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Open Source Hardware

The Unspoken Rules of Open Source Hardware 64

ptorrone writes "MAKE Magazine's article talks about some of the {unspoken} rules most/all the open-source hardware community seems to follow. Why? Because the core group of people who've been doing what is collectively called 'open source hardware' know each other — they're friends, they overlap and compete in some ways, but they all work towards a common goal: sharing their works to make the world a better place and to stand on each others shoulders and not each others toes : ) There will be some folks who agree strongly with what they've outlined as 'unspoken rules,' others, will completely disagree with many points too. That's great, it's time we start this conversation!"
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The Unspoken Rules of Open Source Hardware

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  • by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @04:58PM (#39050385) Journal

    Guess there is some truth to it, it's like us old farts that started messing with our computers back in the ZX80 Commodore vic 20 / 64 days...when we tweaked and tuned and got rid of borders & made the impossible - possible.

    I still do that these days, my workshop is a gazillion components (nos from eBay etc...) from factories worldwide gone bust, old electronics...albeit new and unused - finds new life in makers everywhere.

    The maker generation - is our new generation, it's like the electronics hobby is rising from the dust again. Love it, embrace it - and above all - have a LOT of fun with it.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The internet seems to have replaced real life clubs. If you want to do electronics as a hobby and have never studied it you need to learn, and books can only go so far. We used to have lots of clubs for things like photography, model trains and electronics. Lots of magazines with tutorials too. Those seemed to die off, and then the internet came in to replace them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @04:59PM (#39050389)

    Never talk about Open Source Hardware.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @05:16PM (#39050741)

      For all the opposition that "don't ask, don't tell" had in the homosexual military usage, I think it is perfectly valid for most hobbies.
      It's usually fine to mention a hobby (fictional example: "I play MMOs in my spare time"), and if that is followed up with specific questions, go at it. However, starting your conversation with "I have a level 90 Ubermancer and everyone on my WoW server begs for my help" and then continuing on with stories about how you acquired each and every piece of gear, not ok at all.

      More on topic:
      Good: "My friends and I design easy to build low-cost customizable electronics."
      Bad: "Arduino is mine MINE! All those others using similar names are rip-offs. I have the original schematics secured in my briefs, stay here a second and I'll show you!" *zip*

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I just read TFA, and that puppy grinder sounds great. Anyone got schematics for it?

    • I just read TFA, and that puppy grinder sounds great. Anyone got schematics for it?

      I think Microsoft still has patents on puppy grinding.

  • The design and the source code have copyleft licences which derive from the underlying copyright.
    The hardware itself, if not patented, is simply in the Public Domain.

    Sorry but your "unspoken rules" are not worth the paper they're not written on.

    • Re:Legal basis (Score:4, Insightful)

      by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @05:26PM (#39050907)

      LOL read the article. Cultural rules vs legal rules. You'll be mightly lonely, and probably poor, if you insist on only following the legal rules.
      That applies to other areas of life too. Cultural rule says you live in the USA, you buy your kids gifts for dec 25 and do all that Santa and pine tree and rudolf the reindeer stuff and christmas lights hanging from raingutters. Christians also do extra things like attend church, but whatever that's been marginalized pretty far. Yes, there is no law that says you must display a decorated pine tree in your house in December. Does not mean that a sociological study article explaining the Santa Claus story is irrelevant solely because its not part of the US constitution. Does mean life gets hard if you chose to live life in a way that rubs your neighbors wrong.

    • Re:Legal basis (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @05:59PM (#39051535) Journal

      The hardware itself, if not patented, is simply in the Public Domain.

      "The hardware itself" is almost certainly a FPGA. Verilog, VHDL, etc. are copyrightable works just like any other code.

      If it's an IC of some flavor then in the USA you can protect the mask for 10 years [wikipedia.org].

  • Don't be a jerk (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @05:20PM (#39050805)

    ptorrone am I accurately summarizing the article as "Don't be a jerk"?

