. We never needed any support from 3com. Most of the information that you need can be found at totalservice.usr.com (you'll need the serial # of the switch to get a login/password). Or on-line. Adam Maloney Systems Administrator Internet Exposure, Inc.
  • You can lead a horse to water, but if you can make him swim on his back, you've got something. (Stolen from some fortune-cookie or other)

    IMHO, if you can convince a hardware manufacturer that there's gold in them thar doorstops, they won't be able to open-source fast enough. In the end, the "new" products aren't what's important. What's important is that the CEO's piggy bank gets one step closer to gravitational collapse.

    How to do this with Open Source? That depends. Research Machines, in England, are a good example. They've made some stunning, innovative machines and components, in the past, which they have subsequently thrown away.

    Open Sourcing the drivers, at the retirement stage, could help clear the surplus stocks. After all, they can then flog off the stuff they'll never shift to anyone else to student-types and Linux companies.

    What about more internal stuff? BIOSes, etc? Undocumented calls to those fancy non-standard chips? Again, there are going to be surplus in stock that can't be shifted to retailers any more. They'll NEVER get rid of them that way. But once the attention's fading on the new releases, again, they could Open Source virtually everything on the older models. Empty those warehouses, at no expense to the company.

    IMHO, free money and new customers are gold to any company. If it's done in a way that doesn't hit sales of newer products, because it's aimed at people who won't buy the new products anyway (because the drivers don't exist for Linux, *BSD or BeOS), you've wheelbarrows of green bills coming in, none going out and all that expensive storage lots can be used for stocking something profitable on the mainstream market.

    Money Talks. It even sings and dances a little, if you let it.

  • Why is lead solder still so popular? 60/40 lead solder is cheap. There's also another evil to lead solder: it tends to crack over time under heat stessed components. This is why over 50% of televisions fail. It makes sense for companies to sell a product that works very good at first and start to have intermittent problems after a predictable 4 years. 60/40 solder is the perfect time bomb for this.

    Lead solder is the most accurate time bomb for those 3 year warranties.

    Ever shake a malfunctioning television that starts to act flaky after a few years you bought it? Resoldering the problem areas almost always fixes these problems. I used to fix televisions and big screens for $150 up to $450 each when it was very profitable several years ago. To keep the recall rate low, I used silver solder. Of course, I checked if the overheated capacitors were out of tolerance which can also aggrevate the hot spots.
  • The problem isn't just hardware. Books, code, and all sorts of other things go obsolete, discontinued, or out-of-print. Have you ever tried to get a copy of a long-since out-of-print book -- you'll pay thirty times the sticker price. Out of print CDs are less expensive but still far pricier than current ones.

    I have often wondered if there might be some way -- social, economical, or legislative -- to force things into the public domain once the owner isn't using them any more. Why on earth should it be illegal for me to digitally distribute a book that's been out of print since 1940? After all, one can hardly claim that I'm costing the publisher anything.

    Deliberate obsolescence of a product -- particularly if that product is copyrighted or patented -- needs somehow to be turned into public-ownership of that product.

    Perhaps copyright should expire at author's-life-plus-n (setting aside the whole "what should n be" debate for now) or the point at which the publisher is no longer willing to publish, whichever comes first. Something similar for patents might prevent certain offensive legal strategies involving patents.

    I'm not one of these zealots who thinks that we should all be downloading copyrighted this-and-that for free without legal reprecussions, but when something is out of print, no longer manufactured, or a patent sitting idle in someone's files, it really should be fair game.
    --G
  • Many new hardware designs use FPGAs for substantial portions of the board logic. The source code, in the form of a schematic or other high-level representation, is compiled into a binary file that is loaded into the FPGA when the board is initialized, either from a PROM or by the system's CPU.
  • I have a five year old NEC desktop. I figured it would be stupid to waste this old system so I stuck Linux on it and made it a dedicated file server. Then I got my new hard drive and tried to put my old one in the file server to give myself a bit more space. The NEC wouldn't accept the second hard drive. Calling NEC to ask for hardware specs or something that might help me (maybe a BIOS update) they just told me to go shove my hard drive up my ass. I don't see why a company can't provide at least information on systems that are obsolete. Why hold the specs to obsolete and non-competitive product so close? Video cards are another thing, why don't the chip and card makers release free specs for their older cards that they don't even produce. Even under and agreement that says you'll only use the specs to write open drivers or some such would be nice. Sheesh. fnord.
  • Good point. However my counter point is that some of us do not buy hardware from companies that do that. In fact, I lean heavy in the buying department to make sure we favor companies that have some form of open source policy that I and most ./ readers would like.
    As the market gets tighter, companies soon find themselves without customers who are sick of this tatic.
  • 3Com isn't offering support on these switches as it is. A company I worked for picked up a couple for a song (onsale was unloading them). We had our standard 90 days of support in which we burned the hell out of them and shook out most of the bugs, but after that we are on our own.

    As for who is interested? I am. If I could get the source to the firmware, I would love to fix some of the annoying things this box does. But without the source, I have nowhere to begin.

    Open source is much bigger than Linux. You are complete right that only those in my situation would want to work on the project. But I'm sure there is at least one other person besides me. Every added person increases the number of improvements and testing over what I could do by myself. None of us are interested in selling our improvements to the switch, we just want the farging switch to not suck so we can get the rest of work done.

  • Funny thing about proprietary hardware - some companies never bother releasing specs after being dissolved or swallowed, and customers wind up getting the shaft. I once bought a DSP modem that was "upgradeable" with firmware upgrades.
    Pift! Gone was Cardinal, and with them those potential upgrades.
  • by bmacy ( 40101 )
    I found that out about my USR TotalSwitch a year ago. Really disappointing that though the hardware supports full-duplex they never released the firmware to support it. Ended up selling my TotalSwitch on ebay and buying a couple of Kingston 10/100Mbps full-duplex non-managed switches for what I got out of it.
  • To be quite extreme, opening specs to obsolete hardware is illegal.

    That's too extreme: company officers are given pretty much complete freedom to decide how to pursue shareholders interest: if they think that the goodwill created by opening specs is a good investment, that's their call. Also, in the UK at least, it isn't illegal not to pursue shareholder profit. Instead shareholders have the right to kick out executives they don't think are doing well.

  • The capital investment in hardware development is far too great to go and reveal all the inner workings of older models when there is still competition against your newer ones. Even if a product line has been discontinued, individual components or concepts from that line may be reused in newer product lines. Here's a hypothetical situation:

    Say for example your company produced the Foonmatix 1/10, a 100 port 10-baseT Ethernet switch. Buried deep within the switch is a rather elegant circuit, the Foontek 3842 that knows how to efficiently redirect a packet to, for example, port 32 if port 33 has a collision on it.

    Five years later, you've discontinued the entire 10-baseT line. Now you're producing the Foonmatix 4/100, a 400 port 100-baseT switch, which is selling like hotcakes, because it has an incredible new chip buried in there that does predictive packet routing so efficiently that you can handle nearly 50% more traffic than equivalently priced switches. So why aren't you open-sourcing the Foonmatix 1/10?

    Turns out that the only way to do predictive packet routing efficiently is if you have a good way of handling wrongly predicted packets. For everybody else in the business, a misrouted packet is a nightmare that grinds the entire switch to a halt for nearly 15ms, an eternity on a heavily loaded network and one that until now has been handled by putting a buffer on every port and redesigning the switch so that it can handle the datastorm that happens when all the buffers are freed at once. An expensive, complex mess. Enter the Foontek 3842's 100mbit descendent, the 3842A. When hooked up to the predictive routing circuit (PRC), it (a) quickly sends the bogus packet where it is supposed to go and (b) tells the PRC that it's misrouting packets from port X. Slicker than goose poop, and it wouldn't work without the Foontek 3842A.

    So: when you open-source the 1/10 switch, you end up open-sourcing, or at least describing, the Foontek 3842, which has since become a critical part of the switches you've bet your company's future on.

    It's too easy to give away trade secrets indirectly. In a field as competitive as computer and networking hardware, the risk of giving a competitor the edge by effectively giving them all your old ideas is just too great. What if the design you toss out the window is the magic bullet your competitor has been looking for?

    Personally, I would rather see this happen on the software end of things. I can think of a half dozen old software packages that were excellent in their old environment and could become portable wonders if open-sourced. Borland's Sprint editor and Microsoft Word for DOS version 5.0, to name two. I have my doubts as to whether either of these products contain super secret algorithms that matter now, eight to ten years after they were dropped.

