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Open source: Game changer for hardware industry?

Posted: 14 Jan 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:hardware  open source  VLSI conference 

Open source software is all the rage in the computing world today. Competition in the software industry is intense as barriers have been broken, new players are emerging and more innovative products are brought to the market in a shorter time. Clearly open source movement has helped contribute a lot to these trends. Can a possible trend be possible in the hardware sector?

Rahul Dev, HP chair professor IIM Bangalore; Vikas Kohli, senior architect, Cadence; Santhosh Kumar general manager, Texas Instruments; Guru Ganesan, ARM managing director and Ulf Schneider managing director at Lantiq India had an animated discussion on the viability of open source hardware and the changes that it can wring in the industry. The discussion was moderated by Raman Santhanakrishnan from LSI.

Differing opinions
Professor Rahul Dev from IIM Bangalore with a software background propounded the success of the open source in the software industry. He said that licensing distinguishes free software from proprietary software. Internet played a critical part in the open source of the software industry. Open source is an opportunity to earn. It can have two strong business models; one is servicing and second product. For open source to be worthwhile in hardware it can offer a mass innovation, value in economies and thus a huge driver for business.

Cadence's Kohli said that open source has brought tremendous change in the software industry. He drew parallels with the hardware industry wherein open source can lead to reduced development cost and accelerated output. But since hardware has a tangible output and that particular cost is unique to hardware the cost would be more. "Software has lot of tools given by industries but such tools are lacking in hardware. This is a huge void to be filled by hardware open source," he said.

The business models needed to focus on how to make money. Suggesting some areas as an opportunity for open sourcing in hardware Kohli said, "Hardware industry can share soft IP but can charge if someone wants the hard IP. Or make money around integration. Software industry has taken 20 years to mature and reach the current level of success so indeed it's a long way for the hardware industry."

ARM's Ganesan was the first panellist to disagree. He was doubtful if the hardware industry could achieve the same level of success. Ganesan argued, "I feel there are some segments we can but some segments there are more barriers than opportunities." He further explained, "For example an opportunity exists in design which uses standard parts like boards, demo kits. This is much closer to the software side and it has usability and rapid TAT. Other segment is standard registration of hardware platform or protocols or such activity which involves the community or has a common interest for the community and hence it can prove successful."


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