Redefining Freedom with Copyleft Hardware

Mirko Lindner

With the recent activities in projects such as Openmoko, Arduino and Open Pandora, Copyleft Hardware is gaining more and more support and prominence. Every month developers around the globe realize that the hurdles to start hardware development are not as high as the industry wants us to believe. They get their tools out, load a free CAD program and join one of the many "Open Hardware" projects.

This trend was started with ever more accessible hardware. Locked hardware that lets users install their own applications or completely customized operating systems. This was a good start, but a few questions arise. Is locked hardware running Free Software really all we want ever wanted? Do we trust the industry to respect our privacy when they control the software in the chips that route our communication? Is this really an opening up of the industry or just another marketing spin to keep the customer base happy?

This talk will draw on the theory that Free Software on a locked device is only half the way and will highlight possible paths to the future. It will look at the difficulties in building copyleft hardware and also explore the possibilities of collaborative development.

To get you into the mood, ponder on the following:

Is a monkey in a cage less trapped if you give him a banana? Or two?

Does a dog feel more free if you tear down the fence and instead put him on a leash?