Open Source Hardware?

IBM is offering partners the design architecture of its Power processors, beginning with the current Power5 chip. In doing so, IBM hopes to create an ecosystem of processors meant for devices ranging from handhelds and consumer electronics to supercomputers.

Opening up software or hardware allows others to get in and see the details, and depending on the specific restrictions set in place, modify the software or hardware for their own needs. While at first this may appear to lessen the earnings potential of the originating company, advocates indicate the opposite occurs, especially if a technology becomes popular and propagates throughout the industry and beyond. This has worked especially well for the Linux operating system.

To me, such trends indicate the continued commoditization of all things physical (along with a few things that are not so physical, like software). A company will give away the new technology they develop, and make their money by providing value-added services. For example, IBM has always been a powerhouse in mainframe computing, but is now casting its fortunes with utility computing and intellectual property. If you need someone to manufacture your custom chip, turn to IBM. If you want to pay for the specific amount of computing you need to complete a certain task, IBM will be your utility company.

I have long suggested that this trend will soon affect the creative pursuits. For example, musicians will give their music away for free over the Internet, and make their money on merchandizing, concerts, usage rights, and other value-added services. I still believe the currently unfashionable adage that “information wants to be free”.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet. His first published poem, "Roadside Freak Show," arrives on August 21, 2017 in Impossible Archetype.  His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).