What is “open source”? What’s “open hardware”? What does it mean to be open, and above all, why so?

By on December 15, 2015
Pin It

It is undeniable that the 4th industrial revolution is sweeping us, bringing behind innovations and promises, but also many fears and uncertainties. But what triggered it and what is the concept that rotates at its base, and the change that it intends to provide?

The 4th industrial revolution aims to overturn the productive paradigms known until now, to bring the individual to a maturity, self-awareness and its potentialities to become“prosumers”: producer and consumer at the same time for a good part of the goods and services they need. The man becomes able to evolve, innovate and improve their conditions so much easier, thanks to the democratization of knowledge and technological innovation.

It’s pretty much a dream, the dream of all times: the chance to learn and navigate through the unknown in the know, without fear of getting lost, and to meet their needs and those of the community.

There will be not the few to lead the development and growth of the Community, but each of us, with their honest contribution. To know, learn and experience is already possible to not only take advantage of digitality, Internet and all its infinite potential, but also of physical locations: laboratories open and available, where to find friends and to work and grow at the same time, just what that is going on within the FabLab.

After thousands of years of terror and obscurantism and fear of the other, the man seems to have finally realized that for not being afraid to grow and it’s necessary to collaborate, discuss and exchange what so far has always locked up and hidden: their ideas.

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these ideas, then you and I have always one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then we both have two ideasGeorge Bernard Shaw

The concept of sharing, has been really appreciated immediately in software development field. Code sharing is a practice born with the birth of computing itself, when only the use of a computer, far away from nowadeys devices, was a task that required great programming skills. This practice is hampered by the opposite philosophy, born later: proprietary software, the “private” code well-kept secret and sold over and over again, according only to a trade policy. The battle has been tough over the years, where the concept of segregating an idea, a project, to make the most profit is the only way we can conceive of successful entrepreneurship.

The base of the fourth industrial revolution starts here and uncontrollably it extends to many fields of application, even for concepts that are far from being “software”, the matter does not exist physically, and mixes and amplifies through many other practical and ideologies: openness to ideas, the democratization of knowledge in the age of Internet and digital, in a word: the ” Open Source”.

Open Source

“Open source software is software That can be freely used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone. Open source software is made ​​by many people, and distributed under licenses Thatcomply with the Open Source Definition.

Following this definition would be discussed and describe the ideological and and philosophical changes that occurred over the years, not mentioning the changes in the applications in the technical, in the hands of the different organizations and movements born in support of a software development (and later hardware) made ​​of freedom of sharing. Unfortunately, the complexity of the subject is considerable and it is good for those who have become aware of this revolution investigate the issue.

However, it should indicate between main organizations the Open Source Initiative (http://opensource.org) and the Free Software Foundation (https://www.fsf.org/). They have always fought the same battle, and only in recent years, with the Gnu GPL license upgrade to version 3, in my opinion we are apparently pursuing a common line, despite continuing to maintain small but deep distinction.

According to the definition given by the OSI (Open Source Initiative http://opensource.org), when a software is labelled as open source that means that you can not only have its source code but also that you can change it or create derivative works from it.

The 4th industrial revolution promises to spread and apply these principles worldwide and to set aside the monopolization of the ideas and their implementation by applying this principle and making use of legal facilities. Who develop collaboratively, not refuse of authorship or intellectual property in having “given birth” a project. On the contrary proves to be more attached to the core of the project having a chance to mature, satisfying the needs of the community and increasing “user experience”. At the same time the community is active part of the design. All this does not preclude the possibility of creating business models related to its development, customization, deployment or redistribution of the same.

The Open Source Definition is made of 10 simple principles defined by the Open Source Initiative (http://opensource.org/OSD). Those few simple criteria that, in silence, are already revolutionizing the world, and that today, in the period of maximum inflation of the word “open”, are good to keep in mind. The topic is complex and it is not our intention to go into technicalities, especially those related to licenses http://opensource.org/licenses) but it is fair to explain, simply, what it is open, and why to be open.

“Open source does not just mean access to the source code,” then what does it mean?

