Welcome!

Linux Authors: Aria Blog, Hovhannes Avoyan, Bernard Golden, Pat Romanski, Carmen Gonzalez

Related Topics: Open Source, Linux

Open Source: 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
We heard for many years how developing nations would be able to develop mobile-phone networks quickly, perhaps even leapfrog developed nations, because their lack of traditional, wired networks would not inhibit them from deploying the new technology. Now there is talk of history repeating itself with the Industrial Internet--a key aspect of the emerging Internet of Things. For example, Guo Ping, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Chinese electronics giant Huawei, said in a recent report from the World Economic Forum, "The Industrial Internet will afford emerging markets a unique opportunity ...
Avnet, Inc. has announced that it ranked No. 4 on the InformationWeek Elite 100 – a list of the top business technology innovators in the U.S. Avnet was recognized for the development of an innovative cloud-based training system that serves as the foundation for Avnet Academy – the company’s education and training organization focused on technical training around top IT vendor technologies. The development of this system allowed Avnet to quickly expand its IT-related training capabilities around the world, while creating a new service that Avnet and its IT solution providers can offer to their...
Ayla Networks, whose agile Internet of Things (IoT) platform makes it easy for manufacturers to deliver secure, connected products, today announced it has been included in the list of "Cool Vendors" in the Internet of Things report by Gartner, Inc. “Gartner knows how important it is that manufacturers of all kinds of products have the right IoT solution to help turn their products into connected ‘things,’” said David Friedman, CEO and co-founder of Ayla Networks. “The market for Ayla’s IoT platform has accelerated dramatically this year compared to last year. Today’s largest manufacturers ar...
SYS-CON Events announced today that B2Cloud, a provider of enterprise resource planning software, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. B2cloud develops the software you need. They have the ideal tools to help you work with your clients. B2Cloud’s main solutions include AGIS – ERP, CLOHC, AGIS – Invoice, and IZUM
The Internet of Things Maturity Model (IoTMM) is a qualitative method to gauge the growth and increasing impact of IoT capabilities in an IT environment from both a business and technology perspective. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tony Shan will first scan the IoT landscape and investigate the major challenges and barriers. The key areas of consideration are identified to get started with IoT journey. He will then pinpoint the need of a tool for effective IoT adoption and implementation, which leads to IoTMM in which five maturity levels are defined: Advanced, Dynamic, Optimized, Primitive,...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY., and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MangoApps provides private all-in-one social intranets allowing workers to securely collaborate from anywhere in the world and from any device. Social, mobile, and easy to use. MangoApps has been named a "Market Leader" by Ovum Research and a "Cool Vendor" by Gartner...
The world's leading Cloud event, Cloud Expo has launched Microservices Journal on the SYS-CON.com portal, featuring over 19,000 original articles, news stories, features, and blog entries. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. Microservices Journal offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. Follow new article posts on Twitter at @MicroservicesE
Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch of Docker's initial release in March of 2013, interest was revved up several notches. Then late last...
There is no doubt that Big Data is here and getting bigger every day. Building a Big Data infrastructure today is no easy task. There are an enormous number of choices for database engines and technologies. To make things even more challenging, requirements are getting more sophisticated, and the standard paradigm of supporting historical analytics queries is often just one facet of what is needed. As Big Data growth continues, organizations are demanding real-time access to data, allowing immediate and actionable interpretation of events as they happen. Another aspect concerns how to deliver ...
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
So I guess we’ve officially entered a new era of lean and mean. I say this with the announcement of Ubuntu Snappy Core, “designed for lightweight cloud container hosts running Docker and for smart devices,” according to Canonical. “Snappy Ubuntu Core is the smallest Ubuntu available, designed for security and efficiency in devices or on the cloud.” This first version of Snappy Ubuntu Core features secure app containment and Docker 1.6 (1.5 in main release), is available on public clouds, and for ARM and x86 devices on several IoT boards. It’s a Trend! This announcement comes just as...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
The WebRTC Summit 2015 New York, to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 16th International Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit.
SYS-CON Events announced today the IoT Bootcamp – Jumpstart Your IoT Strategy, being held June 9–10, 2015, in conjunction with 16th Cloud Expo and Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Javits Center in New York City. This is your chance to jumpstart your IoT strategy. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but includes hands-on demos and walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of Do-It-Yourself IoT platforms including Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark and Intel Edison. You will also get an overview of cloud technologies s...
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
In his session at WebRTC Summit, Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, will look at creating interactive communications via the web by adding messaging, file transfer, and group communication (group chat and audio/video conferencing) into the web experience. He will also discuss potential applications of this technology in areas including B2B, B2C, P2P, and gaming. Peter Dunkley is Technical Director at Acision. He graduated from The University of Edinburgh in 2000 with a BSc (Hons) in Computer Science. After graduation Peter worked on a PSTN switch developing signalling stacks for SS...
It's time to put the "Thing" back in IoT. Whether it’s drones, robots, self-driving cars, ... There are multiple incredible examples of the power of IoT nowadays that are shadowed by announcements of yet another twist on statistics, databases, .... Sorry, I meant, Big Data(TM), tiered storage(TM), complex systems(TM), smart nations(TM), .... In his session at WebRTC Summit, Dr Alex Gouaillard, CTO and Co-Founder of Temasys, will discuss the concrete, cool, examples of IoT already happening today, and how mixing all those different sources of visual and audio input can make your life happier ...
What exactly is a cognitive application? In her session at 16th Cloud Expo, Ashley Hathaway, Product Manager at IBM Watson, will look at the services being offered by the IBM Watson Developer Cloud and what that means for developers and Big Data. She'll explore how IBM Watson and its partnerships will continue to grow and help define what it means to be a cognitive service, as well as take a look at the offerings on Bluemix. She will also check out how Watson and the Alchemy API team up to offer disruptive APIs to developers.