Free Hardware

To Do

This is becoming a huge topic and will be moving to a website at some point. Yes, we will make a compromise for free hardware and temporarily, for as long as needed, be some what restricted under non-free domain registrar/hosting.

This page is intended to speak from a "free cost and free speech" perspective (GeneralFreedom.) The original author wished to point out that free cost and free speech both work together. Both are important. Author does not think, that word for word, free speech is completely separate from free cost, because cost does affect free speech (and free hardware). I hope this page doesn't turn in to too much off topic speech/beer issues. For one thing, I don't even drink beer, so how does that affect everything? The author wishes to discuss free hardware, which is related to both free cost and free speech, and freedom in general. Remember, Hardware Freedom in General is the key, which I think involves both cost and speech. Or in other words if cost happens to affect speech, than so be it .. and it does.

Many people think that FreeHardware is completely different from FreeSoftware. It is not.

It takes one man 50 hours to produce a small software program. He pays for bandwidth, storage. He has server and connection costs which haunt him each and every month. He can easily replicate the project, but still with many complications such as corruption and versioning. It takes one man 50 hours to build and finish a small wood table. He pays for wood, tools. He can easily replicate the project since he has developed machinery to do so. The table does not cost him a monthly fee.

This is absurd. A software project can be put up on a webserver and downloaded by a million people with negligible marginal cost. This is completely impossible for physical objects like a wooden table or hardware.

No, it is not absurd. And no, it is not impossible. Please take off your sunglasses, I want you to see everything that I talk about and others talk about on this page clearly. Your quick one-line come back on this page does not show any respect for the effort going into this page and the free hardware philosophy. It's people like you who need to change your thinking. Please re-read what is on this page (and examples) before you make quick assumptions and judgments. Remember when people came out with the idea of Linux, and most of you laughed at it? Linux is highly popular and can be gotten completely free in both speech and cost now. It can be gotten with a small cost too, but I think many will admit that without the cost, it happens to be even more freer in speech. Some people weren't negative or judgmental about the idea. These people just saw through what the crowd was doing. Follow the leader or be a leader. I will give you, a potential naysayer, more than one chance with the idea of FreeHardware, because I know it will benefit you and I both if I am patient.

Free hardware can be easier and require less time to obtain than free software. Humans just haven't absorbed this fact yet.

It's not a "marginal cost" for millions of people to download software like you think. Would you please look at sourceforge's hosting bills and come back here? Would you look into how places like sourceforge profit (advertising, corporate funding, hardware sales, thinkGeek, etc.). Would you please look into how many man hours it takes to run sourceforge, and compare this to picking apple trees or building tables?

Do you realize that man hours are worth money and speech in today's world? It would take me less time to pick an apple tree than it would to run a simple static web page on an Apache server. Tapache server costs and speech issues may be greater than building the hardware table.

The GNU/Linux OS and several other Open/Free projects would not exist without huge corporate servers that cost thousands of dollars to run, fund, advertise, etc. Whether Gnu likes it or not, a lot of their projects are popular on SourceForge - and SourceForge uses non-free hardware (in both speech and cost) that is indirectly related to other non-free items, even non-free software.

Transportation costs for a car are the same as the server costs that you are blindly labelling as "marginal costs". When I speak of cost, I speak of GeneralFreedom. This means that yes, cost is a factor in the freedom spoken about here. There are basic "restriction" issues with cost. All restrictions decrease general freedom of speech. One of those restrictions is cost, since it slows down the process of information transfer/exchange. You cannot freely grab GnuLinux off a server without being restricted by bandwidth costs and hardware costs to run that server or your computer.

If the hardware and servers were free in cost and speech (GeneralFreedom) you'd notice a definite increase in freedom while downloading your copy of GnuLinux or FreeBsd or MozillaLicense software. I think this is a major pointer.

People still think free software is different from free hardware? It's all in their head. If people get a clue, you will see FreeHardware in the near future. FreeHardware is not about free chip designs, free hardware is about free hardware.

