This entry isn't about the naivety of the bulk of the Open Source community, however. It's about the lack of control the Open Source community has over their own tech, and a proposed solution. I never said that the Open Source movement wasn't a noble and quite commendable effort worth supporting, and while I disapprove of the behavior and the viewpoints of most of its supporters, I stand firmly behind the ideal. However, the Open Source community, disjointed and disorganized as it already is, has all but completely ignored one particularly major facet of its continuing development - the hardware upon which their software runs.
When faced with difficult questions about things like embedded digital rights management, the Trusted Platform Module, and built in proprietary lock-out features stuck into hardware these days, the average user either doesn't care or simply opts to continue using old hardware in favor of openness over power. That's a sound judgement for the short term, since most computer hardware today is capable of running strong long into the future, at least by several years. However, as newer and hopefully better software applications designed for vastly more powerful systems come to be in the near future, I think that many among us will begin reconsidering our stance on the continuing use of old hardware. After all, I have a computer from 1989 stored away somewhere - an old Packard Bell, to be exact - that will still run just fine, but that doesn't mean that it can do much more than make basic text documents and play old DOS games. A few years from now, a top of the line Dell gaming box from today will look pretty poor stacked up against the multi-cored, multi-gigabyte RAM equipped monsters of tomorrow, and some people - and some programs - just aren't satisfied with old, depreciated technology.
Using old computers to dodge DRM, the TPM, the RIAA, and good old fashioned BS is, like I said, a good short term option. The industry doesn't make technology for Open Source software, though. They make hardware where there's money involved. Sure, companies like IBM might toss in a few dollars here and there to keep the movement alive, but that's only because Open Source software is a selling point for their products. If we're going to rely upon ourselves for our software, we must in turn also rely upon ourselves for our hardware. That's all there is to it. The industry leaders have made it very clear that we can't trust them. We, as consumers, as programmers, as innovators, as inventors, as thinkers simply can't trust the industry. We can't trust the corporations, their executives, their products, or even their press. Every time the Open Source community is given a handout, it's so they can help some industry pig sell his wares, and subsequently turn around and stab the community in the back. This has to change, and there's only one way that it can - we have to get chipping.
It's amazing, really, how simple yet so incredibly sophisticated microchip technology is. The technology to produce chips is the same way, simple yet mind-blowingly complex. The complexity, however, comes in the procedure, not the process itself. After all, what's so complex about using light to strip away photoreactive compounds covering wafers of sand, and then etching them with hot gases? Trick question, it's really a lot simpler than it looks, and it's a tried and proven technology. It's no secret, it's no mystery, it's just the same handful of steps repeated time and again over the same wafer of sand to make what is in the end an incredibly complex chip. If you get down to it, there's really no such thing as complexity, there's only such a thing as the degree of density and number of relationships between parts of a whole. Everything is simple when it's broken down into those simple parts of a whole, and it really makes me wonder why we're not making chips and circuitboards in our homes or businesses today. Why does it take a factory to make a two dollar wafer of sand?
That was another trick question. It takes a factory to mass produce two dollar wafers of sand, but not even a whole garage to develop and produce them in the first place. Most people refer to these places as laboratories, but I like to call them, 'any place that has a lot of tools and shit in it'. Is it possible to condense all of the chipmaking tools you'd need to design and produce a microchip or a circuitboard into one box, though? Of course it is, which leads me to ask why we're not doing it. Micro and nano-sized tools aren't a big deal anymore these days. Designing a miniature lathe for micro-sized mechanical and electronic parts, capable of both adding to and subtracting from metallic or plastic blanks might be a challenge, but once you have that lathe, what's to stop you from using it to make more and better lathes? Once you have a good lathe made, what's to stop you from using it to build more things besides lathes? That's just it, the only reason we're not making chips on our own is because we lack a cheap, readily available tool to do it with. Such a tool would be the final key in setting the Open Source community free.
My biggest concern would have to be how to get this kind of a tool to market. Nobody's asking for a nanolathe - due credit to Chris Taylor for the name - and they probably won't be asking for one for a while, if ever. I don't know how to answer that question, either, since I'm not an economist and I've little to no experience in predicting the progress of the technology industry. I do know that for the hobbyist, the inventor, and the entrepreneur alike, having such a tool - a small, self-contained workplace for the design and construction of micro-sized devices - would be an amazing boon. No longer would the only option for fabricating and testing these devices be to slave over a soldering iron for hours on end. A device into which instructions from the developer's own computer could be loaded could turn out completed projects in a matter of minutes and with impeccable precision. Let's not forget that for the industry big-wigs, this could also drop R&D and production costs as well.
Why am I blathering on about this tool that doesn't exist, then? Like I said, the only reason the Open Source community isn't known secondarily as the Open Schematic community is because it doesn't have this tool, because it doesn't exist. A lot of cynics out there in Slashdotland would probably say that it'd be too expensive for the average hobbyist anyway, but who's to say it would or wouln't? A lot of cynics out there would also say that nobody would take advantage of this opportunity to at last produce their own hardware from scratch, but something tells me that notion is also very, very wrong. "Hey guys! I just made my very own SPARC computer from scratch, right here in my own garage, with this machine here and my other PC!" Tell me that isn't cool. What's the point, though? Simple. It's the ultimate form of control of the progress of technology you rely upon, in that you can design it specifically to fit your own needs, include only what you want it to, exclude what you want it to, and improve and expand upon the technology in any way you wish. Communities of developers and engineers alike could collaborate to develop new and truly innovative custom tech, share their designs and diagrams, and themselves become chipmakers. That's what the Open Source community needs to avoid the perils of the industry in the long run - to be able to replace their old or bad technology by themselves, and develop new technology independently.
Only when the Open Source community takes control of its hardware will it ever control its software. We're still bound by the instruction sets, the circuits, the devices of our computers, and by proxy we are bound by the people who created these machines and the parts inside them. There's no shortage of open standards, design specifications, and freely liscenced technologies unbound by patents or regulation freely available to all of us. Now all we need are the tools of the trade in our own homes and workplaces. Then the fun can really begin, and real progress can be made. Until we accomplish this end, we'll always be stuck wedged under the boot of an increasingly hostile and closed industry. All we need is that goddamned lathe.