Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: XebiaLabs Blog, William Schmarzo, Teridion Blog, Moshe Kranc, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Open Source Cloud, Linux Containers

Open Source Cloud: Article

Open Source Hardware

Applying the principles of Open Source to the laptop

The benefits of commodity hardware are well known. Competition among memory, storage, and chip providers has benefited the consumer and driven down PC prices. My belief is that the next big "open opportunity" is for the Open Source commodity laptop. The consumer would be rewarded by applying to hardware, specifically laptops, the same principles that have made Open Source software a success. Desktop PCs are fairly easy to repair and your local electronics superstore likely has all the parts to repair them. There are also plenty of local repair shops competing to fix them. This isn't the case with laptops. As laptop sales surpass desktops, I believe there's growing demand for local vendors to not only sell but fully service laptops on-site.

Even though laptop parts are fairly common (storage and RAM can be bought locally), every chassis is different. This is contrary to the desktop PC where there are common form factors including ATX, MicroATX, FlexATX, and BTX. The same goes for power supplies. When it comes to laptops that's simply not the case; batteries vary by model as do screens and keyboards. Parts are usually available only from the manufacturer. What happens five years later when the laptop is no longer produced? You're stuck with a disposable product that is fixed into a short-term lifecycle.

If you're a Windows user, you could be forced into paying for an operating system as well since the license is probably not transferable to the new machine even if you want to move the hard drive (check your Windows end-user license agreement to be sure). It's an expensive perpetual upgrade cycle.

I mentioned this idea to a colleague who got very excited about this prospect of an open laptop. He then turned a critical eye towards me and asked, if this idea had merit, wouldn't this commoditization apply to automobiles? His question was, "Why did we have so many models of automobiles and not just one that could be customized?" My less-than-quick reply was, "The automobile market is more efficient with lots of competition, and due to a certain level of standardization we have many sources of parts and service. There is even an ecosystem of customizers who can and do alter the base model. I don't have those same options for my laptop."

That's the benefit I want. To buy all laptop parts locally or have them serviced at my local PC repair shop. My experience has been that most laptops require shipment to a repair facility; on-site repairs are only available under costly service contracts. If you could get your parts locally you could save transit time and lost productivity. You could also upgrade more easily since the parts would no longer be limited to a single laptop model. When your laptop gets banged up, you could cost-effectively buy a standard laptop form factor shell and migrate parts from one to another at no additional costs. Consider the time saved just moving the hard drive to the updated chassis rather than doing a full-on data migration.

Open hardware isn't an unheard of idea. Sun has open sourced its UltraSparc T1 chip. Samsung has done the same with its OneNAND embedded memory. What does that mean to vendor and consumer? I believe the potential is there for other manufacturers to fabricate these chips as alternatives to Sun's contracted suppliers and introduce competition into the market. Sun would welcome other vendors selling the chip to give it multiple suppliers. In turn it would realize the benefits from increased competition and redundancy in its supply chain and be able to pass savings on to the consumer (the cynic in me might think differently but it sounds good in theory). Sun would still make a profit supporting and selling software for this commoditized hardware, as Microsoft does on Intel and AMD chips.

If you advance this idea one step forward, consider a laptop builder who did the same for a standard laptop design, giving the specs for power supplies, compatible motherboards, and other details that entrepreneurially minded components makers could produce. In the beginning they might make the whole laptop, a baseline model ripe for upgrades; others could join the supply chain. Each one could provide its own value-added services. For example, one vendor could specialize in making cool neon colors or titanium cases. Another could focus solely on designing power supplies that reduce the amount of heat generated. Battery companies could innovate around battery life. The result would be innovation driven by competition.

Back to my entrepreneurially minded friend, who asks, "Why would a company do this and how would it make money?" I think if you wanted to enter the laptop market and compete with Dell, Gateway, HP, and Lenovo, you'd need a lot of capital. But if you formed a co-op of sorts you could compete at that level rather quickly by distributing the capital outlay among the ecosystem, or over time it would evolve, as would the breadth and options of your product with each vendor focusing specifically on its own value-added service. Maybe it's assembly, high-end upgrades, or technical support (driver development and other services). Developing technology products can be very difficult to do well on all fronts. If you could focus on one area that would make you competitive, the end product would be better, also the laptop designers could focus on their core competency. AOpen does this to some degree already with its white box line and would be a logical company to take the concept one step further.

iGo (www.igo.com), a mobility electronics supplier, has recognized the need for competition. iGo makes mobile chargers and external batteries that connect everything from notebooks and MP3 players to mobile phones. However, it offers some interesting enhancements including modular tips to fit different models and types of electronic devices. It also addresses the different power source needs of the mobile computer by offering adapters that can draw power from standard outlets, airplanes, and automobiles. This is somewhat innovative since now you can get more use out of your charger. Actually its usable life can outlast your laptop's since it offers iTips that connect to present as well as future devices.