Note: on this page, Free Hardware applies not just to computer hardware, but also to other hardware such as wood, raw materials, tools, pencils, paper, metal, etc.

Current "free software" is still not truly free. It will not be truly free, ever, without first "free hardware" and "free service", and free non-computer related items like food and consulting. Free hardware helps make FreeSoftware a reality. FreeSoftware advocates must first realize that FreeHardware must also be available in order for any of their FreeSoftware to be truly free. Example: without SourceForge, (a company who uses commercial hardware, servers, T1 connections, etc.) open source would be nothing. FreeSoftware still relies on commercial Hardware and services.

What about FreeSoftware groups who ask for donations? This is not true freedom. They require donations to pay off their hardware or their connection fees. They are in a circular reference. They are a clash. But this is ok, for now, until they work out the fact that it's also about FreeHardware. FreeSoftware advocates wish to be free but can't be, because they still have to deal with commercial hardware and commercial Internet connections. There is no reason why hardware and Internet connections and consulting also cannot be free.

It's easier to "get" hardware when you are not worrying about tax schemes, donations, or your monthly wages or the legal issues. Getting free hardware is similar to going on to an FTP site full of free software. You respect the grounds and take what you need from the hardware site. Hardware leechers are the same as software leechers. There will be some. But those will be a minority. I still think it's about free speech and free cost, and free hardware. Not just free speech and free software alone. People that believe it isn't possible to have free hardware may want to consider that HardwareIsSoftware? and that SoftwareIsHardware?. Those people may also want to consider that GNU/Linux seemed impossible at one time, but today are extremely successful.

And you may want to consider that particles are not bits. A bit can be cheaply and accurately duplicated. A particle can't.

Please re-read before coming here with one-liner statements. You have to absorb what is on this page first. What you don't seem to see, is that man-hours cannot be cheaply and accurately duplicated. Software heavily relies on man-hours. It's not an issue of bits vs particles. If I have to give real world examples for you to see the light, I will try.

If $10/month out of the $20/month you pay for hosting a website is for software fees and software labor, this $10 dollars per month represents the "bits" cost. $30/one time wood table is hardware or "particles" like you say. Explain to me why the $50 table is cheaper than the $10-$20 recurring server (software) cost. It's about man-hours. Once the table is made, it's done. Once the server is made, it's an aweful lot of recurring software maintenance and software labor.

No, server support is not software labor. The people who keep the server running are not the same people who wrote the software running on it. They do not use the same skill set. Here's another example. I spend US$1,000,000 to pay for the labor to make a video game. You can duplicate that game for less than one cent as many times as you like. I spend US$1,000,000 to pay for the labor to make a race car. It will cost you almost as much to duplicate that race car. Particles are not bits. Bits can be cheaply and accurately duplicated because the labor involved can be more easily automated. The computer under my desk can duplicate 24 DVDs per day for a total cost (parts, labor, power) of less than US$3. Particles, on the other hand, are much more expensive to duplicate with any useful accuracy. This is precisely because "man-hours cannot be cheaply and accurately duplicated".

You cannot duplicate a game for one cent. You have to fix bugs in the game which cost you money.

No, you don't have to fix bugs to duplicate a game. Duplicating and bug fixing are separate activities.

You have to hire people and answer phone calls from users who have problems with the video game.

No, you don't have to hire anyone or answer phone calls. You might have to bypass copy protection, but once one person does that then anyone can copy the game with a point, click and drag.

In some cases, building a small hardware table requires less money than a piece of software or a video game.

But the table can't be duplicated with a mouse click. That's the fallacy of this page.

That is part of the point of this page. A table may not require man hours once it is built. Maybe a few repaints every 10 years. But a table does not require bug fixes constantly, or phone call support. FreeHardware wants you to look at the advantages of hardware, not the disadvantages of it. You have to think about the positive aspects of hardware. Remember that since software is easy to duplicate, it is also easy to destroy. Hardware is tougher to destroy. Look at that as an advantage. Use it to your advantage within FreeHardware, if you wish to be a part of free hardware.

