Jun 032010

I was recently involved in a discussion related to open source technologies for electronic embedded systems. Apparently not as “open” at it may seem and people suddenly got frantic about that.

Many people still are inevitably and blindly attracted to open source [libraries, packages and tools] available from a single mouse click. For students working on thesis, for companies working on internal tools, this may look fine. It does not depend only on licenses but on your final intention. Licenses are complicated. Please visit the wikipedia GNU_General_Public_License page to briefly understand the deep complexity of this domain. Intention is simple: do you go commercial with your project or not? For a student, this might mean to file a patent in; for a company, this might be to make the internal tool suddenly available to client. Not always clear at first sight.

For all of you who plan to go out commercial, look at products available under multi-license terms. That is, offering different terms and conditions for different packages. For instance, one may freely use a software library for technological exploration, and pay only when the exploration switches from R&D to production. This model is available for the ┬ÁC/OS RTOS. Others like FreeRTOS offer a free basic version, but a payable fully-featured version. Dual licensing is a new trend for a sustainable open source market, producing high quality products for us to try, and buy. Recent successful models include QT/Trolltech, acquired by Nokia and MySQL, bought by Sun in Q1-2008.

Should you come from the hardware side, you may know opencores.org which offers many IP under different GPL-like licenses. Obviously, payable products usually come with support, and free products don’t, unless their designers intend to live at piece rate. Companies like ours which are committed to delivering fast results use such support to avoid losing too much time.

At the end, this dual-model is good for everyone. Those who don’t have the money: students at first, startups next and finally bigger companies working on R&D projects can use these free solutions. This leads people to make technology-based decisions rather than to focus on pricing considerations. For those who have the money, the buying decision encourages the suppliers to deliver quality solutions, fully documented and fully supported.

Luc Filion, http://www.nuumdesign.com

Special Thanks to Miro Samek, CEO of Quantum Leaps, for his views.

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