[Discuss] interview with Andrew "Bunnie" Huang

Matt Maier blueback09 at gmail.com
Wed Jan 15 14:51:09 UTC 2014

"*CK:* Open-source hardware seems to be in its infancy in terms of what
business model people will implement. Are there any bright and shining
stars you think are doing it well?

*BH:* This is a tricky question, because it carries so many assumptions
with it. The open hardware community itself still hasn't come to terms with
what it even means to be open-source -- there are layers of openness in
hardware. For example, because I don't disclose to you the smelting process
or mining location for the copper used in my circuit boards, does that mean
the PCB is closed-source? Because a design uses a chip, but the mask
patterns aren't open, is the design closed-source? To "build something from
source" has a very different meaning in hardware than in software.

It also assumes that the One True Model of IP is the American model. That's
a big assumption; China has a different model for IP. It's not quite the
bleak picture of rampant thievery that pundits so blithely tout. But one
thing is for sure: The ecosystem is much more "open" than the American
model. I can get the schematics design source for lots of products in
China, but with unclear or unknown licensing conditions. I call this the
"Gongkai" model of open-source. So to some extent, the brightest shining
stars in the open hardware world are the Chinese Shanzhai; they've turned
this Gongkai IP model into billion-dollar hardware industries.

*CK:* There has been some frustration with a single closed-source component
in your laptop. Do you think that will get resolved so that it can be
entirely open-source? Do you feel that is necessary to achieve your goal?

*BH:* Again, layers of openness. Actually, *all* the *components* are
closed. I don't have the formula for the dielectric of the capacitors; nor
do I have the design for the magnetics inside the Ethernet jack, or mask
works for any of the chips. I have only pushed one layer down of openness,
namely, into the circuit card assembly design. It's the one and only piece
that I personally have full control over and have the full freedom to
choose to make open. It's progress in the right direction, and I'm happy to
move the ball in the right direction, even if it's still not totally in the

I believe the "closed-source component" you are referring to is the GPU
embedded within the ARM SoC. The GPU is annoyingly closed; but I use the
laptop every day just fine without it. There's not a lot that I do that
requires a GPU, and I don't particularly care for fancy window manager
effects and what not (in fact, I go out of my way to turn them off when
they are introduced into other OSes). However, scrolling would be a little
bit smoother if we could use the GPU, and there are some projects to
reverse-engineer the GPU that I'm excited about.

I'm perfectly happy to work with reverse-engineered components and consider
them "open" for my personal purposes -- if I can hack it, I own it; even if
hacking it means a little elbow grease to extract the details. I'm not
stymied by dogma; as long as the net result is constant progress toward
more openness, I believe we're better off today than we were yesterday."
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