News and commentary about the Great Frontiers

ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) --- This view of Earth's horizon as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean was taken by an Expedition 7 crewmember onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Anvil tops of thunderclouds are also visible. Credit: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Image Credit: ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) – Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

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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