    --

  • Man I used to LOVE pouring over the schematics and programming info that hardware used to come with so long ago...and then, ever so slowly...they just...stopped.

    Goddamn shame...I certainly hope the Linux community doesn't go that way...all source and fun...and then, slowly, more and more closed...

    :(
  • Actually, if you knew anything about the hardware he is referring to, you would know that it is controlled by firmware (software stored in a PROM), which is usually upgraded regularly as bugs are discovered.

    However, since devices such as switches [as was the piece of hardware originally mentioned] and routers are normally based on highly custom architechtures then of course you'd require a custom compiler for each piece of hardware to take whatever source language you use and turn it into the appropriate binary language for the device.

    The compiler to do this could well be the same piece of software being used on said companies newer products so they could well be unwilling to release it meaning the first task of anyone playing with the hardware would probably be to produce the compiler and given the pace of development in the network kit world by the time that has happened the kit would probably be totally obsolete.

    J

  • In order for 3Com to make this decision, it would have to be profitable. Currently, 3Com makes money selling new hardware, and loses money supporting hardware no longer on the market. Additionally, if they support hardware not on the market, they create an incentive for people to not buy new hardware. As a result, releasing specifications will decrease their value.

    But we want open hardware, right? Well, the solution is to propose a scenario by which it is profitable for 3Com to open their hardware.

    The solution is for 3Com to announce that ALL new products will be supported for X years, after which their specifications and code will be released into the public domain (or GPLed if they are worried that Cisco would grab them). As a result, new hardware buyers would know that their products would work for AT LEAST X years and perhaps beyond that.

    With Cisco or other competing gear, customers have no idea how long they will work. As a result, customers have an incentive to purchase 3Com gear because it has a longer lifespan. This should make 3Com gear more valuable, and theirfore be in 3com's interests.

    Now as to existing hardware? Perhaps 3Com could make this somewhat retroactive. Why would they do that? Well, if groups of developers support their old gear, than 3Com's claims of longevity are more likely to succeed. They have a reality.

    Also, this community, as other posters mention, consists of large numbers of technical people involved in purchasing decisions. As a result, 3Com would find an increased market for their hardware by creating this sort of environment.

    The reality is that businesses will NOT spend money maintaining their old hardware, they will buy new gear. Hobbyiest (like my college living group with a network strung up with end of life products) and users will use and maintain this gear.

    Why will this help sales? 3Com needs to realize that there is little market for old hardware, and this change would do nothing towards that. However, the techies often take home the old gear when it is replaced. As techies interested in toys, they would be more likely to recommend the purchase of hardware that they can play with at the end.

    3Com benefits as the first mover, therefore they should do so.

    Alex
  • but what about pulicity. Any company that does anything related to open source, it's touted as something that will help linux, and anything on the newswires about linux is instantly picked up by CNBC, C|net, slashdot, and eventually major local tv stations.
  • "Convincing the hardware makers will be the difficult part."
    Maybe not.
    I confess complete ignorance of the product in question, but I bet it wasn't built in a factory owned by a company called 3Com. Furthermore, the firmware (that's what we're really talking about) may very well have been outsourced as well, or just bought off the shelf. The best kept secret of the computer industry is that there are almost no American "hardware makers" at all. They're all just marketing companies.
    Most of the stuff Cisco sells, for example, never physically touches a Cisco employee during its entire lifetime.
    And Compaq stuff is sometimes triple or quadruple subcontracted. Their big factory in Austin is run by FIC, and in Germany they produce in the old East German Robotron factory. Tatung produces all European HP PCs in Holland, and the printer are make by Selectronics in Hungary.
    Ect. Networking products are especially prone to be out sourced. Go to a big computer fair and visit the Taiwanese stands and just ask who really produces what. You'd be surprised.
    Some companies just label complete products, some insist upon design changes, some do their own firmware development, but almost nobody with a recognizeable brand name goes out and actually makes their own PCBs (drilling holes in plastic -that's a Chinese job, as they say) let alone squabbling with the foundry sales guys about allocation.
    There is a sort of apartheid in the computer business, mostly because the sophistication of the Asian side has increased so quickly. Maybe the open source community could help overcome it. I'm always suprised how people with the technical savvy of the average slashdot reader can be so ignorant of where the stuff really comes from.
    The trick would be to find out who really designed the hardware in question and to contact him directly. In exchange for other freebies, they might be more than willing to talk.

