posts tagged with the keyword ‘open’

2011.08.23

Adopt Mozilla

One more than one occasion, people have asked why I don’t use Google Chrome, or Apple’s Safari, or even Opera or Microsoft Internet Explorer… I think this sums it up pretty well:

Mozilla’s mission is to build user sovereignty into the fabric of the Internet. We work to ensure that the the Internet remains open, interoperable and accessible to all. To do this we build products, we build decentralized participation worldwide, and we build the ability for people to create their own experiences in addition to consuming commercial offerings.

As the “web” changes, I think it’s probably necessary for Mozilla to change as well.

Read the whole thing: Mozilla in the New Internet Era – More Than the Browser.

2011.05.30

Open Source

In our first piece, The Future of Open Source, I talked a bit about hardware, and touched on community, as well as mentioned a few specific companies. This time I’ll talk about specific pieces of hardware.

Let’s start with the Arduino. The Arduino is probably the most successful piece of open hardware. There’s an estimate of 300,000 Arduinos “in the wild” as it were, and if that does not count “official” Arduinos, I can see that number easily being double.

Recently Phillip Torrone published an article titled: Why the Arduino Won and Why It’s Here to Stay:

While it’s nice that Arduino is open source, and commercial use is allowed if you make a clone, it’s not the biggest reason, which is why it’s down near the end of the list. However, that isn’t to say it doesn’t matter at all. Specialized derivatives can be made without paying someone or asking anyone. It’s open source hardware so a company or school can use it without any per-seat licensing. There’s no risk that it will be discontinued and the software gone forever. If you want a new feature, you can spend the time and get it added. When thousands of people have a small stake in something, or ownership, they care more. Does anyone even debate if open source software is a good idea any more?

I think part of the reason the Arduino (and its clones) have flourished is due to the community built around it. Thanks goes out to the people who are really into doing things with Arduinos, and sharing their work with others, and helping out on the forums, and teaching classes, and basically connecting with others and evangelizing the Arduino platform.

The first Arduino I purchased was the “official” Arduino Uno, which I acquired from Adafruit Industries. I remember finding out about Adafruit from the web site ladyada.net, run by Limor Fried (Lady Ada) who runs Adafruit. The fact that she had shared so many project details online led me to her business, and I became a customer. My Uno is what I consider my “top of the line” Arduino, and I feel pretty confident that it will work with any shield I get, not have any weird quirks to work around, and that buying it supported the Arduino project. Chances are when a new “official” version of the Arduino comes out, I’ll but that one as well.

I do have other Arduinos, like the Boarduino, also purchased from Adafruit. I wanted another Arduino, at a lower cost, that I could dedicate to a project. It fit the bill, and supporting Adafruit was something I felt good about doing. I’ve also got a Diavolino, from the folks at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories. As I mentioned in my blog post, The Diavolino comes in at about $13—less than half the cost of an Uno—though there are some compromises with the Diavolino. If these compromises don’t affect you, it’s a nice little Arduino board. And as for the folks at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, they’re pretty awesome, just like Adafruit, and I feel good supporting them.

Now we move away from the US and over to China. I’ve got two “Seeeduinos” from Seeed Studio. I know some people would prefer not to buy from China, and if these were cheap knock-off products from a questionable company, I’d agree, but Seeed Studio seems to be a pretty well respected member of the open hardware community. They were a sponsor of Maker Faire, they helped with the radiation detection project after Japan’s Fukushima incident, and they actually develop a number of innovative products. If all they did was make a cheaper Arduino, I probably wouldn’t be as supportive of their efforts. As it is, I think they provide some friendly competition for others in the Arduino space, and do plenty of other things to be a good citizen of the open hardware community.

I’ve already mentioned the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories gang, and their Diavolino, but I’ll also talk about the Egg-Bot. I bought the Egg-Bot kit because I think it’s awesome. Here’s the description of it: “The Eggbot is an open-source art robot that can draw on spherical or egg-shaped objects.” See? Awesome! (I’m sort of a fan of art robots.) Now, the Egg-Bot is awesome, but it’s an open & shared kind of awesome. Every time I demo it, I explain to people that it’s an open source device, and you can download the software for free, and you can download the plans to build your own for free. I’ve see a SphereBot, a Completely printable Eggbot, a Fischer Technik Eggbot, and an EggBot Makerbot Attachment over on Thingiverse, as well as many Egg-Bot design files. (Heck, you could even make an Egg-Bot out of LEGOs.)

The point of all this is, the Evil Mad Scientist guys aren’t out to crush anyone who tries to make an Egg-Bot… they encourage it. They’ve grown a community of users who help each other out, sharing what they’ve learned along the way. This helps make people fans of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, and the Egg-Bot, and be more willing to support their future endeavors.

But hardware, just like software, and life itself, is often a compromise, consisting of grey areas, like the Teensy. While I used a Teensy for The Button, and it was perfect for it, I still hope to move to an open source alternative if possible. I covered most of this in my Teensy vs. Atmega32u4 Breakout Board+ post. I’ll get my hands on an Atmega32u4 Breakout Board+ and see how it stacks up against the Teensy for future projects.

So where does that leave us, and the future of open source? Personally, I see open hardware as a choice sort of like buying food. You can choose to support companies you know, like, and trust, and you can even go to the local farmer’s market and talk to the people who make the food. I hate to use the word “sustainability” (only because I think it gets overused) but I think it fits. A sustainable future through open source. Works for me…

2011.05.23

Open Source

Open source software has been around for a long time, and I’ve been following it’s evolution for the past 10 years or so, and in that time I’ve seen it grow from a small idea known only to those in the software world, to something much larger, where everyday people like Aunt Tillie use open source software and think nothing of it.