"Easier to duplicate" != "easier to destroy". Destroying one copy of something is much easier than destroying millions of copies of it.

I run a server and maintain both the code running the server and the server software, and the software on the server for downloading. So in some cases the people behind the software are the same as the ones behind the server. Some people own their servers in the same building. That's not the issue tho, whether or not the people running the server are maintaining the software. The issue is that there are costs and disadvantages with software, and there are just as many advantages with hardware as there are with software. People are focusing on the negative aspects of hardware and not the positive. The advantages of hardware are different than software, but one can utilize this to his advantage to make FreeHardware. aspects. People are blind. People have never heard of or seen free hardware before, so only a select few will grasp on to the idea in the beginning..

Software has costs and disadvantages, but expensive duplication isn't one of them. The same is not true for hardware.

The only reason free software works is because bits can be accurately duplicated at trivial cost.
Free Hardware VS Non-Free Hardware
Talking about cost or speech..?

Both. It's still about free cost and free speech, not just one alone.

Regarding cost and speech: ''Here we are discussing cost and speech, because cost affects speech...It's not just about free speech because cost does happen to affect free speech in hardware. (Free Software and Free Hardware are the same) Regarding speech:

(Free Software and Free Hardware are the same)

The Free Hardware ideas are plausible. I won't argue that hardware has to be free in the same manner as software is, but I would like to point out that "free cost" and "freedom" are two different things. One can sell a hardware unit for a price to cover the costs of material and time used as much as software producer can sell services along with his software, but once a buyer of both hardware and software got it, he ought to have all essential freedoms with it, use, study, modification and redistribution (in case of hardware passing along or recreating it). What free hardware generally is, is a proposition for a system without patents to restrict use and reuse of knowledge and ideas to produce hardware (like "blueprints"). Again, it's a matter of freedom, not cost.

[Well I think what is being stated is that cost is a big issue. We just cannot say that cost isn't a big issue. I think you would agree that GnuLinux would not be highly popular like it is today without the free cost issue. Free cost does affect free speech.. they are not completely separate. Yes, it can be about free speech and one can focus on free speech, but we cannot discard cost... if it affects speech greatly, either indirectly or directly. But I think here we are just pointing out different wording, rather than arguing, which is of course splendid.]

I agree. Basically, this would mean you're allowed to reverse-engineer your CD player, hack your X-box, and open up your Mac without immediately voiding your warranty. 'Use only as intended' - we'll see about that.--AalbertTorsius

Not quite. The warranty is a service. You can freely edit your linux kernel, and redhat is free to not support that version of the kernel, even if you edited from a version of the source that you got from them and paid them to support.

What free hardware generally is, is a proposition for a system without patents to restrict use and reuse of knowledge and ideas to produce hardware (like "blueprints").

That's not free hardware, that's just free software. Knowledge, ideas, blueprints, patents, etc. are software. Hardware is matter. Matter has mass and occupies space. Software does not.

Below taken from a post on

I have a big machine in my backyard. It can be used to produce metal objects such as machine parts, for this machine and other types. Next to it is a stack of spare parts. Everyone is free to put raw materials in this machine and take out products, as long as they fix the machine if it breaks, and keep the stack of spare parts full. Note that this also means anyone can use it to produce all the parts to build their own identical (or modified) machine. There is no reason why this would not work. The cost of raw materials, be they bits or atoms, doesn't matter.

Why doesn't the cost matter? Where do the funds come from for the extra cost?

There doesn't have to be a cost. They could have got grass from their yard or water from some ocean. They could have got metal from a mine, and transported by a truck run off free hardware.

This reminds me of Mao's backyard steel furnaces. Do you really imagine that people will mine, smelt and refine ore in their spare time? Have you ever been inside a working mine?

Where did funds come from to cover the server bandwidth cost with free software?