    I would advise that people who don't get it wrt social interaction in open hardware ecosystem are probably going to continue to "not get" that social interaction thing therefore respond unfavorably to having it pointed out to them. Its funny to read for those who already get it, but I donno how to get people who don't get it, to get it.

    I've got another good unrelated question, what is the prevailing theory on why the Venn diagram of ham radio experimenters and "makers" is approximately zero people despite having pretty much the same tools, ethic, motivations, attitudes, etc? I've never seen a good explanation of that. Maybe I should write an article for Make magazine about that.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      At the hackerspace I hang out at we have a good number of radio hobbyists, might be a local culture problem?

    • vlm - that's a pretty good summary :) my article detailed what most of the oshw makers tend to do. as more folks join in, it will probably change. with physical hardware there is a social element that you get that's different than publishing code and emailing on mailing lists. when you make and share hardware you get a chance to meet the designer and/or the users of your hardware.

      re: ham radio article, you're exactly right. you'd think there would be a ton of overlap, but it's very very small. there are lo

    • by nxcho ( 754392 )
      I'm no sociologist, but... Social groups with something in common usually has unwritten rules that can be summarized as "Don't be a jerk". As the community grows and more people, and therefore more jerks, join. The social control in the group loosens and a bigger need for a formalized set of rules emerge. I congratulate the OSHW movement for, by this article, taking the first steps towards formalizing their rules, and becoming a more jerk friendly (or unfriendly depending on how you see it) community.
  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @05:24PM (#39050881) Journal
    Great, now they'll have to start a new set of unwritten rules.
  • Rule 1 (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Leave arrogance at the door!

    This rule is also best applied towards everything in life.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      This is extremely important- even listen to people that may have differing opinions and goals than you. However, if you've ever tried to work with Limor Fried and dared to disagree with her, you'll understand... She's *incredibly* arrogant. She may be held up as a poster child of the open source movement- but the symbol is often much, much greater than the actual person. I think adafruit is cool, but after interacting with Limor, I just feel bad for the company and those that actually have to work with her
  • by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @05:33PM (#39051021)
    What's with the curly brackets around {unspoken}? Is it punctuation free-for-all day" where we can just use any punctuation mark as we see fit] I!m not sure if I like the idea or not( but I could get used to it/
  • by cornicefire ( 610241 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @06:08PM (#39051697)
    Paying royalties and not cloning doesn't seem very open source to me. Open source licenses explicitly allow not paying royalties and cloning. If you don't allow that, someone will say it's not open source. So why bother calling it open source if we'll just get in trouble for not paying royalties or creating something that's too much of a clone?
    • paying royalties isn't required. what's happen (hence the name, unspoken rules) is that large companies - sparkfun for example will offer a kit designer a royalty if they, sparkfun, are going to manufacture the design. do they need to do this? no, of course not. but that's what's going on. i believe because of this the oshw movement has grown fast, solid and more kit makers are sharing their hardware.

      for the hobbyist and maker out there making a clone or something else that doesn't really apply. to be clear

  • These efforts are to a large extent laudable, and ought to be encouraged in any case; ...however, it gets messy when this hardware requires firm/soft -ware which comes only on a proprietary platform, or binary only libraries, or libraries which require binary only libraries. .Net, Eagle, MPLAB... are easy examples, others are more subtle. These guys know about this problem and either are "working" on it (and for that, gawdbless'em), or in some few cases, just don't give a damn; (there is a buck to be made
  • If "cloning" open-source hardware is considered "bad", what's the point of open-source hardware?

    • Re:"No clones?" (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ghostworks ( 991012 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @08:06PM (#39053453)

      I think what's being proposed is actually a weak form of patent protection.

      "So I see you're selling something called 'noTV'. Is that a clone of TV-B-Gone?"
      "Did you improve upon it somehow?" (see "Cloning ain't cool")
      "Great, then you're doing something useful! How did you improve it?"
      "Okay, so that was a lie. It's a direct clone."
      "That's not good. You shouldn't do that. At the very least you should pay royalties you work out with the TV-B-Gone team." (see "We pay each other royalties...", "we credit each other, a lot")
      "No, thanks."
      "Well! Expect a stern look the next time we see you!" (As I said, weak protection.)