1.    Free Redistribution – Freedom in the distribution, it’s free or paid, the important thing is that it’s redistributable

2.    Source Code – If some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost preferably, downloading via the Internet up service, you.

3.    Derived Works – The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.

To be open, the source code must be distribuited, in any possible way, providing a complete and accurate information, with particular attention about the possibility to redistribute by third parties under the same terms of the original license. The shift is subtle and important: if the software is open-source, then it must remain so in accordance with the will of its creator.

That sounds great, but we analyzed the scenarios presented over the years. The ideas expressed by the Free Software Foundation non-profit organization founded in 1985 by Richard Stallman and “mother” of the three principles mentioned above, want to provide pragmatic tools to protect “free software”.

The OSI and the FSF have always fought against the increasingly overwhelming opinion of closure of the production world, which acts as the only goal to capitalize of the product, without concern of possible transmutations, branches and improvements of the product.

Free Software FoundationGNU Gpl Logo License

The FSF is more focused on the legal aspects of free software to support the “GNU Project”, a collaborative project that aims to create an operating system composed entirely of free software. The license we use to support their ideas and freedom is the GNU General Public License (GPL), which enshrines and protects fundamental freedoms that enable the use and development of natural and collective software.

This license allows use of any software in which it is applied, even the commercial purpose, provided it is distributed along the entire source code of the program, including any amendments and additions. This implies strong protection, especially on the workderivatives and their redistribution must be in the exact terms of the original. The concept is known as “copyleft” whose name and whose concept and ‘deliberately in contrast to the classic copyright that does not offer rights and freedom’ but limits them. One of the key concepts of free software is that license gives users freedom and then “gives” something rather than “prohibit”.

This doesn’t mean that the author isn’t protected for his creations. The protection is realized in accordance with its willingness to publish his work by granting freedom to others and avoiding that someone can take advantage of the situation by stealing the work or part of it, for example, or changing it and republishing it with a license that limits these freedoms.

Now should be clear that develop sharing the source, that’s also something physical does not mean “give away” its jobs without being able to vindicate the conception and leave someone who is ready to exploit it.

Being part of a community “open” means to collaborate in the growth of a better world.

The licenses that protect the open source world are manifold, each with specific goals, but the common goal of protecting creativity and the development of projects free from and constraints which have priority to grow and spread.

In the same way, spread more recently also happened for hardware, physical objects and artifacts: cars, computers, chairs, robots or even homes.

Open Source Hardware

As for open source, also open hardware (or open-source hardware) schematics, blueprints, logic designs, Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawings or files, etc.-are available for editing e improving by anyone under permissive license.

Users, having access to the right tools, can read and modify the source by improving the “code” that describes the physical object. They can add features or fix bugs in the software. They can even modify the physical design of the object itself and, if they wish, proceed to share such modifications.

Despite the efforts of the various parties cited in the fight to free the projects and the media phenomenon of the moment on the culture makers and FabLab, there is a misinterpretation of open-source hardware and its bad redistribution due to commercial reasons.

Too often, the long and hard work of the community is dishonored by exploitative practices purely commercial, both by those who drew freely redistribute both by those who claim to open and cooperative, especially in a time when it is fashionable, but then did not it.

To fight this, the Open Source Hardware Association has decided that they want to certify projects Open Source-hardware,with the intention of spreading best practice sharing and collaboration, and to protect those who in this revolution we believe and invest.

In the last few years, especially with the diffusion of Arduino board, to materializethis new way of thinking and above all to conceive development methodologies of progects, sharing the ideas, developments,and sometimes resources.

As reported by the “Stateof Principles 1.0”: “Open source hardware gives people the freedom to control Their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange ofdesigns.”This

That’s a radical critique of what are the laws of the market, where to be the only owners of an idea, and even more to be the only ones to be able to distribute it, is the ultimate goal.

But why it that the only way to design?

In fact,the open source hardware reveals the real revolution of this century and an effective way to re-emerge by a critical aeconomic situation, not just a hope to cling to.

This philosophy breaks down all barriers, primarily the economic one, placing the project same as the ultimate goal,and not only its economic side, which however is not neglected but also “improved”.

Our main concern is that the project must be as good as possible, solving a particular problem or helping in everyday life or that it is for pleasure.