Besides flexibility, another benefit of an open laptop should be quality of service. In the desktop PC market, IDC's 2002 report showed that white box vendors accounted for 58% of total worldwide PC sales. With the shift from desktop to laptop, it would seem that same opportunity could and should be addressed by "whitelap" vendors. Since the parts would be more widely available, smaller service shops could specialize in servicing this new breed of laptop. Supply chains could be established in the same way as they are for RAM and storage. Also, since there would be fewer barriers to entry, these vendors could compete on service, including premium support that lives up to its billing. Repairs could be made at a local level by professionals that you have a relationship with, not a call center employee in another country. You would also have a choice not only in hardware but software where the market demand would drive operating system choices, not deals between mega-vendors. A Linux laptop could be an option that doesn't penalize vendors who are obligated to pay a fee for every machine shipped.

Even in the era of the open laptop I wouldn't say that there would be no place for the Dells of the world, in fact with their huge buying power they will probably be able to compete on price indefinitely. In fact they would likely have the same place as Wal-Mart does in household goods where its buying power and logistical efficiency allows it to be a price leader. That's where the advantage would end, however. I believe as we become more dependent on our PCs, as I am, this market would be better serviced by the local vendor who is paid for his expertise and for reselling replacement parts. I will welcome the day when I can buy my laptop from someone that I can develop a personal relationship with and can address my needs completely and locally. How about you?

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

Comments (3) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
SYS-CON Brazil News Desk 04/20/06 07:45:53 AM EDT

The benefits of commodity hardware are well known. Competition among memory, storage, and chip providers has benefited the consumer and driven down PC prices. My belief is that the next big 'open opportunity' is for the Open Source commodity laptop. The consumer would be rewarded by applying to hardware, specifically laptops, the same principles that have made Open Source software a success. Desktop PCs are fairly easy to repair and your local electronics superstore likely has all the parts to repair them. There are also plenty of local repair shops competing to fix them. This isn't the case with laptops. As laptop sales surpass desktops, I believe there's growing demand for local vendors to not only sell but fully service laptops on-site.

Enterprise Open Source Magazine News Desk 04/19/06 06:24:39 PM EDT

The benefits of commodity hardware are well known. Competition among memory, storage, and chip providers has benefited the consumer and driven down PC prices. My belief is that the next big 'open opportunity' is for the Open Source commodity laptop. The consumer would be rewarded by applying to hardware, specifically laptops, the same principles that have made Open Source software a success. Desktop PCs are fairly easy to repair and your local electronics superstore likely has all the parts to repair them. There are also plenty of local repair shops competing to fix them. This isn't the case with laptops. As laptop sales surpass desktops, I believe there's growing demand for local vendors to not only sell but fully service laptops on-site.

Enterprise Open Source Magazine News Desk 04/19/06 06:24:09 PM EDT

The benefits of commodity hardware are well known. Competition among memory, storage, and chip providers has benefited the consumer and driven down PC prices. My belief is that the next big 'open opportunity' is for the Open Source commodity laptop. The consumer would be rewarded by applying to hardware, specifically laptops, the same principles that have made Open Source software a success. Desktop PCs are fairly easy to repair and your local electronics superstore likely has all the parts to repair them. There are also plenty of local repair shops competing to fix them. This isn't the case with laptops. As laptop sales surpass desktops, I believe there's growing demand for local vendors to not only sell but fully service laptops on-site.

@ThingsExpo Stories
"delaPlex is a software development company. We do team-based outsourcing development," explained Mark Rivers, COO and Co-founder of delaPlex Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
ReadyTalk has expanded the capabilities of the FoxDen collaboration platform announced late last year to include FoxDen Connect, an in-room video collaboration experience that launches with a single touch. With FoxDen Connect, users can now not only engage in HD video conferencing between iOS and Android mobile devices or Chrome browsers, but also set up in-person meeting rooms for video interactions. A host’s mobile device automatically recognizes the presence of a meeting room via beacon tech...
On Dice.com, the number of job postings asking for skill in Amazon Web Services increased 76 percent between June 2015 and June 2016. Salesforce.com saw its own skill mentions increase 37 percent, while DevOps and Cloud rose 35 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Even as they expand their presence in the cloud, companies are also looking for tech professionals who can manage projects, crunch data, and figure out how to make systems run more autonomously. Mentions of ‘data science’ as a skill ...
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings in the last year, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their back-end AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT – especially in the connected home and office. Amazon is extending its reach by building on its dominant Cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strategy, recently announced Replenishment Services, the Echo/Alexa voice recognition control platform, the 6-7 strategic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
The cloud market growth today is largely in public clouds. While there is a lot of spend in IT departments in virtualization, these aren’t yet translating into a true “cloud” experience within the enterprise. What is stopping the growth of the “private cloud” market? In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, explored the challenges in deploying, managing, and getting adoption for a private cloud within an enterprise. What are the key differences between wh...
For basic one-to-one voice or video calling solutions, WebRTC has proven to be a very powerful technology. Although WebRTC’s core functionality is to provide secure, real-time p2p media streaming, leveraging native platform features and server-side components brings up new communication capabilities for web and native mobile applications, allowing for advanced multi-user use cases such as video broadcasting, conferencing, and media recording.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Venafi, the Immune System for the Internet™ and the leading provider of Next Generation Trust Protection, will exhibit at @DevOpsSummit at 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Venafi is the Immune System for the Internet™ that protects the foundation of all cybersecurity – cryptographic keys and digital certificates – so they can’t be misused by bad guys in attacks...
There will be new vendors providing applications, middleware, and connected devices to support the thriving IoT ecosystem. This essentially means that electronic device manufacturers will also be in the software business. Many will be new to building embedded software or robust software. This creates an increased importance on software quality, particularly within the Industrial Internet of Things where business-critical applications are becoming dependent on products controlled by software. Qua...
In addition to all the benefits, IoT is also bringing new kind of customer experience challenges - cars that unlock themselves, thermostats turning houses into saunas and baby video monitors broadcasting over the internet. This list can only increase because while IoT services should be intuitive and simple to use, the delivery ecosystem is a myriad of potential problems as IoT explodes complexity. So finding a performance issue is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Machine Learning helps make complex systems more efficient. By applying advanced Machine Learning techniques such as Cognitive Fingerprinting, wind project operators can utilize these tools to learn from collected data, detect regular patterns, and optimize their own operations. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Stuart Gillen, Director of Business Development at SparkCognition, discussed how research has demonstrated the value of Machine Learning in delivering next generation analytics to imp...
The 19th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Digital Transformation, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportuni...
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, demonstrated how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and shared the must-have mindsets for removing complexity from the develo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MangoApps provides modern company intranets and team collaboration software, allowing workers to stay connected and productive from anywhere in the world and from any device.
Large scale deployments present unique planning challenges, system commissioning hurdles between IT and OT and demand careful system hand-off orchestration. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Smith, Senior Director and a founding member of Incenergy, will discuss some of the key tactics to ensure delivery success based on his experience of the last two years deploying Industrial IoT systems across four continents.
Basho Technologies has announced the latest release of Basho Riak TS, version 1.3. Riak TS is an enterprise-grade NoSQL database optimized for Internet of Things (IoT). The open source version enables developers to download the software for free and use it in production as well as make contributions to the code and develop applications around Riak TS. Enhancements to Riak TS make it quick, easy and cost-effective to spin up an instance to test new ideas and build IoT applications. In addition to...
Identity is in everything and customers are looking to their providers to ensure the security of their identities, transactions and data. With the increased reliance on cloud-based services, service providers must build security and trust into their offerings, adding value to customers and improving the user experience. Making identity, security and privacy easy for customers provides a unique advantage over the competition.
"We've discovered that after shows 80% if leads that people get, 80% of the conversations end up on the show floor, meaning people forget about it, people forget who they talk to, people forget that there are actual business opportunities to be had here so we try to help out and keep the conversations going," explained Jeff Mesnik, Founder and President of ContentMX, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"There's a growing demand from users for things to be faster. When you think about all the transactions or interactions users will have with your product and everything that is between those transactions and interactions - what drives us at Catchpoint Systems is the idea to measure that and to analyze it," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York Ci...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 19th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world and ThingsExpo Silicon Valley Call for Papers is now open.