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Open-source hardware statement of principles and definition.

David MellisOctober 8th, 2010

Although Arduino has been doing open-source hardware for a while now, we haven’t had a good place to point people to explain what we mean by it. That’s starting to change, thanks to a recent effort I’ve been involved with to write up a statement of principles and definition for open-source hardware. We’ve just posted a new draft and are looking for public feedback. Here’s the statement of principles:

Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make and sell the design or hardware based on that design. The hardware’s source, the design from which it is made, is available in the preferred format for making modifications to it. Ideally, open source hardware uses readily-available components and materials, standard processes, open infrastructure, unrestricted content, and open-source design tools to maximize the ability of individuals to make and use hardware. Open source hardware gives people the freedom to control their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs.

What do you think? Please share your comments here or on the Open Hardware Summit forum. We’re hoping to find language that’s specific to what we do, but understandable and acceptable to a broad audience.


7 Responses to “Open-source hardware statement of principles and definition.”

  1. mac Says:

    Nice, but I think the statement of principles could be improved in a number of ways:

    1. For one, I would go for “Free and Open Hardware” versus “Open-source Hardware”. Given that the definition itself stresses the freedom part, I don’t see why the word “free” should be kept out of the naming, especially in light of all the problems and harm that the ideological opposition by some to the word “free” has caused in the software world. The personal voyage of Bruce Perens should teach much, to this regard.

    2. On the selling part: I can’t understand how one could “sell” a design which is “free”. One could sell the implementation of that design (the hardware itself) or services related to that design (a course on how to build the hardware, a print of the design specification, a video explaining the design…) but the design itself? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get it.

    3. The weakest points of all – though – is for me that the statement lack a reference to derivative work. I would argue that here the model to follow should be the LGPL, in which you can use the free software within a non-free project, but you cannot “close-source” that part of software which was initially open sourced. In particular I would make sure to prevent phenomenon like the TiVoization (like in v.3 of GNU licenses), i.e. modifications to the design that makes impossible to run the think other than on a specific platform/in a specific environment.

    4. Being pretty new to electronics, there is furthermore a point that is not clear to me: how can one say that a given piece of hardware is “free” or “open-source” if its components are not? I am under the impression [please correct me if I am wrong here] that most of the off-the-shelf parts are not FLOSS, but proprietary designs by the producers. I would rather call the definition “Free and Open-source *Design* statement”, if I got things right.

    Anyhow: nice that somebody is putting their head to this! 🙂

  2. pt Says:

    @mac – thanks for the support

    1. can you post this naming suggestion in the OSHW forums? i have heard “free hardware” mentioned a few times, it would be good to get this suggestion in the forums where we are trying to collect this type of feedback.

    2. you can download the free design of an arduino and make your own and sell it if you wish, you’re selling the freely available design. someone would be paying you for the service / physical bits.

    3. can you provide an sentence for the oshw overview that you think would cover this?

    4. components come and go, our job is to document things well enough so other components can be used. all parts go end-of-line, with oshw it will be easier to make modifications to designs to accommodate new parts as needed.

  3. Open-source hardware – around the web « adafruit industries blog Says:

    […] Arduino blog – Open-source hardware statement of principles and definition. […]

  4. mellis Says:

    mac: you make some good points.

    As for (1): to me, “free hardware” is even more confusing than “free software” – implying that you’re giving away the device itself rather than giving people the freedom to make or modify it. Also, I identify more with the attitude behind open-source (rather than free) software. For both reasons, I prefer “open-source hardware”, although I can see why some people would want to use “free”.

    I agree with (2). I don’t think we need to explicitly say that you’re allowed to sell the design itself. This is more an accident of the particular phrasing than an explicit principle.

    As for (3), we want to allow people to share the hardware under both liberal (BSD-like) and viral / copyleft (GPL-like) terms. That means the definition shouldn’t consider only the latter to be open-source hardware.

    (4) is the trickiest issue here, and one we’ve been struggling with. On the one hand, it would be great if all the components in a product were themselves open-source. On the other hand, this doesn’t seem practical; I don’t think it’s true of any current open-source hardware projects. That’s how we ended up with the “ideally, open-source hardware uses readily-available components” phrasing. But there may be better ways to think about this. Suggestions welcome.

  5. mac Says:

    Here you go:

    I don’t think I was able to convey my message clearly on point #2, see my further comment on the forum.

  6. mac Says:

    @mellis – Thanks for your answer. Your reply came a second too late for me to consider it while posting on the forum.

    Points #1 and #4 to me go hand-in-hand: indeed I would call the definition “Free and Open Hardware *Design*”. With a very limited experience in the world of electronics, it seems to me that what projects like Arduino or the RepRap offer under free licensing schemes are indeed *designs*, or in other ways particular ways of combining together components which are not offered directly by the project itself, but are designed and produced by third parties under non-free schemes.

    While I 100% agree with the fact that “free hardware” is even more confusing than “free software” I also argue that:

    a) “Free Design Hardware” is contrarily pretty self-explanatory.
    b) “Open Source Hardware” is definitively more confusing than “Free Hardware” (as “source” refers to the software source code). Indeed projects that want to refer to the concept of freedom without using this word tends to use the word “Open” alone (See for example “OpenMoko” for the naming of an hardware-related project or “OpenOffice” for software).

    Again: don’t want to be polemic on the naming. I just think that the experience maturated in the FLOSS world should be looked carefully at, when looking at hardware.

    Nothing to add on points #2 and #3!

    Thanks for having designed the Arduino board, btw! It really opened up a new universe to me! 🙂

  7. janko Says:

    My suggestion: use word “libre”.

    What do you think about this idea?

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