Is There a New Way Ahead for Electronics Enterprise? Part 6

In part 5 of this series, we started looking at a new marketplace philosophy. The intent was to remove the antagonistic feelings that can arise between designer and user. This follows the model established by companies like H-P (when it was a test equipment manufacturer). The idea is to create an open-source environment where a product's design can be refined.

If designs are given away, one might ask, how are the designers compensated for their efforts? In theory, they would be starving, but Linus Torvalds (the primary software developer of Linux) is not starving in Finland. In fact, he is living in Beaverton, Ore., the hometown of Tektronix. Has Torvalds made as much off Linux as Bill Gates has from Windows? Of course not. Neither is he short of a lifetime of consulting and training requests for designing a single (though large) product and giving it away. Designers can also be suppliers if they choose, or they can collaborate with a supplier. This might be the preferred route to designer recompense.

In the community technology setup, nobody becomes very rich, but everybody benefits from the positive relationships among designers, suppliers, and users. This synergism has potential that should not be underestimated. Linux now threatens the monopoly operating system, though it did not originate as a competitive product in a traditional company. As a few astute users make design refinements that are posted to the community, designs evolve to a highly refined state that can last for a long time. Such product stability increases overall efficiency; those using stable products need not expend as much in overhead developing their tool base for such products.

Community-based technology is already here and growing in seminal form. One example is Red Pitaya, which is participating with its generic instrument board. Various microcomputer boards such as the Arduino and Stamp have caught on and have a growing user base. (DesignSpark, a website promoting open-access technology, offers downloads of open-source hardware and software licenses.) One possible direction of instrument expansion is to develop add-on modules for popular μCs. The user community for them is an accessible market. In the past, there were user communities for VAX and other minicomputers, as well as for Volkswagen Beetles. Nowadays there are communities for Tek and H-P old equipment users and for various microcomputer modules, led by the open-access Arduino.

In effect, the community setup is an extension of the H-P-Tek Way in that it extends participation in product design, construction, and use from the designer to the supplier and even the user. Linux has benefited immensely by having the world's largest design support base in its user community. Why not do this for electronics?

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5 comments on “Is There a New Way Ahead for Electronics Enterprise? Part 6

  1. Netcrawl
    December 10, 2013

    @Dennis great topic! I agree with you about Linux, its a highly versatile, opensource software that can be customized to run almost any large computing task, the good things about opensource software like Linux is its totally free and can be a great alternatives. A broad community of IT professionals, developers, programmers from individuals to large corporations like HP, is constatntly working to improve it, making it a top platform for today's business environment. 


  2. eafpres
    December 11, 2013

    @Dennis–I see Linux being used a lot on embedded communication devices like wireless modules and gateways.  Although that is open source, there is a lot of IP in the actual code that designers write in Linux which combine domain specific knowledge with open source software (and sometimes hardware) to deliver more useful products than generic off the shelf.

    Sure, the entire electronics industry could become open source.  The interesting thing about that is that the integration companies would then need to hire a lot more designers and software folks since there would not be enough money to support a lot of specialty players who make money selling higher value modules, for instance, combining off-the-shelf chipsets, maybe using a reference design, but coding for specific applications.  

    So what I'm saying is that a completely open source model will drive big companies to in-house more of the value add at the expense of niche providers.

  3. etnapowers
    December 11, 2013

    @Netcrawl: good point. Linux is a really nice software, I hope it will be adopted in the electronics industry as reference, it is also more safe because there are less software viruses and there is a big community that is developing a lot of tools, to make the utilization of this software   open source and offering a wealth of useful applications for the business of tomorrow.

  4. D Feucht
    December 11, 2013

    @eafpres – You raise a good point. Open-source applied originally to software which is somewhat different than hardware. This difference has been noted by some in the open-source movement who believe that a different kind of open license is needed for hardware.

    Perhaps the expression “open access” is better in that the extent of accessibility can vary. In my approach ( not everything is free, and suppliers acquire board layout and maybe some other aspects of a design at a price while circuit diagrams and other aspects typical of a Tek or H-P service manual are available with an open-source license.

  5. eafpres
    December 12, 2013

    @Dennis–great idea.  I will start using open access to describe this variable model, which probably is in-fact a dominant theme.  

    Thanks for the feedback.

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