I’m a big fan of open source. With Vista’s launch loom­ing in 2007 I expect either a large mon­e­tary wind­fall for MS or a large exo­dus of its cus­tomers. Vista is stack­ing up to be the next ME. Those in the know have already heard of the Microsoft-Novell patent deal (or non-aggression pact as I’d like to look at it); per­haps it’s an attempt to help stave off the exo­dus. In any case, Linux et al. have cer­tainly gen­er­ated enough mind space that they’re a viable threat (though I expect Apple to steal more mar­ket share unless Linux gets its act together). Per­son­ally, I’m not look­ing to spend more money on an OS that is priced more than the hard­ware it runs on. And I’m always press­ing my bosses to move away from closed-source soft­ware where it makes sense. I’m not against closed source soft­ware because I don’t mind pay­ing for prod­ucts. How­ever, when open source soft­ware meets or exceeds the capa­bil­i­ties of it’s closed source coun­ter­part, it doesn’t make eco­nomic sense to con­tinue pay­ing for the closed source ver­sion. You’re bet­ter off donat­ing a por­tion of what you would have paid to the open source devel­op­ers. (What I am against are pro­pri­etary stan­dards and soft­ware patents, but that’s a whole other topic.)

The crux of the issue comes down to control—control of your infor­ma­tion and ulti­mately your dol­lar. Open source puts the con­trol back into your hands. My first encounter with this is the fact that my Com­paq Pre­sario has a black­listed DSDT which pre­vents ACPI from load­ing. Xubuntu being an open source Linux dis­tri­b­u­tion gives me the capa­bil­ity to fix the prob­lem. (Whether I suc­ceed or not, we’ll see.) Granted ACPI “worked” under Win­dows, but I’ve come to find out that Win­dows sim­ply ignored any prob­lems with DSDTs. (Kinda reminds me of IE quirks mode.) Then there’s the fact that a small nation could not con­vince MS to pro­duce a local­ized ver­sion of Win­dows because it would not have been prof­itable. So the nation decided to cre­ate it’s own local­ized Linux dis­tri­b­u­tion. Con­trol of infor­ma­tion isn’t lim­ited to just soft­ware either. I mean it’s only just recently peo­ple were able to keep their cell phone num­bers when trans­fer­ring ser­vices. Yet, even now, mobile ser­vice providers lock your phones to their net­works and have cus­tom firmware installed on phones to remove/limit fea­tures to the point you have to go through them to get any data onto the phone. As much as I covet the price-performance of Sony prod­ucts, I do not admire them for con­tin­u­ing to try to force pro­pri­etary stan­dards on their con­sumers. Which brings me to the coolest thing about the open source movement—open source hardware.

One of the first, soon-to-be com­mer­cially avail­able prod­ucts will be an open source 3D graph­ics card. Open source OSes are cur­rently forced to reverse engi­neer dri­vers for graph­ics cards because the big-3 a) do not want to release crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion about the cards to dri­ver soft­ware devel­op­ers and b) the closed-source dri­vers they do develop are not on par with their Win­dows counterparts.

Troll­tech has already released the Green­phone. It’s not quite open source hard­ware, but it is a Linux-based phone. Much in the same way that the firmware for some Linksys routers are mod­i­fi­able which resulted in a bet­ter prod­uct (though not nec­es­sar­ily sup­ported by the company).

A more ambi­tious project is the open source car. There appear to be two groups spear­head­ing this project, OSCar and the OSGV. Nei­ther has any­thing really tan­gi­ble at the moment, but the idea isn’t all that far fetched. Semi-custom cars could become a niche busi­ness. Auto man­u­fac­tur­ers are noth­ing more than assem­blers. Most parts are con­tracted out to third par­ties any­way. Imag­ine being able to get the fea­tures you want with­out get­ting addi­tional fea­tures included with a package.

One that I pre­dict to be a suc­cess story is the Prius PHEV con­ver­sion kit. Though not quite an open source car it is still an open source project. The project details how to con­vert a Prius to run in an all-electric mode and to be able to charge the bat­ter­ies from an out­let instead of the gaso­line engine. You’ll even­tu­ally be able to do this as a DIY project or have it done at a con­ver­sion center.

I hope the trend continues.

(Added Jan­u­ary 9, 2007) Fab@Home is an open source project detail­ing how to cre­ate a $2,400 3D printer for rapid prototyping.

(Added March 30, 2007) Engad­get announces an open source car called the c,mm,n. It’s no Tesla.

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