Subject: RE: Successful FSBs
From: Rich Bodo <rsb@ostel.com>
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2002 22:25:20 -0800 (PST)


...
> The kind of open documentation that I think everyone on this list would
> like to see was at one time very common.  It was also very hard to copy
> the hardware.  It required a huge investment and so only a few companies
> could attempt it.  IBM could go after those few companies with patent
> and/or copyright infringement lawsuits and control the competition.

Although I can still smell the solder fumes the rest of the family
would generate while playing with homebrew computers, I missed that
era, as I came into computers around the release of the apple II.

Recently, however, I have seen a number of companies struggle with the
some of the same issues IBM must have.  Some here may find the report
useful.

In my little niche (open source phone systems), specialized hardware
and software is sold (i.e. a telephony interface card, firmware, and
driver).  Most vendors share the design details of neither hardware
nor software, and their products are relatively hard to use.  A few
share the software, and at least one shares both hardware and software
design details (kind of).

The barrier to entry to compete with any one of these vendors is quite
high.  Even if one had the source and the schematics for one of their
products, he would have to find a very experienced shop in this niche,
get an exact duplicate made, then internationally certified and tested
and debugged.  Selling it, improving it, and debugging it would be no
picnic either.  Basically, you have to be an expert, or have a good
one on staff.

After selling all of the above for a few years, it has become pretty
clear that all our customers benefit from open driver source (even if
they don't realize it), and none (so far) derive benefit where an open
hardware design exists.  Certain firmware source would probably be
helpful to us at one time or another, but that stuff is going to
disappear until the wheel of reincarnation[*] comes round again, so we'll
probably never know.

In my niche, keeping hardware proprietary has been prudent insurance,
while keeping software (drivers/firmware) proprietary has caused
nothing but alienation, aggravation, lost sales, and death marches.

-Rich

[*] Term stolen from a neato paper on the design of display processors
by some SGI dudes a long time ago.  Ask me if you're interested.

Rich Bodo | rsb@ostel.com | 650-964-4678