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The Need for Open Hardware 382

Posted by Cliff
from the stuff-to-think-and-talk-about dept.
bwt asks: "With all the talk of DRM lately, it occurs to me that the entire concept depends on limiting the choice for computer hardware. OK, so the proper reaction to the copyright industry's attempts at PC market control is to be able to build a PC that they can't control. I know there have been some discussions on open hardware, but most if it was prior to the emergence of DRM as a real threat. In fact, Richard Stallman wrote an editorial in 1999 and said 'Because copying hardware is so hard, the question of whether we're allowed to do it is not vitally important.' DRM has perhaps changed that. Isn't the need for open hardware becoming critical? What is the status of the open hardware efforts?"
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The Need for Open Hardware

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  • How is hardware not currently open? Do you mean open hardware specs once the hardware is created and sold? This will not fly, since competition would destroy any chance at the company making profits... (China not abiding by copyright laws 'n all)...

    Better specs on how to write drivers for the hardware sounds like a great idea, but not full hardware specs in the public domain for new hardware, that just won't work...
    • Re:Open hardware? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This will not fly, since competition would destroy any chance at the company making profits.

      Funny, you could say the same thing about software.

      PS - I'm not bashing you, I agree 100%.
    • Re:Open hardware? (Score:4, Informative)

      by petis (139263) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:45PM (#4107295)
      On the site [] there is a definition of "open hardware":
      Sufficient documentation on the device must be available for a competent systems programmer to write a device driver. The documentation must cover all of the features of the device-driver interface that any user would be expected to employ. /.../

      Which is, in my opinion, a good definition. Open specifications of hardware is needed for fair competition in the OS-market, as well as for higher quality software. Drivers based on reverse engineered specifications is obviously harder to write than if you had the specifications from the start.
    • Re:Open hardware? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Waffle Iron (339739) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:29PM (#4107599)
      How is hardware not currently open?

      Well, it's not as open as it was in the early 80's when IBM used to sell technical reference guides for PCs which contained the actual circuit diagrams. Those of us who worked at PC clone companies found these to be immensely useful.

      You might argue that IBM ended up losing out to its competition in the PC market and shouldn't have done this. I believe, however, that the open nature of the PC eventually resulted in a total market sized hundreds of times larger than what would have resulted under IBM's total proprietary control. They probably made more profit in PCs, PC-based servers and PC software over the last 20 years than they ever would have if the system weren't open.

      Their relative share of the pie was smaller, but the pie turned into a monster pie. Moreover, other clone companies pioneered the concept of the very profitable PC-based server. IBM stole this idea back and created their own lines of servers. The PC pie became richer, too.

      There's even a control case to check this theory: witness the what happened when they tried to go back to a closed hardware system with the PS/2. It wasn't a poster child for success.

  • so far (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jonny Ringo (444580) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:34PM (#4107200)
    What is the status of the open hardware efforts?
    So far its closed, I'll let you know when I decide to void the warranty.
  • Status (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JWW (79176) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:34PM (#4107202)
    If any of evil legislation being proposed passes, wouldn't the status of open hardware be....


    Really that is what the fight will be all about. Hardware will be made to defeat DRM, the only way it will not be is if it is all illegal.

    Even if anti-DRM hardware is deemed illegal expect a black market in it that will put the alcohol black market during prohibition to shame.
  • Irrelavant. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ivan256 (17499) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:36PM (#4107210)
    General purpose components (processors, memory, storage) without DRM enforcement will be readily available until it is governmentally mandated otherwise, and at that point open hardware without DRM would be illegal. This discussion leads to a dead end.
    • General purpose components (processors, memory, storage) without DRM enforcement will be readily available until it is governmentally mandated otherwise, and at that point open hardware without DRM would be illegal. This discussion leads to a dead end.

      The existence of general purpose components is the key, at least for now. It is easy enough to obtain transducers and whatnot to read digital signals from inert media like DVDs, and if you can channel the signal to a computer and decrypt the data stream (sorry, but making it illegal to write a certain kind of program will only make criminals of programmers, it will not stop anyone) then the data stream escapes and free copies will be available.

      • The more DRM is implemented to limit the use to which the legitimate copies can be put by their lawful owners, the more attractive it will be to obtain and disseminate the means to restore the use that DRM takes away.
      • The more that DRM is implemented in hardware, the more attractive will be illegal trade in copies ripped off by third parties who can afford the initial investment.
      • The more hardware and software technology advances, the lower the financial threshold will become.

      It's a probably question of how the judges will interpret the laws. Would a judge ever convict on the evidence of possession of an unfettered general purpose computer?

      In the long run, the rights holders may work out a tamper-proof closed distribution system (eg: distribute closed-box hardware free or at low end-user cost) and stop selling their product in the same way that books are sold. If the book model doesn't work for them, then they should invent a new model that doesn't give the user the opportunity to treat the product like a book. Then they will be able to go after those who break their closed distribution loops, legitimately. And we will go back to our legally sanctioned (at least in US law) videotape collections. :)

      • In the long run, the rights holders may work out a tamper-proof closed distribution system (eg: distribute closed-box hardware free or at low end-user cost)

        That hasn't worked so well for DirecTV. Eventually maybe, and certainly with periods of hack-free as they changed cards, but not currently and not for any real significant time yet. When people find the security problems with these "tamper proof" boxes, it would pretty much end the game.
    • Re:Irrelavant. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lynx_user_abroad (323975) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:08PM (#4107466) Homepage Journal
      This discussion leads to a dead end.

      Not quite. Think about this for a moment....

      In a world where all hardware has DRM and all operating systems enforce DRM, would I still be able to run Linux in vmWare? It won't be allowed to access that "impervious copyright content area" on my hard drive, but it won't need to either.

      If so, why can't I share pirated DVD's with my friends through P2P running on my (virtual) Linux box, and watch ripped DVD's on my (virtual) TiVo? And DRM has accomplished nothing.

      Or if I can't, then all the MPAA and RIAA and Microsoft Palladium assurances that I can still run whatever programs I want on my computer are pure bunk, and a DRM-enabled computer will both prevent you from accessing data which is copyrighted, but also prevent you from running unapproved programs on non-copyrighted data.

      (It won't just be vmWare. On a bored day long ago, I once implemented a binary-to-7-segment decoder as an Excel spreadsheet, and had a flip-flop-based timing circuit implemented as a configuration of cells in Life. If these feats are possible as a lark, then creating a program to perform an illegal function using whatever tools we are

  • I was under the impression that both SPARC and MIPS were open standards. On top of that, neither one seems to have any sort of DRM in any of the implementations of them. Why reinvent the wheel?
  • The Jungle (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gerf (532474) <> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:36PM (#4107221) Journal

    It reminds me of the consequences of the book "The Jungle," which led to the mandatory listing of all ingredients of a food on the label.

    This would translate into basically letting you know what components of a product you have, but not necessarily how they work, with each other, or with you. And, you're allowed to test and research the product to make sure they aren't lying. With this, at least you'd know if there's DRM hardware in something you purchase. It could be more of a middle ground, and be some sort of comprimise. Sure, i'd rather have open-everything, and if you comprimise a little, they take a lot, but it's just a possibility.

    • It reminds me of the consequences of the book "The Jungle," which led to the mandatory listing of all ingredients of a food on the label.
      Here is the full text of The Jungle [].
  • OpenPPC (Score:5, Informative)

    by ickypoo (568859) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:37PM (#4107231)
    There's always OpenPPC [].

    To quote the site: "The immediate goal of the project is to enable interested parties to build inexpensive, PPC-based Linux boxes from IBM's reference plans. In the longer term, we hope to expand the open-source ideals expressed in the GPL to hardware projects, primarily motherboards."
    • Re:OpenPPC (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ryan Amos (16972)
      Unfortunately, their offerings are neither available nor inexpensive. Motherboard design is just one of those things that really can't be done in an open-source fashion. The cost is simply too high. Companies like VIA, SiS, AMD and Intel put tens of millions of dollars into their chip designs. Also, nevermind that the OpenPPC spec is horribly outdated (about 2 years to be exact.) Yeah, they may eventually get something shipping, but it'll be long after it really matters.
      • Sure, current cip sets are massive, but why? Lots of legacy support and feature bloat. slim down your target specs and a chip set becomes much more manageable. Want a new feature, just get the HDL, add the code, simulate, test and ship. More like adding a driver that developing a new chip set.
    • But what's the point in designing open, DRM free hardware if the DEA busts down your door on the behalf of Hillary Rosen because you are not including government aproved DRM controls? That it's a PC or not is irrelevant, all the text I have seen says that an approved DRM would be applied to all electronics.

      OK, Palladium is of corporate origin, but you can be sure that they will lobby hard to promote it as the final solution to the issues vexing Sen. Hollings et al. This issue needs to be faced and not ignored in the hope it will go away and bother someone else.

      I can see it now, I get busted for carrying a traffickable quantity of Z80 chips...

  • by bsDaemon (87307) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:38PM (#4107234)
    Perhaps we shouldn't be asking whether or not we should develop a new form of hardware to avoid DRM, but what is currently available that's so bloody weird that they'd not bother. NetBSD and Linux run on practicaly anything. If we all started using say, ARM CPUs, reusing old SPARCs, etc, it'd be alot easier and alot cheeper. Who is going to fund a company dedicated to making open, non-DRMed hardware? Next thing you know, as a VC, your being sued and/or prosecuted for facilitating piracy, terrorism, etc.
    There is plent of non-Intel(and friends) stuff out there already. Microsoft doesn't controll it in the slightest, and itd be too much of an undertaking for them to do it. I don't think ARM has much to lose from "just saying no" to microsoft.
  • Wait a minute... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by No Such Agency (136681) < minus pi> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:38PM (#4107241)
    Isn't capitalism supposed to solve problems like this? Shouldn't companies who offer non-DRM hardware find favour with the consumer, and thus prosper over crippled-ware sellers? Oh wait, I forgot, the governments of the "Western" world are rapidly abdicating their role of legislating against the most abusive excesses of capitalism, in favour of legislation aiding and abetting them... Whoops.
    • by TheKubrix (585297)
      I think its a bit more simple than that....your average Joe Sixpack isn't going to give a damn if any part of his computer is "DRM" qualified, the overwhelming majority of PC owners probably dont even know this problem exists, much less no, I dont think capitalism (seen in a basic, non government intrusive, model) would work, the demand simply does not exist to justify the supply....
      • by spectral (158121)
        And yet region-free dvd players are advertised and sold still. Are you saying there's a larger percentage of people who want to play imports than there are people who want to rip the RIAA/MPAA off by copying their stuff, and not paying for it? :)
    • Absolutely! This is exactly what happened to Apex. By circumventing the MPAA's region encoding system, Apex gained a larger market share than they would have otherwise.
    • by gnugnugnu (178215) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:41PM (#4107682) Homepage
      The notion that the "Free market will solve everything" is based on some very flawed assumptions.

      The first is the assumption of the perfectly informed consumer. There is no such thing as the perfectly informed consumer, a customer who is aware of which companies own which, which company behave ethically or distrubite products that do not conform the consumers ethical standards.
      There is just too much information and it is just too complicated for even the concerned consumers to know it all. Most consumers dont even care if a company kills babies* so long as they get cheap gasoline (*i know of know such company).

      the second flawed assumption is that the market can ever actually be free.
      Governments can and do interfere. Governments usually* set minimum ethical standards and try to stop companies defrauding the investors or cheating their customers (* need i even say Enron, WorldCom etc?).
      Governments are also one of the largest spenders in the market. The economies of many small towns are totally dependent on Goverment military spending, governmetn prison bugdets.
      So government legislation and spending have a huge effect on the market place.
      big businness calls for 'laissez faire' so they can make as much profit with the minimum obligation to show and morality or provide quality products.

      Capitalism is not supposed to solve problems like this.
      Democracy, and a goverment that represents the best interests of the majority of its people is supposed to sovle this.
      • Most consumers dont even care if a company kills babies* so long as they get cheap gasoline (*i know of know such company).

        What company? Do you have any sources?

        Democracy, and a goverment that represents the best interests of the majority of its people is supposed to sovle this.

        Very true. In fact, the lack of representation of the citizenry is what is causing the problem in the first place. Free market forces would probably be enough to promote both DRM and open hardware at the same time. Users who want to listen to $foo on their DRM Vaio have the option of buying the Sony. Those of us who want open hardware can buy something else, and not listen to $foo. I'd bet if Sony did make a DRM laptop and established a iSony service where you could listen to DRM Sony music, it might be a hit. OTOH, It might go the way of DiVX. I'd at least like to opportunity to choose.

        • Was it DeTocqueville who said something to the effect
          that democracy in America would last until the people
          realized that they could vote themselves bread?
          I guess now we know how long that is. About
          150 years from 1783 to 1933.

          Or you could argue that the union system broke
          down 70 years before that, when Lincoln established
          the American empire.

      • Democracy, and a goverment that represents the best interests of the majority of its people is supposed to sovle this.

        Nope. Democracy has the same problems that you describe. The two most important that you brought up are: 1) people don't know or understand what's going on; and 2) people don't give a damn. It's the same thing, only applied to politics instead of economics.

        Supposedly, we elect people to represent us so that they can carefully research and understand the issues for us since we don't have the time, inclination, or wisdom to do it ourselves. And what's happening? It's becoming Democracy! We hired these clowns to *lead* and they're following instead! And who are they following? A bunch of self-centered, ignorant, foolish idiots. You may know them as the American people. That includes private citizens, lobbying organizations, corporations, the works.

        We're all ignorant on most issues and foolish even with the issues we're knowledgable about. And big business, in addition to being ignorant and foolish, is also selfish. C'mon Washington, where's the leadership?

    • People oversimplify Adam Smith. He specifically recognized a conflict of interest between vendors and customers. The customer wants lots of competition between vendors, the vendor wants none. The customer wants every vendor to publish as much information as possible about his products, but vendors prefer to gloss over the comparative weaknesses of their own products.

      In Kenneth Arrow's book "The Armchair Economist", he proposes that when capitalism fails to solve a problem that it apparently should, it's because a market is "missing". For instance to promote clean air, we should make somebody the "owner" of the atmosphere, and he or she should sell rights to pollute (presumably at very high prices). This sort of thing has been done with pollution and has had some good effect, where a state or municipal government acted as the atmosphere's owner.

      So what needs to happen is somebody (probably some government) needs to be designated as the owner of some resource that gets sold at a high price in such a way that efficient allocation lines up with hardware remaining open. Maybe the thing that gets sold is the right to damage the intellectual commons by limiting the openness of hardware.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    New software will require DRM-enabled hardware. If you have knockoff anti-DRM hardware, you won't be able to use the new software. It's cyclical. If you're content to use today's software 5 years from now, have at it. Otherwise, you will be shut out in the cold.
  • by kevin42 (161303) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:39PM (#4107247) Homepage
    There are a lot of open hardware designs at [].

    CPU cores, Ethernet MACs, complete SOC designs, etc. It's a great site, especially if you are into fpga development.
  • Software can be written by anyone with even a very lowly computer. Hardware, however, is very expensive to develop. Corporations like Intel and AMD spend millions or billions on fabs to make their cpu's. It's not as if any joe shmoe can say " I'm going to make a 64-bit cpu and release it under the gnu hardware license ".

    Personally from what I have seen open-source SOFTWARE developers seriously lack resources. Just look at linux companies such as loki or VA software (which even dropped the linux part from it's name because of its reputaion), they have almost all failed. How would they expect to create hardware?

    Also, if all hardware designs were free, there would be no competition or real business associated with it. How would video card makers compete with each other if they knew all their competitor's tricks? Prices would rise due to lack of competition.

    Personally, I think in a perfect world open source hardware would be a good option, but realistically it can't be done. The open-source community lacks the resources, is too fragmented, and has no way of marketing the products competitively.
    • by kevin42 (161303) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:45PM (#4107294) Homepage
      With a $99 FPGA development board [] and the free design tools from Xilinx, you too can make your own CPU without even breaking out a soldering iron. :)

    • Open specs do not need to give away hardware tricks manufacturers used to make the hardware better, faster, or what not. Specs are meant as a reference of what the hardware can do, how to get it to do it, and maybe some basic implementation notes and examples. Enough information so software developers can *use* the hardware, and users can figure out if they need or want it.

      If someone wants to know how the hardware is made in intricate detail, take it apart yourself. Information is needed to verify that it should do what it's meant to do, and enough to allow developers to develop software that can use the hardware (after all, selling something one can't use is useless, go figure.).
    • > Also, if all hardware designs were free, there would be no competition or real business
      > associated with it. How would video card makers compete with each other if they knew all
      > their competitor's tricks? Prices would rise due to lack of competition.

      Most of what you say makes sense, but this doesn't. If video card companies each knew each other's secrets, prices would plummet because all of the cards would be essentially equal and it would merely come down to the price they can be produced at. Of course, an economist would claim that this would then lead to decreased research-and-development and a slowing of technological innovation, which may be true. But it wouldn't lead to higher prices.

    • by zCyl (14362) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:14PM (#4107499)
      Software can be written by anyone with even a very lowly computer.

      So can hardware if you use Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) []. True, you won't generate a 20 THz processor with FPGA, but most hardware doesn't need power. If FPGA's became more common, you could download and share devices, rather than just downloading and sharing device drivers.

      You would still need to buy the physical end, such as a virgin controllerless harddrive, or a simple plug to put an ethernet cord into. But if you could download the rest of the hardware, and if you could then plug it into a device like an FPGA, you could bypass almost any complaints people would have with hardware manufacturers.

      More importantly, when you can download a set of instructions for programming hardware, you can then share these instructions. Then you gain all the known benefits of open source software.

  • Until there is a wide spread need for a "Non DRM" hardware solution this will not happen. Right now the masses are ignorant, and sheepish. If ever we will all wake up and realize we don't want this, then demand may one day fill the void.

    supply and demand, and right now no one is asking for this product. When they do it will surface, I just don't think that will ever happen in big enough numbers. You will end up shelling out very large amounts of money for a niche product.

    Start stocking up on your pre-drm hard-drives you may have a market down the road.

  • by phsolide (584661) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:43PM (#4107278)

    The European Space Agency has made available [] VHDL for a CPU that implements the SPARC V8 instruction set. The VHDL is available under the GNU LGPL license. Granted, implementations of LEON are slow (25 MHz?) but it's totally freely available. You may need to buy a $99 license from SPARC International to actually sell any CPUs you make, but that's pretty cheap.

    The SPARC instruction set is pretty simple. I don't imagine that a similar effort for x86 CPUs would be as simple or as quick.

  • by jukal (523582) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:44PM (#4107280) Journal
    I recently exchanged a word with Rahul Matthan, who has been involved with the simputer project. Simputer has progressed well, and it will soon hit the stores, it seems. If you have not checked the site [] lately, it might be worth a visit now.

    A brief introduction to the simputer to those who don't already know:

    "The Simputer is a low cost portable alternative to PCs, by which the benefits of IT can reach the common man. "

    The system software is available under GPL, and the hardware specs under SGPL, the full licensing info is here [].

    • Just for the curious few, here is a line from the simputer FAQ:
      Q: What will the Simputer cost?

      A: We expect the Simputer to cost about Rs 9000 when the volumes are upwards 100,000 units.

      And for the more curious, that is 9000 Indian Rupee which translates to about $185 US Dollars.
  • money (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kallahar (227430) <> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:46PM (#4107304) Homepage
    The biggest problem with hardware is that in order to produce it you need expensive equipment. For example, most circuit boards for computer equipment have multi-layer PCB's (wires sandwiched between insulators) which are impossible to build without a PCB fab. Sure, you can get them made, but it gets expensive for low-volume runs. No, what we need is to support companies that fight DRM and boycott the companies that support it. Vote with your dollars.

  • Seems like a pretty simple and useful concept, actually... something like a GPL for hardware specs. Suppose someone designs a piece of hardware, and they release it under the "GHPL". The license specifies that anyone can take the design and fabricate actual hardware from it, sell the hardware, etc. They can also take the spec and create derived hardware from it, but if they decide to fabricate and distribute hardware from modified specs, they must also distribute their modifications to the public.

    This might be be embraced even more quickly than the GPL... hardware manufacturers will be happy because, as mentioned, fab costs are still fairly high, so they can still make a profit from production and sales. Plus, they get to "leech" free hardware designs from the community, so their research costs go down. Finally, open specs means that competing manufacturers can fab and sell the same hardware, so prices go down on the consumer side. Sounds like a win all around!
    • > Seems like a pretty simple and useful concept, actually... something like a GPL for hardware specs.

      There's already something close to what you suggest, I believe. The simputer project's [] one outcome is the SGPL [] - Simputer General Public License:

      "The SimputerTM General Public License (the SGPL) is based on the GNU General Public License but, due to the essential dissimilarities between the types of intellectual property being distributed, is significantly different. "

  • In fact, Richard Stallman wrote an editorial in 1999 and said 'Because copying hardware is so hard, the question of whether we're allowed to do it is not vitally important.' DRM has perhaps changed that. Isn't the need for open hardware becoming critical? What is the status of the open hardware efforts?

    You answered your own question in Stallman's quote. Do you think the ability to copy hardware, or produce it, has gotten easier since 1999? As other commenters have pointed out, open hardware would be illegal if DRM is mandated as the big companies hope. If it is only selectively implemented, then there will be producers of non-DRM hardware out there. And they will do quite well. As long as it is legal to have non-DRM hardware, we will have it. If it is illegal, then it won't matter. Open standards for something illegal don't really help anyone.

  • I suspect that companies like VIA will be more than happy to continue to ship non-DRM hardware to a world that probably would prefer their computers without Microsoft DRM in them. The Chi-Coms in particular are not too thrilled by MS software restrictions, and will probably not cotton to MS hardware restrictions either. If Pd becomes reality, expect a competing "Raise The Sail" platform without DRM and probably with a VIA CIII as a CPU.

    If you want a preview, google for VIA EPIA. It won't be a barn-burner speed wise and it probably won't play games well, but it will be quiet and will be more than enough to run Open Office.
  • How would it help? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Frobnicator (565869)
    Many standards have already been published. Things like PCI, AGP, and various processor socket pin layouts are well known. Also, instruction sets are common knowledge, and converting code bytes to/from assembly is is not difficult.

    If you are asking for companies to release their schematics and actual instructions for the fabrication of the chips, that wouldn't be likely (just like OSS and Free Software isn't likely) from big corporations without a *LOT* of pushing. Those represent thousands or millions of work hours, and a huge investment. Unlike releasing under GPL and OSS licenses, companies cannot reasonably expect hackers to improve on their work because of the cost of fabrication and development, and therefore wouldn't see any potential benefit. Consider the multi-billion transistor chipsets -- that's a lot of work to be putting out.

    Of course, if there is a large group of EE talent that is willing to volunteer the hours building and re-engineering chips, it might work.


  • Missing the point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by isomeme (177414) <> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:54PM (#4107388) Homepage Journal
    The real problem isn't availability of open hardware; anyone will (presumably) remain able to cobble together chips and wires and create a piece of computing equipment.

    The problem will arise when you try to use your homebrew machine on the internet. There are two scenarios here.

    The more likely scenario is that the big content suppliers and middlemen will pressure PC manufacturers into supplying only "DRM enabled" hardware to consumers; support for such hardware will be built into the Windows kernel and DMCA-protected against interference. What's more, a Palladium (or succeeding) web security system will interact with the trusted end-user hardware to enable net content access. In this scenario, users of noncompliant hardware will still be able to use their machines locally, and to access non-Palladium net content, but will be excluded from using the most popular OS and apps.

    The less likely but still frighteningly probable scenario would involve the government (whichever government you happen to live under) passing a "net homeland security act" which would make it illegal to attach non-certified hardware to the internet. Needless to say, the certification process would be onerous and expensive for hobbyists, and would mandate compliance with DRM standards.

    The latter may sound far-fetched, but consider that we already require cars to be certified as safe (and relatively non-polluting, in some states) before they're allowed to use public roads. The analogy is fairly direct.

    • The analogy is horrible. The Internet is not a public utility that can be compared to the roadways; no government, including that of the United States, has direct oversight of the Internet backbones.

      In fact, every DRM-mandatory scenario is unlikely, because the two groups that don't want it are 1) those that sell the hardware and 2) those that buy the hardware.

      Capitalism is on our side here -- if Non-Media Company X finds out that each of the desktop PCs they buy from now on is going to cost them $5 more because Media Company Y insists that DRM hardware be included on every electronic device to prevent home users from ripping DVDs to MP4, the DRM requirement is going to be quashed instantly.
      There are a lot more Company X's in the world than Company Y's.
      • In fact, every DRM-mandatory scenario is unlikely, because the two groups that don't want it are 1) those that sell the hardware and 2) those that buy the hardware.

        I wish this were true, but the problem is that the one group that does want it, namely the media companies, have disproportionate influence simply because they control the media and too many people are blindly influenced by what they see and hear in the media.

        CBDTPA may have failed for now, but I have a sickening feeling that Sen. Hollings is going to keep leeching the CBDTPA provisions as amendments onto other bills until he finally succeeds.

    • then make a new internet.
  • I'm generally for open anything, as long as everyone plays fair, but I can't say that I'm too interested in open hardware, and I certainly don't see some pressing need for it.

    Well doc'd hardware is needed though, for sure. That is practical, to get new OSes on new hardware. However, outside of that, open hardware is a lot less pragmatically useful than open source. Most users and coders don't know how to make a change someone else's ugly C code that runs their computer, let alone have the knowledge to make any worthwhile chance. Having to deal with changes like this in BIOS or physical ones is even more far out.

    I'm a coder, but I avoid using applications written in languages with a culture of insane layout and poor IDEs, like C, C++ and assembly. Opera is about the only app I use along these lines. Even if it were open source, I couldn't do much to it without spending way to much time for little result.

    I know I'm in the minority here, but I prefer logical software development systems and environments, like Emacs and Squeak. If there's a small change I want to make in either of these environments, I can do so quite quickly. I do a lot of Smalltalk programming, granted which helps in this- but I was using Squeak as a customizable environment before I was very experienced in Smalltalk. Likewise, I'm no elisp guru, very far from it, but I can navigate around and find where to make my chance.

    For a person who is interested in a sensible computer system that works with me (rather than me working for it), these sort of things are the real power of open source. Not do I not have to worry about company abandoning me by cancelling the product (as in closed-source s/w), I don't have to worry about whether or not some group of coders will change what I want. I may have the source to every app on a Linux system, but the time and energy spent to find out what to do and where to do it is prohibitive, such that I still would have to rely on someone who has invested all of that time+energy.

    Hardware is a lot like this to me. I just want hardware that works- if open hardware makes better and cheaper hardware, so be it. But unless I see some practical application to my own usage environments, I can't say I'll get to excited about it.
  • is a good starting place..

    Problem will be when DRM is mandated in all digital hardware. In that case even 'DIY' hardware will have to include it, or be illegal.
  • Something like has happened before, just on a much smaller market/scale: Radio Scanners, at the behest of the Cell Phone Industry in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 [] were required to NOT BE ABLE TO SCAN the 800Mhz analog cell phone band. Previously, under 1930's communication laws, someone with a radio could listen to anything, altho it was illegal to use or act on such information. Anyway, here we are, cell band scanners are outlawed and only outlaws own cell enabled scanners. Again, scanner enthusiasts are a very small crowd - forcing such draconian measures on the PC market may be much more difficult.
  • (Score:4, Informative)

    by jukal (523582) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:08PM (#4107464) Journal
    Was this site [] already mentioned:

    " Open Hardware is engineers sharing their designs with each other through the disclosure of their schematics and software systems used on their designs. Do you remember the time when you purchased a circuit board, or computer, and the schematics came with it? I do..."

  • At least one company offering open-source hardware [].

    No, I don't work for them or have any other connection to them.

  • by Spencerian (465343) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:14PM (#4107500) Homepage Journal
    The key to open hardware, in my opinion, is paradoxical. To have open hardware, your design must be closed, immutable.

    That's the only reason why Apple survives, even thrives today, because they control the OS as well as the hardware.

    Just because the design is closed doesn't mean, however, that the use and functionality of the system cannot be adjusted. You can slam as many drives, RAM, processor upgrades, and PCI cards in a desktop Mac as you would any other PC. Only the circuit designs remain under the control of one company.

    In the case of Apple, it's a benevolent dictatorship at the moment, with a CEO who is outspoken on DRM issues.

    The Intel world is problematic because Intel calls the shots. This is good because all companies must follow the designs that fit their processor. But it leaves us in that benevolent dictatorship again. Add the Microsoft layers and things are pro-DRM again.

    Yet, take out the MS layers and Intel loses the need for most of its processors and cannot afford to make them.

    So, it does seem that the only way to break into a true open hardware design is to break out of the traditional processor model. The PowerPC chip specs are openly available, but I don't see processor manufacturing becoming a home or OSS project. Too much capital and hardware.

    Was it the Crusoe project that was trying to make a processor that ran any OS? Could that be the key? Was it cheaper?

    Somehow, there's gotta be a way to make a cheaper processor.
    • The key to open hardware, in my opinion, is paradoxical. To have open hardware, your design must be closed, immutable. That's the only reason why Apple survives, even thrives today, because they control the OS as well as the hardware.
      You are confusing success with openness. Apple is (somewhat) successful, but not due to having open hardware. Apple originally started with completely open hardware design back in 1977 with the Apple ][. The schematics, monitor ROM source code, and even some theory of operation information was in the reference manual.

      IBM copied this model when they introduced the IBM PC in 1981, and it is largely why the PC market has been successful. However, though the PC was an open design, the clones generally aren't. All they do is maintain some base-level software compatability with the PC. You can't actually get schematics or BIOS listings for most (if not all) current PCs and motherboards. So the hardware is open in terms of bus interface, but not in any larger sense.

      But when Apple decided to design and sell business computers, starting with the Apple III, the hardware was closed. Schemtics and hardware documentation were unavailable to customers. This trend continued with the Lisa and Macintosh.

      At one point in the Macintosh era, Apple flirted briefly with open hardware (remember CHRP?), then went back to proprietary, undocumented hardware. Current Macintosh models are as proprietary and undocumented as ever. However, the release of Darwin source code mitigates this to some extent.

      There are benefits to Apple to having closed hardware. They don't have to engineer for and test for as many different platforms and variations as Microsoft does. But this doesn't directly benefit the consumer.

      To have a true open hardware platform, and the consumer benefits that would arise therefrom, we need more than just documented bus electrical specifications (e.g., PCI, AGP, USB). The actual details of the hardware design need to be public, such that a BIOS can be written as Free Software.

      Note that even the microprocessor vendors are keeping secrets that impede this. For a while Intel kept the "Appendix H" documentation on the Pentium secret. More recently, it was discovered that some details of how to configure the cache of the Athlon were only available under NDA from AMD.

      The whole "trusted computing" mantra of the TCPA and Palladium is offensive to me, because these initiatives do nothing to help me as a consumer have better trust in the machine -- if anything, they are hiding more of the operation of the machine from me.

      I've been worried for about five years now that this would result in a very unpleasant change to the PC market. Instead of inexpensive, commodity hardware that can run either proprietary or Free Software, we may soon see a split market, in which the inexpensive hardware can only run proprietary software, and if you want to run Free Software, you have to buy much more expensive hardware.

      This assumes that the manufacturing volumes for the open hardware would be considerably lower than for commodity hardware. Perhaps the xBSD and Linux operating systems are being widely enough adopted to prevent the prices of open (or mostly open) hardware from rising too terribly much. Only time will tell.

      Of course, if legislation like the CBDTPA actually gets enacted, the situation will be much worse. Then rather than simply having to pay more money for open hardware, we would have to buy it on the black market. It is certainly comforting to know that our elected representatives in Washington are doing such a great job of protecting our freedoms.

  • by gouldtj (21635) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:19PM (#4107527) Homepage Journal
    Alot of people here are discussing building their own computers with available chips. But I think that the real question comes down to, what happens when all the available chips have DRM built right into them. I don't know what the solution is here.

    When you look at hardware, the designing isn't the most expensive part, manufacturing is. (just like in software, support is the most expensive part :) So I could see a manufacturing company that was running some ultra cheap process try to make money - but there isn't much there. Plus, you have to do literally months of verification on each design before sending it to fab - I don't think most Open Source projects do that amount of testing...

    The reality is that it still costs $1/4 million dollars to send a chip to Fab (rumored to cost a cool million for 0.1 micron). I don't know who is willing to put up that kinda money without some assurance the government isn't going to shoot them down half way through production.

  • by bkuhn (41121) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:21PM (#4107542) Homepage
    Actually, this is a big point of concern for us the Free Software Foundation. We agree with bwt (the poster) that initiatives like DRM and so-called "trusted computing" mean that the issue raised in his post must be looked at differently.

    What concerns us most is the thin layer between hardware and software: items like the BIOS and flash ROM. That layer is ripe for DRM and other technologies. That issue is quite different from Stallman's essay mentioned in the post. This isn't an issue of Free (as in freedom) hardware, but is about a matter of that "thin layer" of software where DRM will likely dwell.

    FSF is currently extremely short on resources, but we hope to put at least some force behind initiatives to create Free Software in this area. In some sense, it is the last frontier for freedom on our computers. Indeed, the only proprietary software code anywhere in my computer is that which lives in the BIOS. Before now, the issue was not so strategically significant, but the fact that DRM technologies may soon live in that very BIOS makes it more significant than ever.

    If anyone has an interest and reverse engineering experience, and would like involved with working on the free BIOS projects, particularly for laptop devices, please contact me [mailto]. Also, please contact me if you would like to donate to a restricted fund for this effort, as we are considering setting one up if there is substantial interest.

    Bradley M. Kuhn, Executive Director, Free Software Foundation

  • Not living in the USA i couldnt give a crap if you get Fritz'ed or not. Im more worried that the just-as-evil governments around the world will decide they want this too. Whats worse, is that even if they don't, allot of important hardware comes from the US and the hardware companies there might decide that its easier to just make locked products and sell the same thing to everyone rather than have the extra over-head of building to versions of something. You never know, the government may decide that its illigal to even build unlocked devices for export.

    DVD, Tivo, and modern games consoles have proven that no-one really cares if they have restricted control of a device in their own home, or if its proprietry. Just as long as they can see pretty colours, and drink their starbucks its all good.
  • Useless. Open hardware to do what, play open formats that only open-source geeks use? Of course, you could always make open hardware to play proprietary formats, at least for a day or two before you end up in jail.
  • SPARC (Score:4, Informative)

    by dagnabit (89294) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:32PM (#4107614) Homepage []

    From the SPARC site:

    The RISC-based Scalalable Processor ARChitecture includes processors from multiple vendors that range in price from less than $10 to more than $3000, and powers devices that scale in functionality from small digital cameras to large mainframe-class UNIX servers. This microprocessor architecture is controlled and managed by SPARC International (SI), an independent governing body founded in 1989. Since its inception, the SPARC architecture has been guided by its fundamental design philosophy of open standards. Open - to promote innovation, to provide options and flexibility, to encourage fair competition, and ultimately, to help businesses relying on the SPARC platform thrive. Any version of the SPARC Instruction Set can be licensed from SPARC International, and then used to design processors implementing that open standard. Truly - in letter and in spirit, SPARC's open - for business!

    What makes SPARC "open?"

    While many proprietary architectures claim to be open, the truth is that adopters of a proprietary chip must accept the architecture "as is." Conversely, the SPARC architecture fulfills essential elements of openness.

    The SPARC instruction set is published as IEEE Standard 1754-1994.

    SPARC specifications are available for licensing by any person or company, giving customers flexibility and freedom to design their own solution.

    Control of the SPARC architecture is in the hands of an independent, non-profit organization, SPARC International, whose membership is open to everyone.

    How much does it cost to use the architecture?

    All technical information about the architecture is available for free and without royalties from SPARC International's public website. Anyone is welcome to download the SPARC specifications, which provide all of the technical requirements needed to design processors and other products based on the open SPARC standard.

    SPARC International also offers registry services for a one-time fee of $99, which is particularly important to those companies that track the source of technology in their products.
    While the technical information is free, use of the SPARC trademark requires two things: First, membership in SPARC International; and second, compliance testing of the device.

  • I've about had it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by foobar104 (206452) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:32PM (#4107617) Journal
    I've about had it with Slashdot's political bent. In the past year. Slashdot has gone from an site full of links to interesting and fun things to a mess of misinformation about the DMCA, DRM technology, patents, copyrights, and other issues that-- for reasons that escape me-- are fundamentally offensive to a good chunk of the Slashdot audience.

    I believe that reasoned political debate is a wonderful thing. I love talking politics with my friends, whether we agree or disagree. Those sorts of conversations always leave be with the sense that I've learned something new, or heard an opinion that I haven't heard before.

    But Slashdot is not the place for reasoned political debate. More often than not, the people who post to Slashdot seem to lack even the most basic information about the topic at hand. Instead of reading and listening and learning about significant issues, the Slashdot readership prefers instead to just repeat the same old litanies: DMCA bad, RIAA bad, MPAA bad, DRM bad, MS bad, Linux good, EFF good, RMS good, capitalism = greed, government = corruption, et cetera, et cetera.

    A year ago, the solution was easy: I just chose not to see any articles from the "Your Rights Online" section on the front page. Poof. Done.

    Now, half the articles, more or less, make reference to one of the collection of alphabet soup I listed above.

    I'm tired of this. I've been an active participant on Slashdot for a long time-- I don't remember precisely how long, but I've posted some 1,200 comments, and I maxed out my karma a long time ago-- but I'm just about ready to give it up. I'm just not finding that much on Slashdot that's worth reading any more.

    I know this is off-topic-- and I'm sure I'll be moderated accordingly-- but I just felt like letting go with a rant. Don't follow this up here. Instead, if you want to reply at all, do so on my journal [].
    • by Eric Smith (4379)
      I hope I'm not just feeding a troll here...
      Slashdot has gone [...] to a mess of misinformation about the DMCA, DRM technology, patents, copyrights, and other issues
      Are you claiming that the articles are full of misinformation, or that the comments posted to them are? Can you cite some specific examples?
      that-- for reasons that escape me-- are fundamentally offensive to a good chunk of the Slashdot audience.
      Are you saying that the articles are offensive, or the misinformation, or the general subject matter? What chunk is being offended, and why aren't they protesting like you are?
      the Slashdot readership prefers instead to just repeat the same old litanies: DMCA bad, RIAA bad, MPAA bad, DRM bad, MS bad, Linux good, EFF good, RMS good, capitalism = greed, government = corruption, et cetera, et cetera.
      Perhaps the reason people repeat these "litanies" is that they are true, and that the truth bears repetition? In any case, it would be much more interesting to hear some reasons why those litanies are wrong, rather than just a complaint that they are repeated.
      • You have COMPLETELY MISSED MY POINT. You're trying to have a conversation about politics. I DO NOT WANT TO HAVE A CONVERSATION ABOUT POLITICS in this forum. I'm disappointed and discouraged by the recent tendency for Slashdot to be an all-politics, all-the-time web site.

        No disrespect intended, but I do not give a rat's ass about any of your questions. You've missed my point, and that's unfortunate, but from the character of your comment I suspect that it's just as well.
    • Sorry to hear it.

      Let's simplify -

      Microsoft wants everyone to have machines with Paladium in them.

      Machines with Paladium will not at the same time let me "run my own recompiled Linux" and "Be on the Web". The Web is Important, so to continue I may have to use an OS I have no control over.

      If I have no control over my OS, I have no control over my machine. Who does?

      On DRM -
      I once heard that a people who will not rule themselves will need a tyrant to rule them.

      If we can't stop *stealing* music and other digital media, then that tyrant becomes DRM.
      • Re:I've about had it (Score:3, Interesting)

        by foobar104 (206452)
        But see, that's exactly the kind of conversation about Palladium that I'm not interested in having.

        The Windows operating system is extremely insecure. UNIX is a little better, because security was designed in at a much lower level, but it's still not perfect. Of course, in most environments security simply isn't necessary, but if you need to put a computer on the Internet without benefit of a firewall, it's suddenly very important.

        Palladium is one proposal to improve the security of PCs by implementing cryptographic technology at the hardware layer. On its face, it's actually a pretty neat idea. But to see that, you have to think of it as a feature, and not a set of handcuffs.

        I just wish we could have meaningful conversations about the pros and cons of the technology proposal itself, without immediately collapsing into "it's about control" and "it's about freedom." Because, contrary to popular Slashdot opinion, it's not always about freedom. Sometimes it's just about technology. Technology-- specifically, trying to be a Monday-morning quarterback on technology matters-- is interesting and fun. Politics is not. Is it too much to ask that Slashdot be a place where we can have conversations about technology that don't always become conversations about politics?

    • Even though this is an obvious troll, I know that there are probably other people at least thinking the same thing, so I wish to spell out a few easily observable facts that would prevent stupid laments such as this.

      I'm here to tell you that I have an answer to all of the problems that you listed above and I hope others that share your opinion take this advice to heart:

      There are a fuckin' billion other web sites in existance, if you don't like this one then please leave and find another. And ESPECIALLY please do not bitch about it in the comments. It only makes you look like a complete and utter moron when you complain about how much a particular web site sucks yet can't seem to resist reading the stories or posting comments anyway.

      And finally, Rob Malda, founder of Slashdot, has stated explicitly and repeatedly that Slashdot carries the stories that interest him and the editors that work for him. He does not cater to the interests of the readers other than providing a comment system, which was initially an added afterthought that happened to take off. You're perfectly free to go out and make your own Slashdot if you don't like this one. But you won't because you are yet another slashbot who by far prefers complaining to action.
  • by ronfar (52216) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:33PM (#4107620) Journal
    In the Slashdot interview of Richard Stallman a while back, I asked this very question. [] His response was very simple and to the point.

    Q: The battle over CSS has been about whether people have the right to use software (I consider DVDs software because they are programs read by a computer chip) when it is controlled by the content control system CSS, even after they've bought it. I hope they'll lose in the courts, but it is unclear at this point whether they will, however, my question is on another, related topic.

    Suppose very strong, nearly unbreakable encryption were used on traditional Software DVD (i.e. stuff like M$ software or other companies software, just in a DVD format) and a DVD CCA for software were set up saying, "You aren't allowed to access the content of any DVDs unless you use our licensed DVD decryption software. Oh, and our DVD decryption software contains a legally enforceable (under UCITA) software license which states that you cannot reverse engineer any content you have decrypted using our decryption software." How would Free Software handle it?

    RMS:With laws like that, there would be no lawful way to solve the problem. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act comes close to what you imagine, and it may be enough to prohibit free software for this job. (I don't know for certain, and I think the answer is not known yet.) It may be necessary to develop this software in countries which do not have these laws.

    Q:Does there now need to be a Free Hardware philosophy which states that "Hardware which exists tied to a proprietary software system must be replaced by Free Hardware standards" or something similar?

    RMS: I agree--but it will be hard to get the movie companies to release movies for that hardware. Fundamentally, the only solution will be when enough of the public believes in freedom to change the laws that are the basis for denying our freedom.

    -- From Thus Spake Stallman []

    It is actually kind of depressing that even though we were all so well aware of what was coming we are still here, right up against the wall with so little progress to show.

    P.S. Yes, I am aware of how the "M$" makes me look :-) [] the sad thing is I am a lot like that guy, except until I got my well paying IT job it was my parent's garage, not basement.

    • I really think you should put more thought into whether you consider a DVD "software". In a sense any data (including, say, a text file) can be considered software constructed for some API (ASCII). That being said, we typically consider something "software" if the API it runs in has certain technical features (for example, the ability to construct a finite Turing machine). The API a DVD runs in, when it is in your player, is not that sophisticated, though it may seem so at times... but MPEG is certainly not Turing-compatible with, say, x86 binary instructions, and neither is the simplistic layout engine that the menus are constructed with. Given that, what's your justification for considering a DVD "software", other than the fact that the data on them is read electronically?
  • by Featureless (599963) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @05:47PM (#4107714) Journal
    The whole problem with DRM is that anytime someone can choose between having it or not, they will almost always choose not to have it. This is elementary common sense.

    Manufacturers are rightly scared of DRM for this reason. Anything too radical or obstrusive will kill sales. And what MPAA/RIAA wants is highly radical.

    They are thus pursuing two avenues around the problem. The first is to make DRM a part of Windows []. Since as we've observed most users (for a variety of reasons) are locked into Windows, they will have no choice but to (eventually) upgrade into DRM. There are some problems with this approach; they (correctly) don't trust Microsoft, either to do a good job or to look out for their interests, and there are those pesky "competitors." Will Apple play ball? Think about it. They'll have a powerful incentive not to, to try to use the Windows-DRM shock as an opportunity to gain marketshare. But of course, as has been well established in the past, Apple can be bought. That still leaves Linux. And that's a bit frightening, frankly, since you can't reliably control Linux, and the buzz on the street is that, someday, it might be what everyone uses.

    That brings me to the second prong of this attack: the CBDTPA [], in its many forms, past and (undoubtedly) future. And that, basically, would make "Open Hardware" illegal. If past legislation is any guide, it would probably also make talking about how to build open hardware illegal.

    So if you're considering spending time and energy getting involved in the design and (god forbid) manufacture of open hardware, please don't bother. If you're determined to contribute to the issue, you're needed in Washington.
    • The whole problem with DRM is that anytime someone can choose between having it or not, they will almost always choose not to have it. This is elementary common sense.
      Nope, given a choice between a box that can pay all media (ie the DRM box - it can play open media as well as the stuff encrypted by the RIAA & MPAA), and a box that can only play outdated or amature media (ie an open box in a world where all RIAA & MPAA member content is encyrpted), most people will chose the DRM box, possibly even me.

      (nah, I'd actually get both)
      • Which is that the MPAA/RIAA can just issue "black boxes" which allow the user to handle the data in exactly the ways they choose. These systems are tamper-resistant and implement the content producers' desired policy, and new media would only be available in a proprietary format they can decrypt.

        Of course, we all still have our regular VCRs and computers, but we can no longer rent tapes and buy CDs - content producers don't make them anymore. But hey, consumer choice and all that. Capitalism at work.

        What happens then however is that it only takes a single person to arrange a jailbreak, and extract content from inside the box. Once converted to an open format, it is then endlessly distributed and enjoyed on conventional, non-black box hardware.

        What we are discussing is the DVD in a nutshell, and RIAA is considering "secure CDs" along similar lines. DVDs are DRM embodied. The problem comes from the fact that DRM is inherently stupid, and is actually guaranteed to fail in a world where non-DRM devices are readily available. The issue we're considering when we talk about "open hardware" and "DRM hardware" is that, because of this problem with the black box, the MPAA/RIAA is now actively campaigning to make non-DRM hardware and software illegal.

        Hence our discussion thus far. In the real world, of course, in absence of such awe-inspiringly hateful legislation, there is always an uneasy dance between the content producers and the consumer electronics manufacturers when considering new standards. Many excellent formats have fizzled and died for far smaller reasons than that they intentionally eliminate your fair use rights. The black box, on its own merits, will always lose. In a non-Orwellian scenario, the format transition could never occur, since during that transition, neither side (the content people or the electronics people) can jump without the other (or they risk a zero-sales incident) and there are too many parties for everyone to jump at once. Thus any transitional period would have both formats available, hence my point: consumers would have to choose, and as long as they have the choice, they won't choose DRM.
  • Hardware *** HAS *** to be open. Doing otherwise spells inevitable doom. Look at apple and IBM. Apple used to be totally open, when all it made was the Apple ][. You could get the circuit diagrams, and the manual actually had the commented assembly code of the ROMs. Tinkerers were actually encouraged to build special harware which was easy to make, thanks to pre-decoded peripheral slots. The Apple ]['s market share was quite impressive.

    IBM did the same with it's PC; you could get the actual circuit diagrams, as well as the assembly code listing of the BIOS. You know, of course, how much market share IBM has.

    Then Apple got greedy with is totally closed Macintrash. And it got the resulting market share it deserves, thanks to a bunch of computer ignoramuses who are brainwashed into the apple religion.

  • PICs (Score:2, Funny)

    by t_allardyce (48447)
    Somehow i don't think they'll fit DRM systems and onboard encryption and signing into PIC microprocessors - the poster-child of mod-chips. Anyone want to try and build an entire PC-Compatible out of these? :)
  • Open Collector (Score:5, Informative)

    by kirn_malinus (159763) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @06:16PM (#4107868) Homepage
    Open collector [] is the site for open hardware. Don't even bother discussing the topic until you've checked it out.

    gEDA [] is also a good project for Linux people interested in open hardware: they develop a GNU liscenced set of hardware design tools.

    Just my bookmarks two cents on the topic.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @06:31PM (#4107970)
    There actually already is a great deal of open hardware out there. It just depends on what you want to build, if you want to look at some neat circuit designs for various applications the University of Washington EE dept maintains a list of older circuit designs here [] (hey guess where I go to school). Pretty simple stuff like how to make Oscillators, pelter coolers, using serial ports, multi-vibrator circuit A-D converters, etc.

    There are lots of other archives and examples, around the web. BUT, the catch is that this information is useless to most people. Unless you have a few hundred thousands of dollars to spend to make your own IC's the only option is microprocessors, FPGAs, CPLDs, etc. The design of custom IC's is not a consumer market and never will be untill someone comes out with a neat little Star Trek replicator. The closest thing to consumer IC's is MOSIS, which will make a few chips for you for around $10,000. The UW actually has two IC fabrication labs and only a few people can (and need to) make chips with them because the lithographic masks cost $30k each.

    You can make your own processors if you really want, there are plenty of books that will teach you how to make your own Verilog MIPS processor. But, the software to take that design and turn it into a chip layout costs a couple hundred thousand dollars. But, if you want to build your own Pentium class processor, you're out of luck. Those designs are the property of whoever makes them, and with good reason. It costs millions of dollars to make and design these chips (don't forget just getting your chip to work is only 1/3 of the work, manufacturing it reliably is a far greater problem). There was a case several years ago against AMD (I believe) who suddenly came out with a memory design that was smaller than the industry standard. Funny thing was that another smaller company had come out with the design several months earlier... and guess what happened? They got a hold of the chips realized AMD had copied the design EXACTLY, except for a single reversed transistor (which didn't really change anything). Needless to say AMD lost a shit load of money and had to pay royalties. So, with respect to Stallman's rather silly statement the question is important and the answer is a resounding NO.

    If you want to make your own circuits though, there are plenty of resources out there [] will take your PCB (printed circuit board) layouts and manufacture boards for under $100. And there's even free PCB design software out there (a lot of companies have their own for their services but everyone takes GERBER files - the industry standard for PCB layout). One popular free program is EAGLE which has Linux and Windows clients [], which has pretty good quality - hey its free. Plus there are lots of other PCB programs on Freshmeat. There are plenty of resources out there to make your own boards and lots of people do, but open hardware will never be as simple as downloading a design and hitting a button (even open source software isn't even that easy) because electronics isn't that simple. You can solder things together perfectly and have your design not work, because of some small detail or it could work perfectly, which is what makes it so fun!
  • ok, first off, it's not like all our "clean" motherboards will turn into pumkins when these new DRM motherboards are released. if no one buys these boards, the market will be forced to our will.

    ok so yeah, we may be stuck with p4's and athlon xps for a bit, but hell *someone* in asia will do something aobut it. they *always* do. your dvd player didn't have that nifty little code or hack to change regions by accident kids.


    do we know how motherboards work? (yes)
    are we all going to suddenly forget this? (no)
    then wtf is the problem?!

    at first we may only be able to get these boards from limited mom and pop shops.. but soon enough, they'll be everywhere.

  • Open Slate Project (Score:2, Informative)

    by dunng808 (448849)
    The Open Slate Project [] intends to develop hardware using the open-source model, and to adapt existing open-source software to run on it. The slate piece should be capable of being built from a kit by a high school student. Self-made slates could compete with cars and skateboards as self-expressive hardware. Advanced players would design and build cases, perhaps motherboards.

    Little tangible progess so far, but I now use Linux on a laptop to gain practical experience.

    The project is activly seeking partners!

  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @07:22PM (#4108260) Homepage
    I'm not even to the point yet where I can compile my own kernel, and now you want me to build a clean room so I can build my own hardware?

    It'd be nice if I could do this, but what's the point in OSH if you can't build your own?

"Stupidity, like virtue, is its own reward" -- William E. Davidsen