      If you like the idea of patents, but ultimately want them to be toothless and enforced only by social mechanisms, then these ideas are for you. Which is about the right level of enforcement, given that most of these things can't be protected under patent (not novel) or copyright.

      Open source software actually has stronger protection mechanism under copyright (and in some instances such as a Linux kernel, software patents) to make up for the lower barrier of entry for imitators (copiers). At the very least there are licenses that let you stipulate what applications you don't want your software being used for, how you can brand it, whether improvements MUST be fed back into the original project, and what kinds of other software it can interface with, if the author is so inclined to place those restrictions on a work. And ultimately, those agreements have legal teeth.

      For hardware of this sort, the barrier to entry is only cost to build and market such hardware, and the protection is very weak. There are some trade secret laws that electronics manufacturers can usually invoke for direct rip-offs before a product hits market, but after it reaches the market tear-downs are legal, and products are easy enough to copy. Most designs boil down to "reading the IC manufacturer's intended application circuit from the datasheet," and that's about it. Very difficult to protect. That's why most cases today (such as Apple vs... well, everyone) involve using software patents to disrupt a competitor.

      I expect that the open-source hardware movement will have an increasingly difficult time enforcing these unspoken rules as it gains traction. And none of this touches on problems arising from applying the open source model to hardware, such as whether or not updating an old designs based on EOL'd parts to use newer parts is a new design, a major improvement, or a trivial change.

      • ghostworks, you're right! open source software actually has stronger protection mechanism under copyright. copyright does not apply to electronic / physical designs.

        tv-b-gone (the name) is trademarked. so while someone could make a direct clone, if they were selling it using the name there is some protection against that. that's really all we have in hardware. our trademarks and our copyrights for things like our code, documentation, etc.

        all hardware has weak protection, as in pretty much none. maybe a pate

        • Looking back, I think that my post above would have better served as two separate posts. Had I not been in such a hurry, I probably would have written one post commenting on the similarity between the unwritten rules and basic patent protection, then another later on the difference between software and hardware open source.

          Again, my goal is not to belittle the movement or the practices the community is using now. I'm just concerned that the fact that there are fewer protection mechanisms for hardware proje

  • Hardware is hard. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @07:16PM (#39052891)

    To elaborate on why open-source hardware is hard.

    Why open-source software works is:
    Widely available repository of code.
    Many people able to review it, or sections of it, and understand it.
    Ease of submitting tested patches.

    Hardware has problems that don't really fit well with this.
    The open schematic is the trivially easy part, and not really a problem.
    (though in practice, you need a schematic with copious links to design documents, which isn't well solved by open tools).

    The number of people who can review it is rather smaller - as you can't
    open up a c file, and see a clear error or awkwardness in code that can be edited.

    For all but the most basic errors, you are going to have to sit down and
    read several hundred pages of hardware documentation about how the chips in question work, in addition to having in-depth knowledge about the circuit design, and costings of likely changes.

    Now, you've done this, and generated a patch that you think (for example) lowers the supply current by 1%.

    Compile - test.
    On a PC, this takes a couple of minutes.

    For something of a smartphone class, a one-off PCB may cost several hundred dollars. Then the parts will cost another several hundred dollars in small quantities, as well as being difficult to obtain.
    Now, you have to solder the parts onto the board, which is a decidedly nontrivial thing - and if you decide you want someone else to do this, it's probably another several hundred dollars.

    So, you're at the thick end of a thousand dollars for a 'compile'.

    Now, you boot the device, and it exhibits random hangs.

    Neglecting the fact that you are going to need several hundred to several thousand dollars of test equipment, you now have to find
    the bug.

