[Community] OpenPhoenux and Open Hardware - some thoughts...

Dr. H. Nikolaus Schaller hns at goldelico.com
Wed Oct 9 19:20:29 CEST 2013

Hi all,
recently there has been a lot of discussion on the Openmoko community list
if OpenPhoenux is "Open Hardware" or not.

After a longer quite emotional and sometimes insulting discussion I have found
a very nice definition by Graham Seaman (already written back in 1999):

His main definitions are [1]:

> • "Free hardware design" refers to a design which can be freely copied, distributed, modified, and manufactured. It does not imply that the design cannot also be sold, or that any hardware implementation of the design will be free of cost. All the same arguments about the meaning of 'freedom' between supporters of the Free Software Foundation, and the supporters of BSD_style licensing for software unfortunately carry over to hardware designs.
> • "Open source hardware" refers to hardware for which all the design information is made available to the general public. Open source hardware may be based on a free hardware design, or the design on which it is based may be restricted in some way.
> • "Open Hardware" is a trademark of the Open Hardware Specification Program. It is a limited form of open source hardware, for which the requirement is that:
> 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. This includes input/output and control functions and auxiliary functions such as performance measurement or self-test diagnostics. Details of on-board firmware and the hardware implementation need not be disclosed except when necessary to make it possible to program a driver for the device.
> That is, only a limited amount of information about the design need be available; possibly not enough, for example, to attempt a repair.

I think the statement "...is a trademark of the Open Hardware Specification Program"
no longer holds. I could not find that this program still exists and potentially this
trademark is no longer (or was never) valid. It is currently not registered with
USPTO - but "Open Source Hardware" is in "dead" status [2]. A little background
about the history of Open Source Hardware definitions can be found in [3].

So what are the currently listed devices GTA04, Letux 2804, Letux 7004 in this
discussion, since they are listed under the title "Open Hardware" on our
Openphoenux.org starting page?

Are they "free hardware design"? No, there is not enough information published
so that anyone can pick it up and have a GTA04 manufactured in a free way.

It ia also not "Open Source Hardware", because not all information is made available
under some non-free licence.

But clearly they are "Open Hardware" because all documentation is available so that
it allows "... a competent systems programmer to write a device driver".

And, "... only a limited amount of information about the design need be available;
possibly not enough, for example, to attempt a repair.".

This was the mindest when starting the GTA04 project, to give all information needed
to write drivers and software for the device but not expect that users can repair everything
and therefore need every piece of information.

This is not different from how the Openmoko GTA01 and GTA02 devices or e.g. the
OpenPandora are made. They are all "Open Hardware" in that definition as well.

From a practical point of view it was not even a problem that GTA01 and GTA02
were not "Open source hardware" or even "Free hardware design" to base a new
design on them.

Amongst the reasons why it was not required are:

* recapturing a schematics printout is a matter of hours and quite stupid work, but can be done 100% perfect
* each EDA tool has a different source file format and import doesn't work well and may loose information
* i.e. unless someone uses exactly the same EDA tool, having "source" files isn't helpful
* People use different EDA tools. For cost reasons, for quality&stability, for easiness to use, for functionality
* or because they can send the produced board files directly to a PCB manufacturer
* Layouts can rarely be reused - if you change one chip you may have to re-route a bigger
   amount of wires. I.e. reuse of such a PCB board source files is limited
* Libraries may be helpful, but they define how the component pads are to be soldered. And
   that is something that has to be negotiated with the production facility (design rules) and
   may change depending on their processes. I.e. this also limits reuseability of such potential
   source files. It is easier if space is not a problem, but for a highly miniaturized device like a
   smartphone, this becomes an important factor.

So the GTA04 was designed by picking parts of the GTA01/02 and the BeagleBoard schematics
and adding a lot of new and original designs and finally make an individual and hardly reuseable
PCB layout. BTW: this has been redone from scratch between the A2 and A3 variant after learning
about issues in the A2 design.

And therefore we did not feel that such a project must be Open Source Hardware or even Free
Hardware to give a big benefit to the community over closed hardware where you have to
do years of reverse engineering to get even simple drivers running.

But another interesting question may be if OpenPhoenux is dedicated to "Open Hardware"
only and not a place for "Open source hardware" or "Free hardware design"?

IMHO, OpenPhoenux should not only be the GTA/Letux devices. New devices and projects
are already on the horizon (like the Neo900.org).

But which licence and category they fall in will be decided by those who start and run the
new projects, i.e. the initial authors.

I.e. if anyone wants to start an a really "Open Source and Free hardware design" for a
smartphone, he/she is very welcome in this group.

GTA0x/Letux are not the only projects I would like to see here (because OpenPhoenux
should be an community interest group and not a marketing campaign of Golden
Delicious Computers).

Nikolaus Schaller

[1]: <http://www.opencollector.org/Whyfree/definitions.html>
[2]: <http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=toc&state=4806%3A234jhm.1.1&p_search=searchss&p_L=50&BackReference=&p_plural=yes&p_s_PARA1=&p_tagrepl%7E%3A=PARA1%24LD&expr=PARA1+AND+PARA2&p_s_PARA2=open+hardware&p_tagrepl%7E%3A=PARA2%24COMB&p_op_ALL=AND&a_default=search&a_search=Submit+Query&a_search=Submit+Query>
[3] http://www.oshwa.org/research/brief-history-of-open-source-hardware-organizations-and-definitions/

More information about the Community mailing list