Your editor, recently faced with some long flights, went out and bought
himself a portable media player. Despite certain, predictable marital
problems caused by the acquisition of yet another expensive electronic toy,
the new device has been a great success. It is Linux friendly, plays Ogg
files, sounds good, and makes it possible to carry vast amounts of music in
a shirt pocket. Since your editor is a fan of live music, he has been
especially pleased by the combination of the player and the vast library of concert
which is downloadable - with the artists' permission - from
On the other hand, this device has its annoyances. It boots slowly. The
user interface has clearly not been through a serious usability program.
The device has a beautiful color display, but most of the space is wasted
with silly decorations so that song titles must be scrolled. There are no
games to keep the kids happy. And so on.
Wouldn't it be nice to be able to go in and hack on the code so that this
hardware, which is so full of potential, could be enjoyed fully?
Efforts like the open
graphics project seek to push forward the state of free graphics
through the creation of entirely open hardware. That project is
worthwhile, and we wish its developers the best of luck. But here is a
question worth asking: might there not be value in the creation of an open
One could easily put together a wishlist of features: a nice display,
substantial internal storage, good analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog
hardware, an FM tuner, a low-power FM transmitter, an integrated camera,
Bluetooth and/or WiFi networking, etc. But gadgets already exist with most
or all of those capabilities. What's missing is this: the platform should
be based on Linux, all of the source for the base system should be
available, and it should be easy to install new software (and replace
existing software) on the system. This gadget should not just tolerate
having its operating software ripped out and replaced; it should be designed
with that in mind from the beginning.
A solid, open platform can inspire a great deal of creativity in the wider
development community. Can you imagine what sort of community might gather
around a media gadget which is not only open, but which actively encourages
its users to hack on it? This device would rapidly develop capabilities
unimagined by its creators; if a way could be found to produce it at a
reasonable price, chances are that it would be a raging commercial
success. Your editor - once his credit card has been returned to him -
would gladly buy one.
Thanks to over twenty years of work from the free software community, many
of us can do our core computing with entirely free systems. But this
freedom has not yet extended into many of the other computers that we use
every day. Maybe, someday, the consumer electronics industry will realize
that, while it makes great hardware, it can do better by letting its
customers create much of its software for it. But, while we're waiting,
perhaps there are some people with the same sort of drive and skills as
shown by the Open Graphics Project who would like to show the industry how
it can be done?
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