Why we need free hardware



Poor RMS, the Susan Boyle of software.

It’s OK to enjoy his endearing, timecube-like views in private, but there comes a point where thrusting his bonkers into the spotlight of rational discourse starts to feel a little bit cruel. Shame on you, Wired.

Well, he is quite right. I for one have a vast preference for hardware I can get at least semirudimentary documentation for, even if it is just a pirated “company confidential” service manual with the schematics. I would love if things came with schematics and firmware source code - for the reasons of trust, modifiability/hackability, and repairability.

The things will tell you a lot on their own; there are datasheets for many of the chips, there are certain tropes that are common, and you can wing it to quite a staggering degree. But then there are more complex issues where you don’t have much chance without spending extraordinary amounts of time and needing extraordinary amounts of skills.

Luckily the Open Hardware movement is slowly but steadily gaining speed, with the not-so-little help of alternative business models of the Kickstarter class.


If hardware were fully documented, and drivers were open source, then accessibility fixes would be easier.

Right, and I’m all in favor of open-source hardware and software; but Stallman goes way beyond what people usually mean by “open source” (in fact he has bad things to say about the open source movement), to a degree that some would call mental.

RMS opposes any form of charging for access to software, which sounds good at first, but if he had his way then free software couldn’t be mixed with commercial software at all-- that’s what the GPL was designed to achieve. Fortunately, most open-source software uses other licenses without that political clause, which has allowed lots of great software like Apache and WebKit and Clang (and arguably Linux) to exist and flourish.

RMS’s agenda isn’t so much to promote free software as to stop proprietary software existing, and that’s… an interesting idea, but it leaves one or two questions unanswered. Like, you know, “who pays for software development?” and “if the GPL prevents me from using free component A in commercial package B, isn’t that restricting my freedom as a user?”

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.