  • #3 if the product doesn't work because you need new specs you have to go buy another one.

    As long as all the companies don't release their old specs they are better off.
  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @11:54PM (#1086788) Homepage Journal
    The reason 3Com is not supporting the TotalSwitch anymore (and I have one too, it's a SWEET piece of hardware) is that they already had a competing line of products (Their SuperStack switches). Depending on who takes over development of the code patches: The issue is the 100bT, it's not duplex, though it was supposed to be duplex upon market emergence, and was to be patched when they (USR) got sucked into the 3Com conglomerate. Personally, I'd be willing to contribute money (some, I'm not rich), webspace (which I have in abundance), or whatever, to support a project designed to bring the product up to the promised specs, buy/develop the rights to the firmware code, etc.


    Chas - The one, the only.
    THANK GOD!!!
  • by ravenwing_np ( 22379 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:01AM (#1086789)
    It would cost very little for a company to release the documenation for obsolete hardware and allow the Open Source community to maintain it. The problem is they would lose sales for new products. Without the new sales, they can't improve the product line more, and they fall by the wayside. That is a bit extreme, but it is something that should be considered.
  • by TheTomcat ( 53158 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:16AM (#1086790) Homepage
    Companies discontinue products all the time. Usually it's because the product has lived it's useful life, and needs to be replaced, or their estimated profit margin wasn't fulfilled.

    Not to be a conspiracy theorist, or anything, but I know sometimes companies discontinue a line of products so they can introduce a new line of similar products, and sell to their current customers who now have 'obsolete' products.

    They've essentially just forced a bunch of clients to use unsupported gear, or pay someone(hopefully them) to replace it. If this is the case, open-sourcing would be counter-productive.

  • by laborit ( 90558 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:14AM (#1086791) Homepage
    I don't see why this should be a difficult sell for any hardware manufacturer who's gotten out of stone-age source code jealousy. Why should they object to putting their boxes and their brand name on your desktop? The situation should be no different from the one in which Nike(TM) does everything it can to get its logo on the chests of millions, even if they're not athletes and say nothing about the quality of their shoes. If your IT people go to work and see "3COM(TM)" every day; if the administrators have the 3com(TM) name in front of them so that it's the name that pops into their head when its time to make more purchasing decisions; if they can generally get their name hard-coded into your product-inertia... how could they refuse?

    Companies may not care about extending the life of products they no longer support. But extending the reach of their name -- that's something you can sell them on.

    - Michael Cohn
  • by criticalrealist ( 111008 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @07:46AM (#1086792) Homepage
    It's incredibly wasteful for both companies like 3Com and their customers to junk old equipment instead of upgrading and maintaining old equipment. It's better at least to relegate old equipment to auxiliary duty. So why buy a piece of hardware if you could buy a service?

    A company like 3Com could agree to provide a certain number of ethernet switch ports in working order at your site for a monthly fee. They can update and upgrade the product at their leisure. If their equipment stops working for a previously agreed time period (maybe if it has less than 99.99% uptime per month), then you pay nothing that month. Once they replace your equipment, they take the old equipment and either recycle it or reuse it. This would be a more efficient system because every party has a strong incentive to avoid waste.

    With this system, there would be no need to open the specs or source code of obsolete hardware, because companies would be offering free firmware and driver upgrades for much longer periods of time.

  • It would cost very little for a company to release the documenation for obsolete hardware and allow the Open Source community to maintain it.

    I love recycling --especially the kind where hardware gets a new lease on life in ways we never dreamed.

    Economic reasons? Think environmental. Think of the savings when our environment is concerned. Yeah, I know, most people don't give a damn about all that toxic lead used to solder those several layer circuit boards or worse yet all the chemicals needed to move them through hundreds of costly steps in production.

    Let's promote green open source solutions and the companies that support them.
  • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:17AM (#1086794) Homepage
    I would be asking 3COM why they are not supporting their own products, even if they were acquired in a merger, and if this indicates the level of support that customers can expect when current product lines are discontinued. Why should the customers be expected to take over the sustaining engineering? Even with source code and schematics, are the customers going to have the software and hardware tools needed to generate updates?
  • by Alan Cox ( 27532 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @08:07AM (#1086795) Homepage
    With things they own like the old network cards 3COM have been extremely good. I asked for documentation on the etherlink MC/32 and not only got documents back, but on paper. The times I've had problems with 3com docs have been when 3com dont own all the rights, when they are still filing patents on the hardware and it might cause them a problem that way.

