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Dale O’Gorman [opinions]

The OpenOEM (free as in freedom) [free-software] [open-hardware] [free-computer] [openoem]

What is the OpenOEM and what does it stand for?The idea of the OpenOEM is to help create the Free Computer, a computer where there are no secrets, all of the specifications are available and there is no restriction upon its use. This means that a person can buy a Free Computer and use it and change it to suit any need they might have.

Since I’ve written about the idea of a free computer and the idea of an OpenOEM I have received a lot of feedback from readers eager to contribute suggestions and offer help. If you go over to The OpenOEM Site you can see the great work that Kevin Dalvi has done on the website and forum so far.

It’s important that everyone understands what is meant when we talk about free hardware

But what does this all mean? And where do we go from here?First of all we need to clarify exactly what the OpenOEM is and it’s role in the world of free software and hardware. It’s important that everyone understands what is meant when we refer to a free computer and free hardware.

So I would like to articulate the principles, objectives and ambitions of the OpenOEM Project here:


  1. Hardware should be open and free.
  2. People should be allowed to modify and adapt the hardware to suit their needs without restriction.
  3. To this end all specifications and information about the hardware should be available with the hardware, or be very easily available.
  4. Ownership of the OpenOEM should be held in trust for the community and by the community for everyone’s benefit.


  1. To create the conditions where open and free hardware is easily and freely available for anyone to use.
  2. To create a standard specification for both fixed and mobile computing platforms which is open and transparent and which can be used by anyone to build an open computer.
  3. If necessary create a structure and organization to oversee the manufacture and distribution of free and open computers and hardware.
  4. Certify products to work within the open specification.


  1. To create the conditions where people everywhere take it for granted that they own and control their own hardware.
  2. Create a market for free and open hardware that provides real competition and fair prices for hardware.
  3. Create the conditions for people to contribute based upon their skills and desire and to show that contribution reflected.
  4. Create a community around these ideals that will be self sustaining.

I have always believed that true innovation does not come from companies but from people and we should do everything we can to allow people to innovate. I see no reason to treat the computer any differently. To many people this idea might not resonate with them until you realize how far computers reach into our very lives and how much we are affected by the computers we use every day.

We have all experienced anomalies or aberrant behaviour which is caused by bad or defective software and there is also software which tries to limit your ability to do something or restricts your rights to do something.Thankfully with software a person has options. They can replace the existing software on a computer with free software such as one of the BSD’s, or one of the GNU/Linux distributions. This software is available for most CPU architectures currently available. However this only fixes some of the problems and does not always lead to an equitable solution when it comes to issues with hardware.

One of the biggest problems with the closed hardware paradigm is that the drivers provided for these devices often introduce bugs, cause instability and lead to security issues and yet it’s almost impossible to fix these problems because the specification for these devices is closed and kept hidden. Users are at the mercy of the hardware manufacturer to distribute fixes (if they even do so) and, let's not forget, this is a problem which affects the entire computing world not just the free software side of the house.

Who needs these problems? Not me

Some computers now even have hardware restrictions built in. A good example of this is the new wave of DRM solutions which are now proliferating though-out the computer market place. If you replace the software than comes with the DRM enabled device there is a good chance that this specific device will no-longer work and, believe it or not, in some cases this DRM will cause the whole computer to operate in a reduced capacity. This is not a very nice way to behave and it is profoundly disrespectful to the user.

We need to change this.

Many of these proposed Digital Rights don’t seem to benefit the consumer at all and they certainly have no place on a personal computer. For example, if a person buys a HD-DVD Disc with a movie on it and attempts to play it in a HD-DVD equipped computer with a high quality display; which does not have the HDMI hardware on board, even though the display may have the ability to output a higher resolution than HD, the player will automatically downgrade the signal. The same is true for audio under the new version of Microsoft Windows which has just been released.

The attitude which leads to this is just plain wrong, but laws such as the DMCA prevent us from fixing our hardware. I suppose we could all simply ignore it by not including such broken hardware from the start or maybe, just maybe, we should design our own hardware devices which do not include such defects. An open and free hardware specification would never be able to have DRM built in since it is open and transparent and so such defects would be easily detected and then repaired with alacrity.

Things like DRM and its cousins can only exist in the shadows, out of sight and in secret. Fortunately, like all dark and cowardly ideas, when you shine a light onto it; it loses all of its power.

So that is what the OpenOEM represents: a chance to make a truly free computer which is free as in freedom. It allows us to illuminate every part of the design of a computer and to get it to work as we feel it should. It gives power back to the user in ways that haven’t existed for a long time. It has the potential to redefine the relationship between the user and the computer. It is also an open forum for anybody to contribute and there will be lively debate, of that I am sure. Every topic is open for discussion, from the base motherboard designs, system software, graphics, sound, networking, form factor, aesthetics and ergonomics, in short everything. It stands to reason that the best people to design a computer are the ones who will use it.

This is the first step on the road to creating free and open computing devices.

So there is an open forum at The OpenOEM Site please drop in and help define and build the future.

I think it's the ultimate itch begging for a scratching.


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