That depends on the software. Some is paid for by large corporations like IBM. Some is paid for by advertising. Some is donated by someone who can afford to do it. It is all paid for, though. The bandwidth fairy didn't leave it under anyone's pillow.

Where did the funds come from to pay the software developer behind the compiler who developed the source code?

Again, that depends. If it's Java then the funds came from sales of Sun's products and services. If it's a Gnu compiler then the time and/or funds were probably donated by folks who could afford to do that.

There doesn't necessarily have to be any funding, because funding causes more complications, if the hardware is freely available, and the server connection, and the software. Not just the software alone.

Funding may cause "complications", but it lacks the single complication lack of funding has: lack of funding. Nothing happens without funding.

''Nothing happens without funding? Chicken and the egg. An orange seed does not need funding to grow. It needs water and earth. A tree does not need funding, it needs earth and water. It would be of best interest to include sunlight for the tree/wood for long term freedom, but it doesn't need the sunlight for short term freedom.

What about friendship? Many people would not be here without knowing there is a community behind the whole compiling and source code scene. It's not just about funding money. You can fund a person with more free software or more free hardware. You can fund a plant with water. It's about freedom and enjoyment. Whatever increases the enjoyment and long term growth. And from the FreeHardware perspective, money is very short term, but so is arguing.''

Do you expect farmers to give free food to the folks donating their time to free hardware and free software? Aren't you just arguing against money here?

Money is part of the problem. Do you expect folks sitting at their compilers 8 hours a day messing around with Linux donating their time to free hardware and free software?

No, I don't. Neither do I understand the purpose of your question, but now that I know you view money as part of the problem I feel less inclined to continue.

Why is it magically different?

Magically different from what?

When one gives a mother or friend 50 miles away a bag of freshly grown oranges, that it makes them feel more warm and fuzzy compared to charging him or restricting in some way - just like giving software away. With regarding speech: it makes one feel better that he is free to take my oranges and grind them up, give them to his friend, use the seeds to grow more, or do whatever he wishes. It would be of his best interest to re-plant and replicate the fruit for long term freedom, while still reaping the benefits of eating the fleshy part of the fruit.

I know humans don't live on warm and fuzzy feelings. Good luck with all of this, and you might want to read up on EvolutionarilyStableStrategies.

Part of the whole GnuLinux idea of the Penguin mascot is a fuzzy penguin. And fuzzy linux is holding up pretty well. I didn't say you live by feeling warm and fuzzy. It's just a side effect. Working on open or free software or hardware is similar.

Warm and fuzzy side effects are cold comfort if you don't live.

Is a tree Evolutionarily Stable?

Yes. So is a termite.

Off topic. Unless termites skin or bone can be used to create hardware.

If a tree is on topic, so are termites. If you start giving away hardware and I take all you give and turn around and sell it, I'm the termites in your tree. And believe me, I'll do it.

[Actually I've considered, and you should have already noted, that FreeHardware includes raw materials. Trees and food are necessary for humans, but termites aren't necessarily. Again, please let me know of a use for termites. Example: Cow's hoof is used to make glue.]

Is Linux? Is Gnu?

So far. So is Microsoft, so far.

These are all free in speech and apparently, in most cases, free in cost.

That wasn't my point. Are you familiar with evolutionarily stable strategies?

I'm not sure anything is stable. That's unrealistic. The USA may have felt stable one day before 9/11. Again, you are just picking out things here and twisting them. This is about hardware! Way off topic.

Don't close your mind. Please learn a bit about them before you decide they are off topic. For the free hardware strategy to succeed it must be evolutionarily stable.

Define stable. Nobody can determine the stability of anything. Example: Dinosaurs. Alive. Dead. If anything is stable, according to a human, it's Linux compared to windows 98. I can't see where you are taking this. In fact you know what? You win. I lose. There, happy? Now please let myself and other folks discuss free hardware., I like you, but ...I think I've just got to spend my efforts talking to people who are already interested in free hardware. No one who hates cheesecake is going to help me make a cheesecake.

But I am interested in free hardware. Let me know where I can get some and I'll take it. There's a sucker born every minute.

