[OH Updates] Degrees of open-ness in EDA (and CAD in general)

Windell H. Oskay windell at oskay.net
Wed Aug 31 10:29:37 PDT 2011

On Aug 31, 2011, at 8:41 AM, Mike Hord wrote:

> This has long been a bone of contention. Some people favor a restrictive license that mandates
> OSHW product source be distributed in a format that is open, while others (such as myself)
> resent the fact that so specifying means choosing between free use of our preferred design
> tools and not being able to claim our work is OSHW _or_ a limited range of open design tools
> like KiCAD and geda.
> I'll admit to having not used geda at all, and to having only toyed with KiCAD enough to decide
> I didn't want to learn anymore, but I'm GUESSING that a full-featured board layout tool like,
> say, PADS, is capable of producing designs that would be onerous at best under one of the
> "lighter" tools. Does that mean that if IBM does a massive, incredibly complex server board
> in PADS and releases all the source that we should shut them out of OSHW? I think not.
> If we mandate that OSHW *must* use a tool from the small set of available open toolsuites,
> we'll lose a lot of people.

  I'm one of those who prefer free tools for design (including gEDA).  I've also used $10k commercial CAD software.  And I've also used $1k+ commercial CAD software (such as CadSoft Eagle and Alibre).    Each of the design tools that I have used has a learning curve, and feels quite primitive in some ways.  And I definitely wouldn't want someone or some company to *not* release a design as OSHW just because they don't want to switch CAD tools.

 While I do think that every OSHW license should *strongly encourage* the use of open source design tools and interchange formats, I don't think that there needs be any "bone of contention" in our community over finding one true license.   While license proliferation does have drawbacks, we should accept and encourage the development of a very small number of distinct licenses with different goals.  (My guess is that having BSD-style and Copyleft licenses to choose from has led to growth in the open source software community-- giving companies more options of ways to release and use OSS.  It's a good model, in many ways.)

 I believe that there is room for an OSHW license-- I hereby coin it the POSH License ("pure open source hardware") -- that specifies that all of the design files for the licensed hardware have been released in file formats that can be used by open source CAD tools.   The POSH License needn't be viral in the sense that derivative works would be required to meet the POSH License  criteria  (derivative works *could* still be required  to be released under *an* open source hardware license), but more importantly, the license could serve as a "badge of honor" to be displayed on products that meet the highest standards of being truly open.

 Likewise, there is room for (at least one) OSHW license that meets the barest definition of OSHW-- proprietary binary file formats and all.  And perhaps at that level in permissive and restrictive (BSD-style and Copyleft) license varieties as well.

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