[Linux-aus] Fwd: When Open Source goes hardware
arjen at mysql.com
Mon Dec 22 11:00:52 UTC 2003
When Open Source goes hardware
First baby steps towards 'open source' CPUs?
By Fernando Cassia: Thursday 11 December 2003, 10:45
THREE MONTHS ago, an announcement by Minneapolis based U.S.
semiconductor firm Silicore went almost unnoticed. But it was a
ground-breaking move, as it announced the company's adoption of "an open
source business model for semiconductor IP".
To put its money where its mouth is, the second move in this direction
was the release of its SLC1657 microcontroller core under the GNU Lesser
General Public License (LGPL). Both source code and related
documentation are available for download from the Silicore website.
For anyone wondering, this is an eight bit RISC processor that according
to the company is used on "sensors, medical devices and consumer
electronics". Under the LGPL, Silicore "retains the copyright but allows
any integrator to copy, modify, reuse and distribute the core without
cost". And "If the integrator modifies the core it is obliged to share
the resulting (derivative) core under the same licensing conditions" -
according to the company's press release.
Wade Peterson, Silicore President and CEO said "Our basic conclusion
that soft semiconductor IP is just plain old software. This might be a
radical notion to some, but we feel that if it looks like a duck, quacks
like a duck and walks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Software
is just another word for machine instructions, and semiconductor IP is
just that... instructions for FPGA and ASIC machines. That means we can
borrow the licensing and business models from the GNU/Linux community
for use in semiconductor IP. We don't need to reinvent any of those
Now that Microsoft is supposedly getting into CPU design - for its Xbox
- I can only wonder if the open source battle is going to move, in the
long run, from software into hardware as well, turning this into the
ultimate battle for world domination, between closed and open systems.
This time, hardware and software.
Peterson said: "We have been studying the semiconductor market for some
time now, and have concluded that the best way to create and distribute
soft IP is under an open source business model. It's the same model
that's used by Red Hat and other GNU/Linux distributors. Until now we've
operated under a traditional software business model that's been used by
companies like Microsoft and Oracle. Under that approach we viewed IP as
a product, but now we see it as a service. We believe that
System-on-Chip [SoC] integrators will prefer this model because it
lowers costs, simplifies licensing, reduces parts obsolescence, improves
security and allows them more control over their system level IP."
Mr. Peterson didn't save words about his current views of the
semiconductor market: "As it stands today the semiconductor IP market
resembles the computer industry in the early 1980s. That market was
fragmented into a small number of sellers markets, with each controlled
by a mainframe or minicomputer manufacturer. That meant that you had to
sell your equipment or software into a niche market that was controlled
by your competitor. We're seeing the same trend in System-on-Chip, only
this time around the niches are controlled by the semiconductor
manufacturers and tool makers...both of which are heavily investing in
IP. We believe this trend is bad for the system integrators...or more
accurately those who are paying for the system integration. Right now
they're overpaying for their chips and IP because they have to buy
everything in these closed markets. They want open, buyer's markets
where sellers compete belly-to-belly on price, quality and service. It's
the same reasoning that produced the desktop PC and the microcomputer
bus markets like VMEbus and PCI. Those were successful because the
system integrators preferred them...and that's important because they're
the ones ultimately paying for everything."
The Road Ahead?
Almost three years ago I wrote that, in my opinion, one of the main
benefits of open source software is that it allows software to "kill
time and live forever". In other words, it removes the time variable
from the success equation, and its associated uncertainty over ownership
and its owner's fortunes.
Open Source projects cannot be "killed" by killing the "owner", since
there is none. Yes, there might be a corporate "sponsor" or initiator,
but once the code is out there in the wild, it's up for grabs for anyone
else to pick and continue enhancing and maintaining it, if there is
interest. And if not, the project can be kept "sleeping" until someone,
some day, in some dark corner of the planet, discovers it and brings it
back to life, just because someone finds the work already done
interesting to use as a base for his work.
Just imagine for a second what would happen if chips like IDE-to-USB
bridges, WIFI controllers, and more complex semiconductors were "open
source". And the holy grail... what about an open source CPU? I'm not
advocating this is the solution to all the problems in the semiconductor
business, just thinking "what if".
There are more questions than answers, but I applaud Silicore's bold
decision to travel this unpaved road heading for the great unknown. Is
there a place for "open source hardware" in the marketplace? Let me
[end of article]
Arjen Lentz, Technical Writer, Trainer
Brisbane, QLD Australia
MySQL AB, www.mysql.com
Brisbane 2 Feb 2004 (5 days): Using & Managing MySQL Training
Training,Support,Licenses,T-shirts @ https://order.mysql.com/?marl
More information about the linux-aus