I will offer you some if you are in the same area as I am, and we have become friends through software development or by other means. That's where we start. I do not accept hardware leeching though, just as an FTP site does generally not. If you are not in the same area, we move on to international shipment as we progress and have the ability to do so. Improve as you go, do what you can. Same as GnuLinux. Booting, Assembly, Bios Knowledge, Drivers, commandline all come earlier than a window manager does.

I built a custom plant holder from a tree stump (hollowed out). The plant holder recursively holds a plant which is generally free. I may give this item with you, especially if you have a project that requires it, and especially if I can clone the plant and keep some for my own reproduction.

I also have a not as much free, but still aiming at GenerallyFree example for you. I have a computer built off recycled parts which is smaller than any desktop, but not as small as a laptop. It fits into a drawer rather than a computer case. If you happened to have a free table that you built, with drawer on it lying around, these would be a good match. Computer parts would have gone to waste and would have been thrown out. They are not ultimately free, but maybe your table was and the plant was, so we made a compromise and pushed through. Then things started to really move because of this push through. It's a compromise and still aimed at being GenerallyFree.

This is not a ultimately free hardware example, above, but the plant and holder example is near there. You can bet that if you came to me and told me you had a free or almost free, or aiming to be free machinery design up and running, I would ask you if you needed more of my own hardware in order to get it going (even making compromises some cases and giving away hardware which I may have once touched proprietary´┐Żrestrictive property). But all you needed was a computer to control your machine, I would definitely offer a helping hand. Compromises just like some make with Ms-Dos to initially tap in to a computer, but then go on later and never have to use MS-Dos. Intending to be GenerallyFree.

Any hardware that can be reproduced is more acceptable for beginner projects than hardware projects that are hard to produce. Some software, such as large applications are harder to re-produce too. Some software is near impossible in one way to produce or copy, and you must make compromises there, too(i.e. some software is corrupted and cannot be copied after this occurs. Since hardware is harder to lose or become easily damaged in only milliseconds, it has this advantage. Even a person with only one copy of hardware is safer than the person with software who has uploaded it to servers on one internet, where one cracker can destroy all 50 copies on FTP. No one has ever considered this advantage or thought long and hard about this advantage. FreeHardware does have hidden advantages that no one has considered, even if less free hardware is initially copied and produced than software. Just because software can be easily reproduced, does not mean this software can be easily kept safe from digital damage. Hardware in some cases doesn't have digital damage, and no one has considered this. FreeHardware has advantages and so does FreeSoftware, but focusing on the fact that you can copy FreeSoftware just masks the viability of FreeHardware.

Some hardware will be easy to reproduce, like small mouse and keyboard circuits which were possibly made from plastic, where plastic originated from oil, where oil originated from a free rig set up put together freely or by recycled (compromise) hardware. Some mice and keyboards may even start out as wild projects that are made from wood with only enough plastic scrap to get them going. But when looking at the advantages of wood, such as appearance, it seems FreeHardware is once again viable. Compromise, and then improve. Items like monitors and processors are best recycled or cheaply gotten until freer factories are available to produce monitors and processors at a rapid speed.

Factories can compromise and do not have to be solar powered idealistic situations in the beginning.

Compromise as your GnuLinux foe would. Once the kernel was made something went wild, and once a factory is made something will go wild. Exponential free hardware is to exponential free software.

Concrete steps to take. HOWTO Build Free Hardware: Introduction and Philosophy

In this section I'm going to describe steps to take in order to build free hardware. You never have to be completely free to create free hardware, because there is no such thing as perfect. But there is aim, goals, and general intent for long term freedom. You should aim to be GenerallyFree. Example: recycling, making compromises, using small amounts of proprietary hardware is ok, and you can reduce this as you succeed. Think of GnuLinux and you will see spot on what I mean. There is no law stating you must make everything from scratch completely free of any non-free attachment. There is no law that you cannot study other hardware and read about it. Otherwise GnuLinux wouldn't exist.

Out of his mind? You may think so while reading below. The area where I see easiest place to start with almost no effort, is dried apples or peaches (plants). This would be food that is easily replicate-able. Bear with me, as you probably feel ridiculous at this point. You wouldn't be laughing if you were in my area, and I invited you over for a garage get-together where everyone brought pounds fruit, though. Eventually that would lead to tables, to metal, to electronics. FreeHardware is in it's early stages. Everything that sounds ridiculous is ridiculous, but you just remember that so is and was GnuLinux.

'No one is going to create an operating system that is free in speech (and many times cost), when you could get paid for programming instead. No one, let's call it GnuLinux.

I'm going to be using some examples from GnuLinux software creation in order to help describe concrete free hardware steps. It's just easier to describe something by example,something that's already been done, than it is to write without example.

With GnuLinux, a programmer may have have started messing around with writing apparently useless or impossible programs for Dos that attempt to ditch dos entirely, and run on their own without dos. Since the programmer may have only owned a proprietary computer, he may write programs to try and ditch as many proprietary softwares as possible - whether seeming impossible or not. Due to recursion, life is possible, and so is programming, and so is FreeHardware and subdirectory searching. But you have to start somewhere, with a concrete step. Eventually build up and up to more freedom, whether it be software or hardware. Recursion is a very important point to think about. Once you build a circuit board printer, you can recursively build circuit board printers with circuit board printers. On the ridiculous side, once you grow a tree and it becomes carbon you can take seeds from the tree and grow more trees which produce more carbon. But you do not have to do all this from scratch. If people are recycling circuit printers this is an option to gain circuit board printers and study circuit board printers. If people have written books about circuit printers, purchasing the book is an option. We are not perfect and we must start somewhere. There is no such thing as perfect freedom - you were given a mind to draw the line and make decisions.

The easiest way to produce actual FreeHardware computer products and circuits is again most likely through obsolete hardware production machines given away or tossed in the garbage. Other sources are using internet and searching (and since the internet relies on proprietary software such as Google or IBM servers, you make compromises). Then from there, temporarily using one of these recycled machines and building your own is one example. The materials used to create the hardware are like the paper in a printer, or the CD rom's used to distribute software. You can make compromises, until better solutions are available. If you don't make compromises, GnuLinux would not be here, and neither would FreeHardware. . Circuits are more complex than tables or fruit, and it would be even wise to take interest in tables or fruit if you truly enjoy tables and fruit. Easiest place would be to start with something such as furniture or massive plant growth rather than computers - so if you are interested in this, do this. If you are interested in computers work up to it or decide what needs to be done.

Through a FreeHardware volunteer group who all have similar idea's, you will be able to meet up with people like yourself who wish to produce free hardware. Sharing ideas leads to faster FreeHardware. Sharing ideas can be done in person or through internet. The internet for FreeHardware will be similar to man pages and documentation, and wiki's, and GNU documentation, and HOWTO's. Communities online and offline can help create a relationship between several local or international thinkers.

If you are making compromises such as gathering and studying recyled hardware, not just starting from scratch (because sometimes starting from scratch would lead nowhere), you will eventually get passed the stage of recycling and you will have the abilities to create groups who are interested in going out and gathering hardware materials, either form your own or government property. This may cause some problems if you don't own the property, so compromises can be made.

And also not if the government already was using FreeSoftware and hardware and understood the situation (yes, some governments use GnuLinux today).

These later steps and issues will need to be dealt with when that stage occurs. (Focus now is on initial concrete steps)

Problems with a Linux Kernel existed too and we move on and make decisions for the long term. (Making a compromise is fine. You know this already. Example: purchasing land which is restrictive in some way, not necessarily by cost mainly, but by other means too, is not a sin if you have long term aims to eventually make or attempt to make something free. You are GenerallyFree and you are helping encourage FreeHardware.)

(EditHint Discussion was moved to here: FreeHardwareDiscussion. It was originally at the top of this page.)

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