Think of how many projects have come to life thanks to open source hardware, simply contaminating and allowing anyone to learn,grow and move on.

There are many shining examples of open hardware companies ,even from a commercial point of view, by value of millions of dollars: Arduino, Adafruit, Sparkfun, Lulzbot, DIY Drones, Sparkfun and many more.

Other great example is the 3d printing: it’s a technology born around 1984 , suppressed for years ny the needs of a “few”, according to the archaic logic of”patent”, and liberated and depopulated from 2005 through the RepRap community.

From there, it’s all in the making, a chain of people from the antrum most remote of them garage, in any nation has placed a brick to build this incredible innovation called 3D printing. Just to think of the many who work in the development of firmware Marlin, in the “slicing” software called Slic3r, or in the Prusa i3 and many other innovations Community.

Now anyone can buy, build, modify a 3D printer and in a few years growth ofthe application fields and the job opportunities of development design of this technology are astounding and exciting.

Unfortunately, they notice also many negative aspects undeniable: very, very few of these many new printing companies release the sources of their project, while most, after the initial success focus on commercial, leaving the development completely closed.

This is a dirty game and dishonest for the community that freely gives opportunity.

The real revolution is the open-source hardware, and 3d printing is yet another confirmation: without the democratization of it, the hard work of the community and a few men, probably we would not be here today to talk about innovation, nor even of makers, nor so easily of FabLab and sharing economy .

The Open Source Hardware Certification (version 1), proposed by OSHA, will establish the authenticity and genuineness of an open source hardware project, in order to make correct use of the licenses and collaborative identifying logo placing itself under the supervision of OSHA and community.

The idea is then to defend the proper use of the licenses among the many available both from the world of Free Software, both of Open Source is, has the Creative Commons. Who will buy open source projects identify hardware actually projects that meet this frieze and obtaining certification will be a way to demonstrate the successful deployment of the project and its redistribution, including also the sanctions.

The creator of such projects will have specific guidelines on the terms of release and how it being understood that the certification is not designed to restrict the term “open source hardware” or limit the use of the famous logo gear open, nor requires that someone must necessarily use that license, nor OSHA from all the power to fine projects that did not require such certification.

OSHA does not arise meant to force you to develop open source hardware, nor aims to control exclusively the open source hardware market, and because it is impossible because it goes against the purpose of OSHA itself.

The will to certify the projects came through the discomfort of many in the community to see abused the use of the logo and the collaborative concept.

The makers and the FabLab, should well spread this important concept. It is not only important to talk about open source just to sell and find lenders, especially if you use the logo and features of the purpose of open source and then not provide neither the sources of the project or to apply trade restrictions on the projects, which did is not acceptable when it comes to open source hardware.

Arduino is one of the successful examples of open hardware, although most of the derivatives, compatible and expansions are not produced by the same company, but in fact have improved and the same hundredfold the potential and the market. All this happened in spite of “clones” that illegally falsify the brand and origin.

The open hardware also in the game, in education, is not an utopia, it’s something concrete and a real advantage.

Whatever way you create, think, invent, build, make it but with respect for yourself and respect for what you make! The open is the greatest gratification that you may have and will allow you to cross and believe in unexplored horizons, then choose the way you want, but be open my friends.

About Giuseppe Liuzzi

24, lucano and student of Computer Science at the University of Basilicata. Founding member of the Ass Syskrack Giuseppe Porsia and lab manager of Syskrack Lab, the first Fablab in Basilicata, trying to follow in the footsteps of his cousin "Peps" genius and engineer died prematurely. For over two years studies, designs and develops open source hardware projects, spreading the principles of sharing and of freedom to modify and redistribute. Named "Citizen Social Innovation" sets the stage for the "Fablab Widespread" in Basilicata and Puglia, a FabLab deployed in the area to give the chance for everyone to get in touch with the technologies from the bottom and take part in the fourth industrial revolution.


  1. Pingback: Open Source - mathieu.betuing | Pearltrees

  2. Pingback: Open Hardware | Pearltrees

  3. Pingback: Things You Didn't Know Could Be Open Source | Open Electronics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *