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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 lynnae ( 2439544 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @05:03PM (#39050497)
    Rant on. I read that hoping for some interesting discussion of how open source hardware filters down to users. Enabling people to build better, and innovate quicker, and all I got was some weird manifesto about how no one is doing it right except the few people this guy knows.
  • 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].

  • 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.

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's