In the past year since I’ve started working more with hardware, and following the great work of the Arduino team, Adafruit Industries, and others, I’ve seen the rise of open source hardware. Take a look at the Open Source Hardware (OSHW) Statement of Principles and Definition v1.0 and the Open Hardware Summit site for more info.

There’s a great comment by Chris Anderson, highlighted in this blog post at Adafruit. Here’s just a small excerpt:

This is the classic open source hardware model. Software, which costs nothing to distribute, is free. Hardware, which is expensive to make, is priced at the minimum necessary to ensure the healthy growth of a sustainable business to ensure quality, support and availability of the products. All intellectual property is given away, so the community can use it, improve it, make their own variants, etc.

Go there now and read the whole thing.

This got me thinking that eventually open source hardware could be more successful than open source software. If you remember the old concerns about open source software by the business folks, there was always the question of how you would make money from it. You can sell “Premium Editions” or make money by charging for support, you can hire yourselves out as consultants, and offer customized software solutions for customers… The ideas were plenty. Some worked, some didn’t. There were varying degrees of success.

I see open source hardware as pushing beyond that, taking the existing model and improving upon it. The software? Free. Open. Get it rolling, get the community involved, give it away to everyone. You should expect to make no money with software. Sure, it costs money to create software, but it’s a digital good, and making one copy or 1,000 copies has almost the exact same cost.

Hardware, on the other hand, is a physical good. It’s an object, a collection of parts, or things, not just bits of ones and zeros. Hardware costs money because someone, somewhere, assembled some real world thingamabob.

I don’t want to make it sound like hardware is better than software. They’re both equally important. They both need people to design them, create them, market them, and support them. The main difference is that creating 1,000 Arduino-compatible microcontrollers is going to cost more that creating 1,000 copies of the Arduino software. That’s just the reality of digital goods. Once you have one copy, making a lot more is cheap and easy. (And the shipping costs on digital goods are pretty close to zero. I say “pretty close” because there are server costs, bandwidth considerations, and other issues, but you’re not buying boxes, and packaging materials, and paying shipping companies to move goods.

As for the clones, well, that’s just a part of open source hardware, much the same way that an open source software package has forks of the original. Again, the difference is in the support, but support goes both ways. Since open source hardware vendors typically publish everything you need to make their products, you could certainly not buy from them and either build it yourself, or find a company that makes it cheaper. Cheaper is fine. I’m a fan of cheaper, but I’m also someone who believes in supporting those that create things and add value. If it all comes down to nothing but money, we’re pretty much doomed.

(Next time I’ll talk about specific pieces of open source hardware. See you then!)

2011.01.27

Reply

In the olden days of blogging, before there were comments, if someone blogged about something and you wanted to reply publicly, your option was to post something on your own blog.

All of us early bloggers had blogs, so, you know, that made some sense.

Eventually bloggers wanted to be able to have people comment on their posts, so blogging software added the ability to leave a comment. A grand idea! Collect all the comments in one place, attached to the blog post, and you can easily see the discussion. Heck, people could even leave a comment and link back to their own blog with an expanded post on the subject. This was before the days of link spamming and even rel=”nofollow” nonsense.

So as you see in the screenshot of the comment form, it wants your Name and your Email address. This is all good, accountability, identity, etc. There’s also a field for “Website” which made sense, right? All of us early bloggers had blogs.

I think many of us believed that some day everyone would have their own web site.

Having your own web site isn’t the equivalent of owning your own home. I think that used to be part of the “American Dream” if you ever bought into that sort of thing…

People are fine being sharecroppers, and if they want a “home” on the web, huge corporations like Twitter or Facebook are happy to rent them some space. If your landlords are cool, then it should all work out, but if things turn sour, well… Let’s just say it’s nice to have a place to call home.

2010.09.18

Free Hugs It seems some folks are in awe of how a service with rules about how it can be used are affecting their activities: Activists upset with Facebook.

You’re playing with Facebook. It’s their ball, it’s their bat, it’s their field… they run the place, they make the rules, they can change the rules, and they can create new ones just to ruin your life.

One group that has been critical of the policies of Facebook and other social media sites, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the boycotters have discovered the perils of relying on a website run by a private, commercial entity.

“They’ve set up this walled garden and when people use these things for organizing in this context they’re buying into the arbitrary rules,” said the foundation’s Richard Esguerra. “This is a risk or consequence of doing these things in walled gardens……It’s important for them to decide what they might be giving up, what kind of overarching control they might be giving up whether it’s on Facebook or any other social network.”

This is why I believe in the free and open web. Would things be different if they had set up their own domain and their own server as their home base instead of relying on a private, commercial entity? Probably…

I know the barrier to entry on Facebook is low… perhaps too low. It’s easy to set up a page on Facebook, and it’s even even easier to click a ‘Like’ button to join a cause, but for every 10 people who click a ‘Like’ button, there may only be one person with the dedication to actually follow-up and do anything useful. Sure, setting up their own site outside of Facebook’s walled garden may have resulted in less people ‘liking’ it or signing up, but the quality of the people involved may have been higher. And yes, getting a domain name and a server may cost a bit of money, but again, there’s a barrier to entry, and if you’re serious about a cause, you should be willing to put some resources towards it. Invest in what you believe in.

Using Facebook, Twitter, and other sites (be they “social media” or blogs, forums, etc.) are great ways to spread your message (respectfully please!) but your central base, your headquarters, your home on the Internet… owning it, as opposed to sharecropping, is a good idea.

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