    Stuff like the TC boxes they probably don't own all the rights to. The code they use undoubtedly contains large licensed components and I can quite believe they dont _have_ good documentation except for the source to release.

    Certainly when I worked for 3com rapops we had stuff inherited from Sonix that had basically -no- hardware documentation.

    As vendors go 3com have been one of the most supportive to Linux, but I don't think you can expect them to do the due dilligence to release sections of code or go off and write docs for random dead junk switches. Maybe if you offer
    to cover their costs for the process ? Do you love
    the hardware enough to offer them $20K to do the work - remembering the HW may be too specialist to run any normal OS.

  • by sommerfeld ( 106049 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @07:15AM (#1086796)
    Having done some work on the periphery of the embedded networking space, there may be a few obstacles to the hardware vendor open-sourcing their code, or even releasing specs which would allow others to develop software for the box:
    • The vendor might not have the right to release specs for third-party chips on board (specs may only be available under non-disclosure)
    • The vendor might not be able to release all the code running on the box, since it may have been licensed from third parties.
    • They may no longer have the information at all. Chances are parts of the necessary information only existed in the heads of engineers that no longer work there..
  • by Kooki Monster ( 123528 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:33AM (#1086797)
    The /. community is mostly made up of IT support staff, a lot of SysAdmins and a handful of people that matter decision wise. All that needs to be done, assuming everbody can stop bickering and hold the same thought in their heads for more that 10 seconds, is to write a letter to 3Com, for example, and tell them that we're after the specs / source for their discontinued hardware, and if we don't get it, we'll all go off to Cisco, or other appropriate rival, next time we need something. It's called blackmail. Whenever said company releases the docs, we turn to Cisco and and tell them that now 3Com have opened up, you have to do the same or you can kiss our checkbooks goodbye. That bit's about market share. Now, all we need is somebody that can liason, is semi-responsible and doesn't mind pestering companies. I nominate CowboyNeal. Job done.
  • by Chagrin ( 128939 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:04AM (#1086798) Homepage
    The reason is a no-brainer: 3com has every reason not to release the information for those old switches because they want them to die. The sooner they pass out of the market, the sooner they can sell new hardware. You can't blame them for this -- it only makes sense.

    Argue the point all you want, but what needs to be done is getting the information for new hardware, as it's released. Only time and added pressure on the hardware manufacturers is going to make this a reality.

  • by jerdenn ( 86993 ) <jerdenn@dennany.org> on Sunday May 07, 2000 @07:15AM (#1086799)
    All technical products have a product lifecyle - in the computer industry, this lifecyle is usually quicker, as a business shifts internal resources from an older, 'mature' product, into the developement of new, 'innovative' technologies.

    The lifecycle of an at-market product is recognizable by four distinct phases:

    General Availability: Selling is unrestricted in target markets. Carrier for new technology introductions. Marketing efforts to actively promote product. Resources allocated to enhancing and maintaining existing product.

    Functional Stability: Product not targeted for new sales. Available to existing customers only, and resources allocated only to fixing major 'bugs'.

    Maturity: This phase is often combined with Functional Stability. Sales are suspended, and existing fixes are made available, but no resources allocated to fixes. Limited support provided.

    Retirement: Product is discontinued. Support, if available, is not dedicated, and often comes with surcharge.

    Companies rely upon the product lifecycle to ensure that their Generally Available products are successfull. By extending the usefullness of products in the Retirement phase, GA products will be adversely impacted.

    It is therefore not in the best interest of most companies to open spec hardware in the Retirement phase, nor is it benificial for a software company to open source Retired software products.

    There may, however, be advantages to open spec or open source earlier in the product lifecycle.

    -jerdenn

  • by eap ( 91469 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:00AM (#1086800) Journal
    But I can see two reasons why hardware companies might be unlikely to opensource their designs:

    1. Said hardware contains design secrets used in current products.

    2. Designs employ proprietary specs possibly used under license from other companies.

    If I'm not mistaken, #2 is one reason why IBM is unlikely to ever opensource OS/2. Doesn't it contain some code written by MS?

    It can't hurt to push for open hardware though. I would like to see these companies contribute something back to the community that has made them so wealthy.

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