Obsolete Hardware That Needs To Be Open-Sourced: Our Nominations

Six deceased gadgets that could have become hobbyist favorites, if their makers had embraced open source

A recent post over at MAKE set forth the call to companies: If you’re going to kill a product or product line, make it open source! That way the ever-resourceful hacker and modder communities can really sink their teeth into a product that wouldn’t be generating any profit for the company anyway. We’ve got a list of six ahead-of-their-time, awesome gadgets that were killed too soon–gadgets that could be capable of some amazing stuff if opened to the right people.

When a product is made open source, the entire documentation, the source code, and schematics are made available to the public for use and modification. Essentially, anyone who wants to will not only have the legal right, but all the tools necessary to change their gadget in any way they want. Lots of software is already open source, and some hardware as well, like the Arduino microprocessor, 3-D printers like the Maker Bot and RepRap, and a few consumer gadgets like the Chumby. Making a product open source allows enthusiasts to really get their hands dirty, to use a product in ways its makers never intended, and to extend the life of the gadget beyond its untimely demise.

Of course, there are some legitimate reasons a company would be resistant to make a deceased product open source. Software and hardware doesn’t exist in a vacuum; even if a product line is cancelled, there may be intellectual property that the company wants to keep and re-use. It takes effort and money to scan through a product’s documentation to make sure there’s nothing in there that’d cause trouble down the road if made entirely available, and many companies just don’t want to bother. The Microsoft Zune, for example, might be essentially cancelled, but it inspired the very-much-alive Windows Phone 7 platform, and Microsoft would rightfully be hesitant to publish too much information about a current platform. Still, this is a wish list, so we might as well wish, right?

Anyway, we liked MAKE’s list so much that we decided to add our own nominations–gadgets old and new which were canned, but which had lots of potential and could have turned into really interesting hobbyist projects if given the open source treatment. We’d love to hear from you guys, too: Any suggestions? Which gadgets do you think could have been hacker favorites?

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