CERN Launching Open Source Hardware Initiative

If you’re reading this, you probably know all about open source software. But open source hardware is much more difficult to come by. CERN, the European particle physics lab, is trying to change that, Ars Technica reports.

CERN's Large Hadron Collider

While CERN is currently best known for the Large Hadron Collider, which some people think is destined to cause the end of the world very soon, they’re the reason that you’re reading this Web page right now. Tim Berners-Lee invented the concept of The World Wide Web and wrote the first Web browser and Web server software while working there. And rather than have one company hoard the design, Berners-Lee opened up the HTML and HTTP specifications to everyone. The explosive growth of the Web in the 1990s and beyond is no doubt due to the fact that anyone could build on it and not need permission from anyone.

CERN is launching the Open Hardware Repository to bring the energy around open source software, including Linux, to the filed of hardware. One of the projects that’s already underway under the new repository is White Rabbit, a synchronization device that’s built to handle the precise demands of the Large Hadron Collider.

Open source, whether in hardware or software, seems to fit the needs of the research community because it matches their values of openness and willingness to share information. Because they want to advance knowledge rather than make money, they don’t have to hoard their inventions using patents and copyrights the way Microsoft, Apple, and other companies do. The power of open source collaboration shows in the way that Linux servers have proliferated on the Web and Android phones, also based on Linux, are dominating the market.

It’s more difficult to reproduce hardware rather than software, but maybe in the future we’ll have super-cheap, open commodity handheld devices running Android or some other open source software on top.

For more on open source software, check out our posts on Compiling Open Source Software and Little-known Open Source Operating Systems. If you’re in the mood for some fun, check out our post on Open Source Games.