[Discuss] OSHW Best Practices / Layers of Openness

David A. Mellis dam at mellis.org
Thu Feb 28 16:09:02 UTC 2013

These are interesting examples, Tom, but again I think they mostly point
out the need to be specific about what part of a product you're calling
open-source. For example, here I think it's clear that the PCBs for the
SparkFun and Arduino products (I couldn't find files for the Adafruit one)
are themselves open-source even if the components they use are not. I think
we're much better off being specific about what's open and what's not
rather than trying to set standards for, say, the relative complexity of
the board vs. the components required for the overall product to be
considered open-source -- especially given that basically every product
uses proprietary components (whether ICs or radio modules or just screws).
The latter approach seems like a potentially endless conversation. Again,
look at Linux distributions, where people are still arguing about what
level of proprietary software and binary blobs are appropriate to include.

Also, my point about using the logo on an enclosure vs. on the PCB inside
it wasn't meant as a comment on the relative importance of those two parts
but of the semantic interpretation of placing the logo in those places. If
I opened up a product and saw the OSHW logo on some part inside it, I
wouldn't interpret it to apply to things around it. But if I saw the logo
on the outside of a product, it's not clear whether or not it's intended to
apply to the insides as well, making its use there confusing if the
outsides are open-source but the insides aren't.

As an example in the other direction (of electrical vs. mechanical) would
be someone that uses a standard servo or DC motor and builds a complex
mechanical assemblage around it. If they open-sourced, say, the CAD files
they used to design the laser-cut parts that make up the assembly, I'd
consider it reasonable for them to use the open-source hardware logo on
their packaging or website, even if the motor were proprietary (since it
would be just one component of the larger, open-source design). But again,
these situations can be confusing and its important to be explicit about
what's open-source and what's not.

On Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 7:16 AM, Tom Igoe <tom.igoe at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Feb 27, 2013, at 12:41 PM, Michael Shiloh wrote:
> 1) The overall guideline might be "can someone reproduce this project to a
> reasonable degree (e.g. functionally the same, if perhaps the case is not
> identical) with the information provided?
> So, let's pick a few specific examples, all of which think highly of, and
> use myself (admitted bias on the third). But I struggle with defining them
> as entirely open:
> https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11378
> The major piece of hardware on this board is a proprietary module from
> Roving Networks.  Though SparkFun's support schematic is clearly open, the
> module that makes this functional is not, nor is it reprogrammable. The API
> for it is open, though. Is this OSHW?  What's the replacement part that
> could drop into this board and make it work, with minor modifications?
> http://adafruit.com/products/746
> Similarly, the major piece of hardware (the GPS radio) is proprietary,
> even though Adafruit's support schematic is clearly open. What's the drop
> in part (note: Adafruit hasn't put the OSHWA logo on here, so it's possible
> they don't claim this is open)
> http://arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoWiFiShield
> The WiFi radio on this board is proprietary, even though the support
> processor and its firmware and board schematics are open. This is perhaps a
> more complex board than the other two, but I'm not sure that complexity
> changes things much. Or does it?
> Contrast those three with this:
> http://logos-electro.com/zigduino/
> This is perhaps closer to the definition than the others, in that the
> firmware for the radio module *is* open.
> My question is: do we need to differentiate between these in terms of
> their openness,or not?  There are plenty of other examples I could pull. I
> know my work would suffer if I decided not to use these parts, they're all
> staples in my work. And I'm not an open source hardware absolutist, I use
> plenty of proprietary hardware.  But I'm genuinely not sure where the line
> is with some of the products we make and use every day.
> t.
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