    Is it:
    A) The fact that unlabled 0.5*1mm component C38 is in fact 20% over the designed value, as the assembly company put the wrong one in.
    B) C38 has a tiny bridge of solder underneath it that is making intermittent contact.
    C) The chipmaker for the main chip hasn't noticed that their chip doesn't quite do what they say it will do, and the datasheet is wrong.
    D) You missed a tangential reference on page 384 of the datasheet to proper setup of the RAM chip, and it is pure coincidence that all models up till now have booted.
    E) Because you're ordering small quantities, you had to resort to getting the chips from a distributor who diddn't watch their supply chain really carefully, and your main chip has in fact been desoldered from a broken cellphone.
    F) Though the design of the circuit is correct, and the board you made matches that design, and all the parts are correct and work properly, the inherent undesired elements introduced by real life physics means it doesn't work.
    G) A completely random failure of a part that could occur with even the best design, and best manufacture.

    G - may mean that it's worthwhile making two or more of each revision - which of course boosts costs.

    Hardware is nasty.

    This gets a lot less painful of course for lower end hardware. For very limited circuits, which can be done on simple inexpensive PCBs, and be easily soldered at home - costs of a 'compile' can be in the tens of dollars, or even lower.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You're absolutely right. It's a good thing that computer programming didn't initially require large, prohibitively expensive machines prone to failures unrelated to the software being run, and to which you had limited access with turnaround times that could easily run into hours or even days. If that were the case there's no way early software development would have been a collaborative endeavour, and the GPL might never have been created in response to proprietary incursions.

      It's also too bad it isn't po

      • I'm not saying it's doomed.
        I'm saying there are extreme challenges.
        The above largely does not apply for very simple circuits that can be made on small 2-layer boards.

        For devices that can work on 2-layer PCBs, which can be meaningfully debugged - especially if input can be gotten from others to critique the PCB (Here I'll mention ##electronics over on irc.freenode.com ) a new design gotten working for $10-20 isn't impossible.

        The closer you approach the cutting edge, the more expensive and hard things get.

    • The reason the number of people who can review it is smaller is that there are far fewer people who can read HDLs as compared to software languages like C, C++, Java, et al. Sure, one can compile and run a simulation to check that the behavioral models work as expected, but even then, unlike in software, where a compiled and run program can be tested for bugs and so on, in the case of HDLs, it cannot really be tested until tape-out and actually being sent to the fabs. Or, if one is talking about higher le

      • Oh - the above doesn't address making actual silicon!
        If you're manufacturing actual silicon, then add several zeros to those costs.
        Open-source in an amateur sense has limited application where a 'compile' can take millions of dollars to get the first chip out.

        • Meh - I should read posts fully.

          It's not solely 'not many people understand HDL', or 'not many people can read schematics', though I wasn't really attempting to address FPGAs and similar.

          Part of what I was trying to address is that even a person skilled in electronics, faced with a circuit diagram of a modern device with complex digital chips in, can only look at 'trivial' issues.

          Do all the LEDs have current limiting resistors?
          Is there a probably sane level of decoupling?
          Do all chips have power connected?


    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's not really how it works.

      > For all but the most basic errors, you are going to have to sit down and read several hundred pages of hardware documentation about how the chips in question work, in addition to having in-depth knowledge about the circuit design, and costings of likely changes.

      Not really. Most open source hardware stuff is based on a few very common circuits. Most people know how to wire a 555 or an ATmega8.It's not different from knowing a few common libraries like the C standard librar

      • I was primarily addressing 'high end' stuff. For the low end, it's a lot easier.
        If you can do meaningful debugging with a DMM, or even a LED and a resistor, and your chips have a dozen or so leads and have been around since 1970, things get a lot easier.
        I was referring to a hypothetical phone design, when I referred to the cost for a single 'compile', with one device.

  • Keep it cheap.

    And that's why open source hardware guys have these unspoken rules. They/we don't have access to a $20million dollar custom fab house or a $100million design studio.

    If you keep it cheap, you make money (really, it all comes down to this) by volume, and the 1st guy that makes his fortunes is OK, since all the OS hardware guys use the same cheap hardware (it's limited fellas), so everyone can make some cash. And they all work together since any day MS or Apple can get into the game and wipe (or

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire