If You’re Going To Kill It, Open Source It!

If You’re Going To Kill It, Open Source It!


Another week, another company killing off a giant product after spending millions of dollars and years developing. Back in 2009 Cisco bought Pure Digital Technology’s Flip. Gadget fans and makers were puzzled by this; phones were just about good enough to start beating the Flip. Now, it’s heading for the landfill.

Some companies fail, some kill off product lines that are not profitable, but in the end, where does all the knowledge go? Nowhere, usually. In a world of disposable everything, is it time that we demand companies do what’s good for humankind in addition to the bottom line?

If companies are going to just kill something off, why not open source it? Some companies do just that, and others, like Nokia, will promise open source (Symbian, dead product) and then quickly reverse itself, locking it up. Pictured above, a Nokia coffin.

In this article I’m going to share my collection of products that no longer exist but should (or could) have been released as open source projects. Part of the goal is for you to post the ones you’d like to see “open sourced” as well. My list includes some familiar favorites, like the Sony humanoid robots, to some old timers like Ricochet wireless cards.

To kick it off, I’m going to start with things that beat humans. I’m not sure if there needs to be a new law of robotics for creators, but I’d like to see one that says, “If you, the creator, make something to beat or mimic humans, you need to show your work at some point.” Seems fair.

Sony AIBO & Sony QRIO

The first on my list are Sony’s robotic pets and humanoid efforts.

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AIBO (Artificial Intelligence roBOt, homonymous with “pal” or “partner” in Japanese) was one of several types of robotic pets designed and manufactured by Sony. There have been several different models since their introduction on May 11, 1999 although AIBO was discontinued in 2006. AIBO is able to walk, “see” its environment via camera and recognize spoken commands in Spanish and English. AIBO robotic pets are considered to be autonomous robots since they are able to learn and mature based on external stimuli from their owner, their environment and from other AIBOs. Artist Hajime Sorayama created the initial designs for the AIBO. The original designs are part of the permanent collections of MoMA and the Smithsonian Institution. The design won Sony and its designer Sorayama the highest design award that may be conferred by Japan. On January 26, 2006 Sony announced that it would discontinue AIBO and several other products as of March, 2006 in Sony’s effort to make the company more profitable.

Around 120,000 AIBOs were sold, and while Sony threatened some of the early AIBO modders, these robotic pets eventually became the symbol for many of what robotics could be. The AIBO was amazing; I had a couple of them, and their servos to their vision systems are what roboticists work on for years and rarely get right. It’s a hard problem, and Sony did good work. But now it’s gone.

Next up, the QRIO…

QRIO (“Quest for cuRIOsity”, originally named Sony Dream Robot or SDR) was to be a bipedal humanoid entertainment robot developed and marketed (but never sold) by Sony to follow up on the success of its AIBO toy. QRIO stood approximately 0.6 m (2 feet) tall and weighed 7.3 kg (16 pounds). QRIO’s slogan was “Makes life fun, makes you happy!”

On January 26, 2006, on the same day as it announced its discontinuation of AIBO and other products, Sony announced that it would stop development of QRIO. Before it was canceled, QRIO was reported to be going through numerous development, testing and scalability phases, with the intent of becoming commercially available within three or four years.

QRIO is capable of voice and face recognition, making it able to remember people as well as their likes and dislikes. A video on QRIO’s website shows it speaking with several children. QRIO can run at 23 cm/s, and is credited in Guinness World Records (2005 edition) as being the first bipedal robot capable of running (which it defines as moving while both legs are off the ground at the same time). The 4th generation QRIO’s internal battery lasts about 1 hour.

I was able to see these little bots in person while working with Sony in Japan (video above); they’re amazing — there’s nothing like them. If Sony wants to develop something that either mimics or competes with humans, at the minimum they should release the work if they kill it off. Think of the advances in robotics we’d have — from prosthetics to AI, both the QRIO and AIBO represent decades of research — open sourcing it, working with universities or plain giving it away is what feels “right.” At the time of this writing, Sony is responsible for the largest ID theft in history — over 75 million users compromised over the PlayStation Network — it will take a long time for Sony to rebuild the trust and loyalty of their customers. Some random acts of kindness would help; donating their robotics research is just one of the many things available.

IBM’s Deep Blue

OK, so it’s debatable if this is a “product,” but I think it counts. IBM made a chess computer to beat humans, but it’s still unclear to many if it actually worked. It didn’t “fail” or go out of business, but it beat humans, one of our best chess players, so I think it counts.


On May 11, 1997, the machine won a six-game match by two wins to one with three draws against world champion Garry Kasparov. Kasparov accused IBM of cheating and demanded a rematch, but IBM refused and dismantled Deep Blue.

IBM is really active in the open source community; perhaps we could collectively request access to the Deep Blue source to not only see how it beat our best human chess player at the time, but to run our own versions of Deep Blue (it could run on a modern computer for sure by now). It might also clear up a lot of questions on how exactly IBM beat Kasparov too. I’d like to see kids build Deep Blues with Legos. Deep Blue was more than 10 years ago, c’mon!

At a previous Maker Faire, a retired IBM engineer told me that Deep Blue was actually sold to Lenovo (China) and it’s in their executive lounge. I’m pretty sure he was just kidding, but really, who knows.

Next up are products over the last few years that either didn’t make it or were killed off.


Ricochet Wireless

Imagine being able to get online anywhere, at broadband speeds — well, we can all do that now, but in 1999 Ricochet Wireless was the way to go.

Ricochet was one of the pioneering wireless Internet services in the United States, before Wi-Fi, 3G, and other broadband technologies were available to the general public. It was offered by Metricom Incorporated, which shut down in 2001. Ricochet’s main draw, however, was that it was wireless; at the time, there were almost no other options for a wireless Internet connection. Cellular phones were not as prevalent as today, and wireless data services such as GPRS had not yet been deployed on US cellular networks. It was possible to use specially adapted dialup modems over cellular connections, but this was slow (typically topping out at 9.6 kbit/s), expensive (per-minute charges applied), and often flaky. In contrast, Ricochet was fast, flat-rate, and very reliable.

The company’s assets were sold off a few times, and it was turned on and off in early 2000s again, but eventually it just died off. While it’s not useful now, imagine if it was open sourced around 2001. Perhaps we’d all be using a slightly different standard, or ways to get online would be cheaper and faster, or maybe we all wouldn’t be stuck with crappy service from the 2-3 remaining big cell carriers. I loved paying $29 a month in 1999 for better access than I have now.

Potenco’s Pull-Cord Generator (PCG)

This one is a little tricky — they are/were a startup — I know some of the founders, but I’m pretty sure they’ve all moved on, and last I heard (a few years ago) the assets were being shopped around. I can’t think of a better thing to consider open sourcing.


PCG1: Personal Device Charger. Introducing the PCG1, a human-powered generator that creates and stores hours of charge for portable electronics. The PCG1 provides energy independence for people traveling, on the go, in the wild, or in an emergency. The PCG1 is sure to bring life to your tired electronics. 1 minute of pulling the PCG1 provides: 20 minutes of talk time on a mobile phone, 6 hrs of music on an MP3 player, 45 min of play on a Nintendo DS lite.

This is a complicated problem — it might be unsolvable until material sciences catch up, but at this point it’s been 5 years since Potenco was in just about every “green” gadget story, so maybe it’s time to release it to the open hardware community. Although I’ve played with the device and knew of the few folks involved, I didn’t get one (I really wanted one). I selfishly want one of these gadgets, so I put it on my list.


Remember when everyone had a Palm? Me too. Well those days are over — phones caught up and became the portable organizers and app runners. My favorite was the Palm V — low power, low cost — it’s a mini computer that is still used by makers for things like bike computers. Palm was bought by HP, so no more Palm for the most part.

Palm Vx

Palm handhelds are Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) which run the Palm OS. Palm devices have evolved from handhelds to smartphones which run Palm OS, WebOS, and Windows Mobile. This page describes the range of Palm devices, from the first generation of Palm machines known as the Pilot through to the latest models currently produced by Palm, Inc including their new Palm Pre line of consumer smartphones. The Palm Treo 700p is one of many smartphones produced that combines Palm PDA functions with a cell phone, allowing for built-in voice and data.

On 28 April 2010 it was announced that Hewlett-Packard would acquire Palm for around US$1.2bn. Although HP kept the Palm brand initially, all new PDA devices announced at press announcement on February 9, 2011, were branded as HP devices, not as Palm devices.

The old Palms (include the US Robotics, 3Com models) aren’t useful for anyone now as a commercial product, but their applications for embedded electronics, low-cost computers for developing nations are endless. If the Palm OS was open sourced, the OLPC could have had a running start, and perhaps the price point could have been under $100 from the start?

Microsoft’s SPOT Watches and Technology

Microsoft Spot Watch

The SPOT tech is almost the same as Palm in my mind — lots of smart work, but now it’s all gone. It was really interesting (at the time) to use FM signals to deliver “ambient” information. We’re starting to see some “smart watches” come out now from folks, like the inPulse. But imagine having access to millions spent in R&D now.

Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) was developed by Microsoft to personalize household electronics and other everyday devices, through “smart” software and hardware that would make their uses more versatile. The SPOT technology used MSN Direct network services, delivered across the United States and Canada based on FM radio broadcast signals in about 100 metropolitan areas. The service cost $59 a year. Smart wristwatches were the first SPOT-based application, introduced in 2004 from watchmakers Fossil, Inc. and Suunto, with later models from Tissot and Swatch. SPOT technologies also included coffeemakers by Melitta. It was also planned to use SPOT technology in alarm clocks and weather stations. In 2008, the SPOT technology was applied to traffic and map updates for GPS units for Garmin. While SPOT had a higher local bandwidth than either competing service (RDS or Sirius), it was too late to the market to establish itself.

SPOT watches were discontinued in 2008. The MSN Direct service will continue to support the already sold SPOT smart watches, and other devices, only until December 31, 2011, when transmissions will cease. MSN Direct announces that service will be discontinued on January 1, 2012 due to reduced demand, since the increase of availability of Wi-Fi, Cellular, FM RDS and other digital networks.

Technically, the SPOT lives on via the open source product the Netduino — so while the hardware is all shelved, the software still lives on in some small way.

CISCO Flip Camera

For a while everyone had Flip cameras, until phones got good enough it seems. There were lots of players in that space — even Apple added video recording to their iPod models — but eventually Cisco killed off their purchase, and layoffs are happening now. Some details from the WSJ:


Cisco two years ago made a big splash by buying the maker of the Flip, the perfect-for-the-YouTube-age video camera that was then a tech geek accessory of choice. Now, Cisco is killing off the Flip. Today, the company announced it will “exit aspects of its consumer businesses,” including shutting down Flip.

Just a week ago, Cisco CEO John Chambers issued a mea culpa admitting to problems with slow decision making and lack of “discipline” at the networking company. Chambers signaled that change was coming, and apparently Flip was steamrolled to make way for change.

In 2009, Cisco agreed to acquire Flip maker Pure Digital Technology in a stock deal valued at around $590 million at the time. The deal was one of Cisco’s biggest forays into the fickle, low margin world of consumer electronics. At the time (and since), analysts questioned whether Cisco was making a mistake by getting into the fiercely competitive business with established giants such as Sony.

What a waste! There was recent NYTimes article about folks making a “digital camera kit” to teach how they work and inspire young folks to get excited about engineering. Cisco could do this today. Upload the firmware to GitHub, the BOM to a wiki, the CAD to Thingiverse, and watch a million camera projects flourish. Pictured above: BigShot, the prototype of a kit for building a digital camera. It was created by Shree K. Nayar, a professor of computer science at Columbia University.


Since someone is going to mention this in the comments, I’d like to see an open source Apple QuickTake too.

The list goes on and on, and that’s where you come in. I’ve left a few obvious ones like the Apple Newton (I think Palm is closer for a candidate), but what are yours? Post up your choice of products that no longer are made, and most importantly, why they should be open sourced and who this could help the most!

191 thoughts on “If You’re Going To Kill It, Open Source It!

  1. George Hadley says:

    “Pictured above: BigShot, the prototype of a kit for building a digital camera. It was created by Shree K. Nayar, a professor of computer science at Columbia University.”

    Not seeing the prototype picture in the post, just the Flip.

    1. Anonymous says:

      hit refresh, should be there…

      1. George Hadley says:

        Cool, thanks :-)

  2. Jim Horn says:

    Casio used to make scientific calculator watches. I’m sure their current DataBank watches have sufficient computational horsepower to allow them to do that again – or any of a number of other functions. I’d really like to see Casio make a firmware-upgradable version of the DataBanks so it could be programmed to be a scientific calculator again (especially using RPN for us older HP diehards) as well as a huge range of other wrist apps.

    Yes, my Android phone is more powerful and flexible but it’s not water resistant or rugged enough for many uses. A watch can be and is.

    1. Anonymous says:

      good one!

    2. John says:

      Loved my Casio scientific calculator watch, was indecisive when they went on sale as closeout, didn’t buy one and then when mine died and Casio wouldn’t fix it any more, kicked myself for my indecision. It was always there and always right.

  3. Anonymous says:

    How about all the code from the old arcade games, so MAME users don’t have to feel like criminals? (Of course, there could still be copyright issues, e.g. can Nintendo release the code for Donkey Kong without losing their rights to Mario, which they still sell?)

    1. Anonymous says:

      they could also release certain levels or unreleased games.

    2. Elliott Carlson says:

      You can release the code while maintaining ownership of the sprites – much like when Canabalt open sourced their game engine with the caveat that the actual game and artwork was still theirs:


    3. Javin Paul says:

      This reminds me great days of Nintendo , remember the time when there Super Mario Bros got hit they make 3 times more money than whole Hollywood :) ?now where is Nintendo I don’t think they are anywhere to X box or Sony PlayStation .

      10 examples of find command in Unix

    4. Kaluce says:

      Actually, a significant amount of (now ancient) arcade games have been released as PD, which means that you can legally use them in projects. However, most of these games were released in the mid 70s, so it’s not like we’re playing pacman or space invaders or anything really cool but it’s a start.

      As for the copyright issues, I doubt any current AAA gaming company would risk releasing their IPs because they could still make some money on the virtual consoles on the PS3, 360, or the Wii. so you won’t see too much in the way of old Namco/Bandai, Nintendo, Capcom, etc releasing their stuff.

      The defunct companies could, but you have to track down the rights owners, who sold it to who, if they did, and etc. a lot of these people have fallen off the radar, or have been sold to companies who are also now defunct, so it’s a long and hard process. Ultimately worth it if you ask me, but that’s just the opinion of a retro gamer.

  4. Addidis says:

    I cant agree more on the palm V I think I still have one or two of them and they would make great IR controls for projects among other things.
    The flip is also a favorite from your list. I have one of those too.

    1. Anonymous says:

      yah – i think the palm v could have been the OLPC, or really close…

      1. Addidis says:

        Another point of interest for me , if I have it in my situation that means that basically any one /could/ have it if they wanted. It means the amount of good PR made from a move like this can , and most likely will reach a wider audience. (just throwing that out for the guy or girl , it will probably be a girl, at aforementioned companies who wants to try to sell the idea) Once one person makes a robot controller from a PALM V it will be a domino effect.

        I think Chris above makes a really great suggestion also of how to handle the legalities.

    2. Carl Draper says:

      I still use a Palm C everyday! I have a little collection of PDAs (several Palms, V, E, 2x Tungsten 2 and also a Dell Axim)

  5. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think that Palm owns the Palm OS (Garnet OS), Palm spun of the OS group to make PalmSource. PalmSource was later Bought out by ACCSESS.

    1. Anonymous says:

      i’m pretty sure ACCESS isn’t doing anything with the old palm OS either. i tried to find anything on their site, not easy… http://www.access-company.com/home.html

      1. Anonymous says:

        The last use of it was/is on some Nokia Tablets, but they replaced the OS with the “Access Linux Platform” which looks like it might be open source and has a Garnet OS Emulator.

  6. Rodolphe Courtier says:

    It’s a little silly, but Furbys!

    1. Anonymous says:

      furbys – excellent one. how about teddy ruxpin? other toys worth mentioning?

  7. anne speck says:

    Timex Ironman USB Datalink watch: http://www.amazon.com/Timex-Mens-T53722-Ironman-Watch/dp/B000B545AA

    Also — vacuum cleaner bags are seriously a racket. What happened to re-useable fabric bags?

    1. Anonymous says:

      good ones, i think watches – tech watches are all good. i had one of those timex watches as well as their “internet messenger” watch, which was a pager.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Deep Blue apparently lives on in two separate museums:


    I’ve also heard gossip in the past that part of it was used as part of an airline booking system. Go figure.

    1. Anonymous says:

      if deep blue is responsible for anything in the airline business, they clearly need to open source it so we can learn from all the mistakes :)

      1. Anonymous says:

        By ‘part of it’, I meant the hardware.

    2. njrabit says:

      Yep – a large part of Deep Blue at the Computer History Museum at least. Would be nice if IBM open-sourced the designs for these so-called ‘special purpose VLSI’ that apparently handled much of the brute-force computation.

      I have tons of amazing old hardware (including a Quicktake 150 like the one above) that I imagine prototypes, schematics, firmware source codes must exist on a decaying old backup tape somewhere. A few times I’ve tracked down original engineers of products on the net – for instance the designer of an industrial digital scale generously posted his schematics and firmware source online, one of the engineers of the Fostex 2000 audio system, and the designer of some Kodak “Digital Cinema” FPGA boards boards bought on eBay.

      A couple things I’d love to see open-sourced:

      MovieBeam – Defunct movie rental service that sent movies over the air to the unit’s built-in 160GB hard drive. Linksys-built machine with a sexy brushed-aluminum case. Already runs Linux so not too hard to hack (used a slightly tweaked ReiserFS), HDMI HDTV out, has an ethernet port that was never enabled (unit may be perfect for Netflix streaming), optical/coax audio out, USB… Could be used for a number of applications.

      Sony 400-disc Jukeboxes – I’ve picked up quite a few of these for cheap, just as disc enclosures. Spin up the number of disc that I need, door pops open and the disc pokes out. It would be nice to automate this in software but I suppose it’s possible using a Control-S interface. The firmware has no problem reading data DVDs so just being able to get this data to a PC anyhow would be awesome.

      Cheap PMP watch – These go for well under $100 under eBay with 4GB of Flash and full-color OLED screen. I’m aware programmable watches exist (Timex Datalink, TI Chromos, etc. Have a Fossil Abacus) but I’ve yet to see one with a decent amount of flash and 65k color screen.

      Discontinued MIDI gear (samplers, synths, mixing consoles) – Old digital mixing decks to act as remote control for software, old sampling keyboards internally “retrofitted” with PC boards softsynths and DAW features.

      Tons of 2 megapixel cameras that nobody wants anymore can make great high-quality motion-sensing security cameras with custom firmware.
      Just a few things..

  9. Chris Gammell says:

    I think the tough hurdle to get over is either the hubris or the lawyers of most of these companies. In the first case, they messed up development, lost a key member of the team or actually had some kind of product liability. I’m sure the thought of getting sued for a product that was shut down 5 years ago has some executives up at night shaking. So no go there. The other is the licensing. I think much like the people featured on the show “Hoarders”, the license and IP ‘experts’ (aka lawyers) have this horrible fear that somehow someday they might need whatever they’re giving away and open sourcing.

    Perhaps herein lies the solution as well. Release all of the products that are getting shut down under a new moniker so that the past crimes and support issues can’t be brought back against the company (eh, a good prosecutor could tie it back to them if it was really hurting someone anyway, right?). This would also remove the need for copyright issues because it would be something like “Shallow Purple”, the open source super computer formerly known as Deep Blue.

    All in all, I completely agree with the idea, Phil. I just hope some of the companies doing this recognize it could be really good for their brand and not just think of the bad things.

  10. Alex Papadimoulis says:

    There’s a good reason why companies don’t do this: it costs money, and sometimes a lot. Someone (who’s paid for their time) has to go through the code/specs/etc to make sure there’s no un-distributable components (3rd-party libraries, proprietary technologies, etc), then package it up, upload it to some website, write about it, and then take on the liability of having it out there (“my OpenAIBO killed a cat!”).

    1. Anonymous says:

      but they just shelve it and/or or worse, a lot of it is just destroyed. surely there could be a way to say “it’s public domain, not supported”…

      1. Anonymous says:

        If it contains copyrighted code from a third party, they can’t release it as public domain. I’m a software engineer, and for the last 30 years, every project I’ve worked on has used copyrighted third-party code. Most of that third-party code is still for sale today (after having been updated many times, of course).

        Plus, even if my old employers wanted to open up their code, they probably couldn’t find it anymore. The development systems, disks and tapes were discarded long ago.

        Then, there’s arcade games, which I mentioned before. If they have recordings by voice actors (e.g. the old Star Wars and Star Trek games) they probably couldn’t be released into the public domain. Atari sells game packs for PCs that simulate the old games, so they wouldn’t want to make their old games public domain. Nintendo uses the same characters as in their old games, and they wouldn’t want to endanger their ownership of their characters.

        It’s easy to criticize companies for not releasing their code. But there actually may be some very valid reasons for not doing it.

        1. Anonymous says:

          you said “been there done that” – what product or product did you try to open source?

          keep in mind, people could start working towards making sure their works can be open sourced. this is why many many people are involved with open source hardware. for example, let’s say make or adafruit or sparkfun or chumby go out of business – anyone could come along and continue their work on many of the products, it’s open source hardware.

          it’s easy to say something will not work, try to come up with ways *it could* work and what things *should* be open sourced that have been shelved.

          1. Anonymous says:

            None of the projects I’ve worked on has attempted to go open source – and the question never even came up with any of them. I’m just thinking back and realizing that it would’ve been really, really hard to accomplish.

            In my projects, the company developed the code and started selling the product. When the product reached the end of its lifecycle, the company shut down development, moved the engineers to other projects, and put the development systems in mothballs. But it continued to sell the systems for a few more years. It continued to use the basic algorithms even longer, in subsequent products. By the time the company no longer has a financial interest in the hardware or software, there’s no one around who knows how to resuscitate the development environment (or even find the pieces), there’s almost no one who remembers the details of the system and even if they do, they don’t want to pass up an exciting new project to go back and work on it.

            All these impediments are in addition to the third-party code issue I mentioned before.

            In short, when companies refuse to open source something, I don’t think they’re being malicious or callous or even negligent.

            I agree with you that it would be nice to have old stuff open-sourced. But I can understand why it’s not.

          2. Anonymous says:

            @rea5245 – which dead projects would you like see open sourced, and why?

          3. Anonymous says:

            The old HP calculators, especially the HP-15C and HP-16C. They have a great form factor, the 16C Programmer’s calculator had unique functionality, they were well-built.

            As an alternative to open sourcing, HP could make its current 12C hackable, release specs for the key caps (so you could make your own) and improve the LCD display (either to make it a common superset of everything the 12C, 15C, and 16C needs, or to make it a high-res pixel-oriented display. Since both those options cost HP money, I guess I’d settle for publishing the specs on the LCD so an enterprising fan can replace it).

            BTW, HP has made its 20B hackable.

  11. Jean Christophe Arrazau says:

    Wouldn’t it be possible to do the same as was done for Blender ? I mean, to organise a Lobby group, negociate a price with a coproration and raise funds to get the rights of this products released to the community ?
    It looks easy when you say it quickly i know, but that could be also an option don’t you think ?

    in the counter example Compaq open sourced a credit card sized PDA more than a decade ago.

    1. Anonymous says:

      i think will happen, now that it’s easier to organize people and easier to raise funds later (kickstarter) we might see more examples that go this way..

      1. Jean Christophe Arrazau says:

        What about starting now ?
        A n initiative like this could have an interesting impact on the industry, like for example, the creation of de facto norms, and the incentive to work with a community for some corporations.
        Also, I am sure that some people who were involved in the development of some of these products would love to still work on them and add more features to them.

        What do you think if we start to make a list of all the products we need/want ?
        See if there are open sourced versions of them and search for already existing alternatives, then work on completing the portfolio.

        1. Anonymous says:

          totally! the goal of this article is to start that list…

  12. Paul Fadell says:

    +1 for ricochet wireless (in a PocketPC no less) in the late 90’s. If only it could have evolved upward from then…

    1. Anonymous says:

      yah, i had one for a pocket pc too – remember the PCMCIA “sleeves” on the iPAQ? good times…

      1. Paul Fadell says:

        Oh yeah, tried to stuff any kind of laptop peripherals I could get in there, or micro hard drives!

  13. johngineer says:

    Any music synth or processor that hasn’t been made in a while. Yamaha DX-7, Fairlight CMI, Synclavier, E-Mu SP-1200, the list goes on and on.

    1. Anonymous says:

      how does it work now? are the old synth’s licensed out for virtual versions or are they all mostly just dead?

      1. johngineer says:

        Well, I think right now a lot of the older analog designs have been licensed out for so-called “modelling” synths and equipment. Thing about that is, it’s a weird legal area. I mean, technically they aren’t using the actual hardware design, they are using the _transfer function_ of that particular design. They’re basically licensing an equation. There are, of course, a whole lot of old synth designs which are available as models. But I’m sure that just as many are completely dead, and never to be heard from again.

        The thing about old synths is that most of the schemos are already out in the world, because they were made available to customers or servicepeople. Google “Moog ladder filter” and you’ll find 1000’s of examples of Moog schematic sheets, and even partial or complete BOMs. They have effectively become public domain, though they still may technically be copyrighted or patented.

        Music instrument manufacturers don’t seem to be nearly as sue-happy as their consumer electronics counterparts either, which may be why this info has proliferated so much. It would be nice to see them “go all the way” and just officially make at least some stuff open-source.

        1. Антон Т. says:

          Just try to recreate a “Polivox” synthesizer ^_^
          It is Great! For example, Rammstein use it, as well as many other famous musicians

          here are schematics – http://www.ruskeys.net/pasp/polivoks/pasp.php#ps
          If you want some translation, ask me ^_^

    2. Part Time Jobs says:

      Yes johngineer, I am completely agree with your point.

  14. numpty says:

    It’s a nice theory, but ‘just’ open sourcing a previously closed product is often a legal minefield that can take years to sort out — been there, done that.

    1. Anonymous says:

      really? you said “been there, done that” – what is the example? can you provide what went wrong, what others could consider, what would work out?

      that’s better than just discouraging words :)

      1. Anonymous says:

        The “intellectual property” issue is apparently quite real. Company X buys proprietary code from company Y, has a patent-portfolio cross-license deal with company Z, and a “proprietary membership” in industry group W, not to mention their own set of patents (some of which came from acquiring other-company V and THEIR cross-license agreements.) All that IP might have gone into a particular product. As long as X is solvent and the product is being sold, fees exchange hands (or whatever) and everyone is happy. Try to put the design and code for that product into open source, and you open up a can of worms that is probably big enough to keep an expensive team of lawyers employed for far too long. It’s a downside of “defensive patents” and such that isn’t seen as often as offensive use of patents (double-meaning intended.)

        1. Anonymous says:

          westfw – the easiest thing to do is to not add any value to this topic and just say isn’t not possible and come up with reasons. open source hardware is a good example of people preemptively dealing with this.

          assuming there was not a “whole bunch of different legal/business reasons” what products that are no longer around would you like to see open sourced and why?


          1. Anonymous says:

            I’d like to see a lot of the older camera and cell phone SW open-sourced, if only to the point of enabling things like CHDK, and the ability to repurpose old hardware instead of throwing it into a landfill. You said “preemptive”, which makes a lot of sense. Making a product open source after discontinuation probably requires a lot of forethought during the initial development cycle, and as a part of the business plan. It’s probably relatively expensive and difficult, and not very compatible with the “exciting” phases of most startups. I see SOME of the sort of care required happening as proprietary SW companies try to avoid viral OS license contamination in spite of needing OS technology in their products, but even that is somewhat rare.

            Various stuff HAS made it to OS. DEC’s tops20 software, including OS, compilers, and more, was all made available. Some people run it using a modern PC as the “microcode engine.” Not exactly a shining example of the success of the model. In fact… HAS there ever been a “successful” conversion of any product into an open source project? (for instance, there is OS software for old PCs that would enabled them to do a lot of useful things, but there doesn’t seem to be big reduction in the number of PCs that are just thrown away at EOL.) A lot of products fail because, well, because they’re failures. Open source seems to work best if a project starts small and attracts developers who become interested, rather than having a load of SW dumped in a “here, someone needs to support me” fashion. There is a lot of “dead” open source out there. If companies are to OS dead products, there need to be some examples of good things happening after it has been done…

            Perhaps we need a “clearing house” that is capable and trustworthy enough to dump a project on, and have it purified (all the “really proprietary” pieces removed), cleaned up, and evangelized so that it becomes a shining example of “open source as product placement” (“OpenFLIP is made possible by the generous donation of Cisco Systems.”) But I’m not sure how you’d fund such a company, and the level of expertise required would be pretty high…

            Ramble, ramble…

          2. Anonymous says:

            westfw- these are all excellent, thank you.

          3. Anonymous says:

            BTW, this sort of stuff gets batted around by the engineers essentially all the time, but I’ve yet to see a good explanation from management/legal as to exactly why it can’t be done. Instead the concept just drops into a black hole of inaction. And then it’s just … gone. Engineers and Management either unemployed or on new projects, and you can’t even find someone to talk to about the issue. (shucks, there’s lots of code in current products that is un-owned to the extent that you can’t find someone to give you permission to fix it, if you find a bug. Not without an important customer.)

          4. Doctor Odd says:

            @Phil, the easiest way to move forward on these ideas is to recognize the barriers to execution then brainstorm ways of overcoming them. IP concerns (both patents and trade secrets), liability exposure, and the potential to incubate a future competitor are real concerns for companies. In the face of these, most companies will elect to ‘do nothing’. Recognizing that, it seems like there would need to be ways to offset those concerns through tax incentives and/or a NFP foundation that buys or acquires the IP (and liability) outright. The NFP could act as an intermediary that disentangles the IP through under an NDA before publicly releasing the source code/design.
            “What if” is fun, but “What next” gets things done. Let’s start a NFP and start knocking on doors.

        2. Anonymous says:

          Patents == US only, then Open Source it elsewhere.

          1. Anonymous says:


      2. numpty says:

        Well, one typical issue we’ve encountered is that part of the closed source code is copyrighted to an entity that no longer exists, be that through acquisition, bankruptcy or (in the case of inidividuals) death. At that point, you either have to hand it over to your company lawyers and wait a couple of years for them to sort it out, or persuade management to let you spend time reverse engineering some or all of the parts of the now-dead product that you can’t toss over the wall as-is.

    2. Anonymous says:

      The epic example of this was the freeing of Berkeley Unix from AT&T – http://oreilly.com/catalog/opensources/book/kirkmck.html – which still didn’t stop SCO from spending years trying to prove that it owned all versions of Unix.

  15. Carl Draper says:

    I’m not sure the Apple Shit-take really qualifies, wasn’t it just an awful camera?

    1. Anonymous says:

      well, i thought it would be a good one since it’s a low end camera now – it could be kit-ized to learn from.

  16. Anonymous says:

    How about the BeBox and BeOS? The original Be hardware was originally intended to attract geeks and tinkerers with its “geek port”, MIDI ports, and sort-of-realtime OS. I think Palm ended up owning the OS.

    Re music synths: a lot of the code for the Buchla 700 digital synth has been made public at http://users.ece.gatech.edu/~lanterma/buchla700/. It’s 25 year old technology, but the possibilities for a modern open-source hardware equivalent that won’t have the 700’s display flakiness and thermal issues are terrific. You could use an Arduino Mega for the front end, a Beagleboard or Atom mini-ITX board for the general-purpose computer, and maybe the Freescale Symphony SoundBite for basic DSP and analog I/O. If anybody wants to go down that road, count me in on the software side…

    1. davehiggins says:

      I think the open source version of BeOS is Haiku.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Yeah, but that’s mostly reverse engineering from docs, header files, and open source code known to have been used by Be. They’re trying to maintain binary compatibility with code that died with Be, which is a good (bad) illustration of the problem PT’s writing about.

      2. Антон Т. says:

        it is NOT a version of original BeOS
        It is completely new recreation which is compatible with original

  17. Vijay Kannan says:

    I think it makes sense when you open source discontinued product some one will pick up and start to clean it up

  18. Dathu says:

    Yeah you are right instead of killing the product and technology it’s better option to open source so that some research will carry out may be they come with handy compare to previous one.It’s like giving opportunity for others to learn from their mistake.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I always wished the Indrema’s UI and SDK had been open sourced. I’ve never heard of anything being done with them over the years.

  20. migpics says:

    The Atari Jaguar. I’m not sure it’s considered open source already since I’ve been reading about people making games for it but I really liked it when it came out in 93.

    1. Mike Brent says:

      The Atari Jaguar is considered open. The commented BIOS source is available and even the private keys for encryption are known. The main problem is that none of it is well organized. Hasbro did release the rights, though, and with some searching you can find the letter that says so. Start here: “http://www.hillsoftware.com/?page_id=14” for docs and tools.

  21. Jan Tångring says:

    SPOT is actually still alive even at Microsoft. It is called .NET Micro Framework
    It is great technology and hopefully they will kill it and open source it – because it doesn’t seem to ever take off, although you see these guys exhibiting at conferences year after year.

    1. Anonymous says:

      i included them above… “Technically, the SPOT lives on via the open source product the Netduino — so while the hardware is all shelved, the software still lives on in some small way.”

      1. Stephen Woolhead says:

        It’s not just the Netduino, the SPOT technology became the .Net micro framework, most of the base libraries still have SPOT in their namespace. NET MF is completely open source under an Apache License 2.0 and actively accepts patches from outside MS, have a look here http://netmf.codeplex.com/

        There are plenty of vendors that build NETMF boards, the FEZ range from GHI (tinyclr.com) provide a good equivalent to the Netduino, but there are others larger and smaller.

        Given the point your making with this article, the SPOT watches are probably one of the better examples of how this can actually work.

        Also while the watches are defunct, the DirectBand network (MSNDirect) is still active until the end of 2011, at which point it is expected the technology and infrastructure will be sold to one of the current licenses such as Garmin. The current shipping platform for DirectBand is Windows Embedded CE.

        Most of the interesting details about DirectBand though are already know, such as the encryption and error correction schemes, but it would be interesting to see just the protocol documents made open source, if not the full silicon/firmware stack used to implement it.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Greed…. of the protectionist few….

    Shame really…. All the tech that imprisoned by “”protection”” laws.

    Music is the same….. It happens more often than you would think…
    Artist X gets paid an advance to make an album…. Makes it… never gets released…never sees the light of day.

    If the “”owners”” are not going to sell it… they should just release it to the public…
    Even use a license like the http://creativecommons.org/ one…
    Stipulate that any derivative works must state that….. “” made with an unofficial modified version of X “” for eg..


    They are just a bunch of greedy **** .

  23. Jelle Haandrikman says:

    I would like to have the old HP calculators open sourced.
    I have an aging HP 32SII which might fail in the next 15 years. At the moment there’s no equavalent available. Also classics like the HP-11C scientific and HP-12C business calculator would be awesome to have recreated. These models probably survive their owners.

    The biggest hurdle would be the fear of their current copyright owners of creating their own competition. If they release the older models as open source. The newly freed models immediately become their competitors, when the designs are produced by third parties.

    1. scruss says:

      The new(ish) HP35s is a worthy replacement if your 32sII dies, Jelle.

  24. Антон Т. says:

    I wonder, is it possible to re-make the Power Ball toy into some kind of emergency generator? ^_^
    It already has a flywheel, a motor… So, provide the thing with something like reel with cord, ratchet, and some charger with capacitor

  25. Akshay Bist says:

    I’d like to see old game titles being open-sourced

  26. Anonymous says:

    Beyond the patent argument (whether techs incorporated in these things are licensed patents that can’t be opensourced by their licensees or have patents that have been incorporated into currently-shipping products), I’d be interested to see a reasonable tax writeoff be associated with opensourcing, the way donations to charity are handled.

  27. Kisai says:

    The MT-32 and a 286 processor clone. I’m sure someone could make a “DosBox” on a chip then. All those old point and click adventure games could conceivably run on a NDS or 3DS.

  28. Toby Thain says:

    Discontinued products I’d like to see open sourced, so that the community can port and revive: Apple’s MPW development system (for 68k and PowerPC). Apple’s Classic runtime for OS X.

  29. Christopher Rose says:


  30. John Personna says:

    Great Idea, but as others have probably noted, it costs time and money to sanitize code for open source. There may be licensed proprietary packages. There may be exposure where some dumb intern sucked in GPL code.

    I’d suggest a milder alternative. Just free the dev tools as previously released, free as in bee.

    Having available dev kits for all the old Palms would be great (though Waba works somewhat). Then we can do Open Source with that closed kit.

  31. bart416 says:

    I’d like to see some of Agilent or Fluke’s old oscilloscopes and logic analyzers for sure.

    1. Anonymous says:

      good one!

  32. Jeremy Tose says:

    I haven’t thought about the issue of hardware becoming open source/public domain, mostly because I haven’t had the time/money to start tinkering, but I have been annoyed at games and movies being actively kept out of public domain by lobbyists.
    I would love to see a law stating that if something isn’t allowed to be bought for 2 years, it automatically becomes public domain. Up until the rise of the internet, this wouldn’t have been feasible due to production costs, but now a simple download center fixes this.
    My reservation for applying this to hardware is that there would likely be code and specific parts that they would want to re-use in other products, but I guess they could make those parts available for sale. They could also have kits for making the products they don’t want to sell anymore (with instructions for making the pieces they let slip into open source)
    if only companies could learn from the Kinect

  33. Joel McLaughlin says:

    The tech behind Deep Blue is still here in the IBM Power Series of servers….the very same tech (evolutionary levels above Deep Blue) was used in the Jeopardy computer, Watson.

  34. Michael Mosbey says:

    How about the Sony COM1 Mylo? It was a handheld MP3/media player running linux and featuring Google Talk, Skype, and Yahoo Chat.

  35. Антон Т. says:

    OH! I just remember one GREAT THING I want.
    I realy like this device! The best portable keyboard, great software, and the best of all – POWER from the couple of AA-batteries.
    Te problems of the device – pivots may break arart, and the screen cable has a tendensy to break :(

    Anyway, i want such a device! Zhe only “alternatives” are Pandora console and Ben Nano Note. But they has’nt AA-power

    1. Michael Mosbey says:

      Didn’t Psion evolve into Symbian? Symbian was briefly open, though I’m not sure I ever saw anyone do anything with that.

      1. Антон Т. says:

        Yes, EPOS OS was the core of the Symbian. A couple of years ago Symbian was “opened”, but when the Nokia make an agreement with Corporation Of Evil (TM) it was closed.

        Anyway, such kind of a computer (pocket computer with keyboard and powered from a couple of AA ^_^ ) is stil my Dream.

  36. dmparker says:

    I use to work for Metricom, the company that brought you Ricochet. I still have several of the modems around my house, and often wish I had one of the pole-top radios. They’re still in place, but unplugged, all over Houston (and I imagine in the other cities that where the network was lit.) Its sad to see them hanging there, unused.

    That was a great system that worked exactly as promised. The extent to which the network was complete was phenomenal, but the internal standard was not to consider a city “lit” until it had 85% or more coverage. Most of the major cities were 80-85% or so lit when things went south.

    I would love to see it open-sourced. It would be a great solution to create small zones of coverage around a village or town.

    1. Triad Wireless says:

      Metricom screwed this up by not setting up a proper licensing program. Whoever came up with the idea that a retailer had to turn on a modem and pay $60 per month to have it sit on the shelf until it was sold should never again be considered for a job in any marketing capacity. Even with this stupid policy, I still sold hundreds of them only to have them delayed again, due to marketing incompetence. I think these are the same people that took over marketing for SkyPilot and Vivato. Two more brilliant marketing jobs.

    2. Gordon Schumacher says:

      Seriously! Many years ago, I worked for Micro House – they compiled hardware documentation into a CD-ROM for hardware techs. I generally got the stuff nobody knew what to do with… and an electronic copy of the first-generation Ricochet modem landed on my desk. Cool stuff!

      The area I live in was covered by Ricochet, and there are still poletops all over the place here too – many still plugged in! I’d love to figure out a way to get them redistributed to someplace where they could do some good.

      At one point, I was unable to get Internet access at home (yes, that included dialup – the problem was getting the wire run!) so I used a pair of Ricochet modems to make a hop over to a friend’s house a few blocks away, and shared his Sprint Wireless (not cell, the little dish thing) connection. It was slow as hell, and tricky to connect because of the “poletop address poisoning” crap that Metricom did before they died… but it worked!

  37. Derrik Walker says:

    Apple should open the source for Hypercard. It would be awesome to have it modernized and ported to Linux, while retaining compatibility with the older Stacks, of course.

  38. Gordon says:

    Microsoft PictureIt! A great easy to use photo editing program that suffered from some performance and reliability issues… but I’m sure it could be made great with open source support.

  39. JamesW says:

    Let’s not forget OS/2 – although by now it would probably take some major re-writing to work with modern multi-core processors. But turn it loose and let’s see what happens!!

  40. Chris Brown says:

    I’d suggest the Linux-based SnapGear UTM firewall/router product line recently discontinued after being purchased by McAfee from Secure Computing. The released firewalls used the ARM processor family, however an i386 version was near completion when McAfee pulled the plug. The SnapGear product line provides features not found in competing products twice their price. The SnapGear developers were also the maintainers of the ucLinux distribution for MMU-less processors (http://www.uclinux.org/). Since McAfee has expressed zero interest in developing/selling a competing firewall in the size/class the SnapGear line filled, I don’t see any reason McAfee should object to the software, and hardware, being open sourced.

  41. John says:

    As a software developer, I recognize that issues such as licenses, third-party code and ongoing use of IP prevent the practical open sourcing of many products. That said… what about the related issue of open interface specifications?

    If a company makes a product X which has Windows or Mac OS drivers, would it be that hard to just release the interface specs when you discontinue it?

  42. Julian Cook says:

    The Scientology e-meter! Seriously, I’d LOVE to see a technical teardown/debunking of this thing.

    1. willbradley says:

      It’s nothing much. Already been done. Basically a multimeter, just check google. Scientology would never open source it though, they’re quite protective of their trade secrets.

    2. winsling says:

      OK, I have asked to take it apart, unsurprisingly they declined. But my guess is it is nothing more elaborate than a measure of you body’s resistivity. This would be similar to some forms of lie detection equipment. The theory being that if you lie you are nervous, if you are nervous you sweat, if you sweat conductivity goes up and leads to detectable surge in the current.
      On further interrogation it turns out that it mostly comes down to the person asking the questions and how they interpret the readings, scientologists tell me there are courses but did not disclose their method.
      I imagine thats where the debunking has to take place.

    3. Nick Mooney says:

      I have taken one apart before. It’s nothing more than a simple analog galvanometer which tests your body’s resistivity: a shitty lie-detector. The number of “thetans” climbs as the scientology questioning goes on due to subjects sweating and therefore increasing their conductance.

    4. Nick Mooney says:

      I have taken one apart before. It’s nothing more than a simple analog galvanometer which tests your body’s resistivity: a shitty lie-detector. The number of “thetans” climbs as the scientology questioning goes on due to subjects sweating and therefore increasing their conductance.

    5. Nick Mooney says:

      I have taken one apart before. It’s nothing more than a simple analog galvanometer which tests your body’s resistivity: a shitty lie-detector. The number of “thetans” climbs as the scientology questioning goes on due to subjects sweating and therefore increasing their conductance.

      1. Angus says:

        Hi Nick. So the subjects sweats and the needle goes thata way and then the subject un-sweats and the needle goes thisa way. Or does the needle always go one way?

  43. David Mackie says:

    Some of these companies style themselves as being corporately responsible – but they’re holding on to tiny revenue streams from old projects rather than opening up these projects to many potential consumers of intermediate technologies.

    I was wondering – perhaps we could get a journalist to ask CEOs whether they could open up old projects/products to become social enterprises (non-profit businesses) with the objective of creating social benefits? I think HP would probably be the most likely to be up for a project like this.

    Other big companies *have* released their IP as part of working towards being a responsible business – e.g. Procter and Gamble. See for example Grameen Danone’s attempt to improve health in Bangladesh through yoghurt! http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2010077,00.html

    The old palm operating system is a great example in this article. Lots of kids in the developing world would ideally need their own calculator – and you could imagine a “Calculator + reference” product being available for much much less than the $100 laptop. In a world where not every child will get the $100 laptop for many years, being able to get a much cheaper device out there would be brilliant for people’s education and resilience in the developing world.

    Less seriously, I would also suggest a “One Nintendo Per Child” project – a new version of the black and white gameboy preloaded with some of the best games, as well as educational material. It’s a shame that not every child is able to enjoy Mario and Tetris. And imagine the positive benefits for the Nintendo brand if it did something like that – people will remember the company reached out to them when they were in real need, and would reward them in the future.


    1. David Mackie says:

      BTW – The not so serious One Nintendo Per Child project could be partly funded through the sale of the product in the West – Buy one and a child in the developing world gets one for free…

  44. Jagan Mohan says:

    Windows 3.11!

    1. Anonymous says:

      windows for workgroups :)

    2. Антон Т. says:

      Look at ReactOS :)

  45. Anonymous says:

    The sad part is that the smartphone isn’t a real replacement for the palm or the flip. The real cost of most cellphones are a function of the long contracts involved. The real cost of a smartphone is on the order of 500–600 dollars. On the other hand a cheap palm or flip device only costs the up-front cost, and if the unit is lost destroyed or bricked there is no further expense.

  46. Anonymous says:

    oh, i should add “space shuttle” as of next week or so?

    1. Eleftherios Kosmas says:

      Of course you should. Same deal for the Buran spacecraft (11F35 K1) Soviets killed 1993 :(

    2. Jan Ott says:

      You can’t release anything about the space shuttle do to ITAR

    3. Jan Ott says:

      You can’t release anything about the space shuttle do to ITAR

  47. Stig says:

    I’ve got two, and both are PIM products. Ecco Pro, and Above and Beyond. Ecco was an outliner-based PIM that transcended hierarchies, allowing you to “pivot” your outline. I miss it daily. And Above and Beyond had a killer feature of dynamic workload balancing that rearranged your actions constantly to fit in your remaining time.

  48. Skot Croshere says:

    From my experience working at a computer company, most managers have a long list of things they need their employees to do. I’m not so sure that they are going to take people off (potentially) money making projects and have them work on open sourcing old projects. (although I agree it could create some very positive PR)

    I think what could work is for a trusted 3rd party to come in and take care of the whole process, for free. And of course remove the company from all liability. It would be similar to the companies that take all of the old ewaste and melt it, but they would take it an open source the designs first.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @skot – assume a company (like google) demands 10% of their time is spent giving back to the world via open source donations of past products, which dead products would you like to see open sourced?

      this isn’t “think of ways something will not work” – you got those covered, now add things you’d like to see open sourced, thanks.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Literally the best thing I’ve read in a long time. A great call to arms.

    Add to these all old games consoles. No one makes money from the NES or Mega Drive or Jaguar and so on, and a lot of effort goes into reverse engineering to make emulators. Why not make that easier?

  50. Joel Jones says:

    Claris Organizer/Palm Desktop! My favorite personal information manager. It has easy to use linking between notes, contacts, todos, and appointments. It has beautiful skinning/themes. It allows AppleScript actions to be attached to buttons in contact windows.

  51. Gerardo Czajkowski says:

    Microsoft Visual Foxpro! Still one of the best desktop RAD environments, forgotten by MS when they created .NET

  52. Dante Martin says:

    I’ve been thinking about this idea for a little while and actually got the domain name releasethedrivers.org. I would happily hand it over to anyone that was serious about pursuing this.

    I was thinking about all the PC hardware I have that I need to throw away because the companies that made it are no longer developing drivers for new Operating Systems. That’s when it hit me. There should be an advocacy group that pressures companies to release driver software to the open source community if they stop supporting a product. By having the Open Source community take over the development of hardware drivers for End-of-Life products the hardware no longer needs to end up in a landfill. The hardware continues to be relevant beyond its traditional life-cycle.

    I think there is also a story here for manufacturers about reducing support costs for legacy devices. It also limits exposure for WEEE compliance since its less likely to come back to them if it’s still useful. So it could be a win-win-win for the Environment, Customer, and Manufacturer.

    I agree some companies may view this from a negative angle and many have. That’s where the advocacy group would come in -to ask the question publicly. Ideally this would force the decision before them to be either keep supporting the device or set it free. Turning it into garbage should no longer be an unscrutinized option… As for the market for replacements, technology always moves forward. Those who keep the old stuff do so because they have to more than anything else. Most who can buy new still will. E.g. A tech company is not going to keep 10BT server NICs they are going to get gig or 10gig. So this would create a second life-cycle for that old hardware amongst non-traditional customers that aren’t buying the latest stuff anyway and 3rd world markets.

    1. Gordon Schumacher says:

      It’s a seriously good thought… but the problem is that it’s realistically the same point that the Linux/*BSD people have been pushing for other reasons. Getting the source code for the drivers – or at least the hardware specs! – is the end goal here, but you’d almost have to do it “up front”, not at end-of-life. Having worked for hardware manufacturers before, by the time hardware hits EOL, it’s all too common for nobody to even know where to *get* the source code, much less to do anything with it…

      1. Dante Martin says:

        You’re right but we get into a chicken and egg situation. Companies won’t use this thinking up front until it becomes the path that makes the most business sense. That won’t happen until these manufactures see good companies getting praised and not-so-good ones getting dents in their reputations for not doing the right thing. It would be great to have a group that would help create that environment.

  53. Gary Whitehead says:

    OpenVMS; not quite yet dead but a niche player, run over by unix and then linux. Always seemed to me that this would have breathed some life into the OS when owned by DEC, HP. An OS, that although I no longer use, still have some lingering good memories of.

  54. Derek Tombrello says:

    Another technology that should be opened up is the old Divx format – the Divx DVD rental technology, not the Divx Codex. If you don’t know what this is, DIvx was a DVD type disc that you bought for like $5. Then, when you wanted to watch the disc, you would pay a $1 or so “rental” fee that was processed through the Divx player before the disc would play. When the company went out of business (predictably at that) they took the secret of the Divx format with them. Not sure how many discs are still out there in the wild, since without the service, the discs are useless, but I myself still have a few and would love to be able to play them again.

    1. Anonymous says:

      i was also thinking HD-DVD

    1. Eleftherios Kosmas says:

      I loved OQO products a bit pricey but I really envied people that had one

  55. Anonymous says:

    BBC Model B micro. Beautiful BASIC interpreter and a well balanced hardware spec including analog and digital I/O. Every PC should have I/O like a BBC. Our children would learn so much from that.

  56. Jonathan Wilson says:

    Abandoned technology I would like to see open sourced:
    Nokia N900 Maemo software stack (Nokia abandoned this stack in favor of MeeGo and now looks to be abandoning MeeGo in favor of Windows Phone).
    I am sure N900 owners everywhere would LOVE to see more of the source code for this phone (myself included)

    Someone else suggested the Miracle Piano Teaching System and I would LOVE a similar system that connects to my existing MIDI keyboard and could help me become a better player (as well as help me learn all the songs I wish I could play but can’t)

    Also, I can think of many old PC games where it would be GREAT to have the source code (even if the game assets remain closed):
    Diablo 2
    Any of the old C&C titles (especially C&C Renegade)
    Rollercoaster Tycoon 1/2/3
    Sim City 2000/3000

    As others have suggested, opening the source code for the space shuttle would be GREAT

    LEGO Mindstorms would be great to see open sourced. Would fit with the LEGO ethos too.
    Release circuit diagrams and schematics for the controler brick, motors and sensors along with all the firmware source code for the thing and let hackers build around it

    1. Gordon Schumacher says:

      I can say with some amount of authority two things with respect to Maemo:
      1) Uhh… most of it *is* open-source, and you can get it right now at http://maemo.org
      2) Most of the parts that aren’t either are or use commercial components licensed from other companies.

  57. Anonymous says:

    I second the Palm OS request.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Really awesome collection.

  58. Loic Le Meur says:

    Philip, awesome comment. Me too.

  59. Brynjar Borgersen says:

    AmigaOS 1.3, 2.1 and 3.1 should be opensourced. THese are currently owned by either “Amiga, Inc” or “CommodoreUSA.” Also, Commodore VIC20, PET, &¤, and 128 should be OpenSourced, as well as other gamemachines like the Atari computers and consoles (Atari still has the rights to them, don’t they?)

    And lastly… MicroSoft should OpenSource DOS and the Win3.11/95/98/98SE/ME line, seeing as they killed these off ten years ago.

    There’s some perverts/geeks among us that would LOVE to have a tinker with some or all of these products for fun and entertainment

    1. Gordon Schumacher says:

      I was honestly stunned that it took this long for someone to mention the Amiga :)

      (I have no room to talk. I have a Toaster 4000 sitting ten feet away from me…)

      1. Антон Т. says:

        I waiting for NatAmi :) (natami.net – take a look. Now the Team testing and debugging pre-production board)
        BTH there is huge advance in developing of AROS for m68k
        And the OpenKickstart already finished.

  60. Gordon Schumacher says:

    Phillip, the biggest challenge I foresee is unquestionably Da Lawyers(tm). Reading Slashdot and Linux Journal it doesn’t seem like it should be anymore… but in reality, the tech company whose lawyers aren’t terrified of anything Open Source is still the rare exception.

    In my experience to date, it’s substantially due to lack of understanding and lack of clarity.

    I worked at Maxtor/Seagate for a number of years. At one point, I needed to submit some code back to an open-source project (https://groups.google.com/group/comp.os.msdos.djgpp/browse_thread/thread/d35114dcc51afb35/1945270a2e2bbe59?hl=tk%EF%BF%BDa2e2bbe59). Mind you, this has nothing to do with hard drives or storage; it’s a C run-time library improvement for the gettimeofday() function. Further, the code-contribution model that this project used was reassignment of copyright, not multiple-copyright-holder, so their liability was much more limited because of that.

    It took me six months and two or three meetings with Legal to get it approved. Most of those meetings were spent trying to explain things like no, this didn’t contain any company IP or source code; it’s not even dealing with a filesystem, much less a hard drive – it’s dealing with telling the date and time; no, there really wasn’t anything in it that could potentially be used as IP; no, releasing this back to the project did not mean that every hard drive shipped suddenly was GPL-tainted; no, there wasn’t any code in this which could potentially infringe on someone else’s IP.

    1. Ellie K says:

      Yes, the very same thoughts regarding intellectual property hurdles were running through my mind as I read this article! It shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem (even though it sounds like it often is, based on Gordon’s probably typical experiences).

      Often a company will develop a product that is a combination of technologies. Even if the end product is scrapped, it could have been partially dependent on tech that is “proprietary” to the company (or OEM’s) and that is a problem. There should be ways to overcome this. It would require some effort, yet not nearly as much as what went into the product’s development!

      Second thought regarding lawyers in particular: Some companies have (or had) full-time patent attorneys on-staff. I’m thinking of the big 4 semi-conductor corp’s of Silicon Valley in the early 1990’s. Even Signetics and National Semiconductor had in house counsel that had law degrees with EE, MechE or materials-science undergrad/grad background. Usually just one or two people, Intel had more. They focused on issues like this, the content of the intellectual property.

      I don’t know if it common to have in-house patent attorneys these days. But if so, they’d sure be a big help in smoothing the way for a project to go open source once it had been “killed”. It does seem an awful waste for the projects and proto-products that were not commercially viable to be effectively destroyed, including all the research and development that went into them, that could be modified or turned into something very different ultimately.

  61. Jacob McDonald says:

    A fantastic example of a company that actually did release a discontinued product’s “source” to the public is Sun Microsystems and their UltraSPARC T1 & T2 which now exist as OpenSPARC T1& T2, and are available for free, public download from opensparc.net (RTL, etc.). Some companies are awesome.

  62. alfaprima says:

    I want a space shuttle open sourced!
    Just imagine what we can do with it!

  63. Anonymous says:

    It would be nice, but you are asking companies to do something environmentally and socially sound at the expense of making you buy some new product from them or at least someone in their industry. You might as well ask fundamentalist bible bangers to to just gays be who they are without all the added religious drama.

  64. mb says:

    Personally I’d like to see the Palm OS opened, and the hardware updated. Use a Palm III/V as the base unit, but replace the grayscale LCD with an EInk screen like the Kindle’s. (The “color depth” is just as good, and the battery life would be outstanding.) The IrDA port could be supplemented/replaced by a Bluetooth connection. I’d also like to see user-replaceable batteries, either consumer level (like the Palm III) or LiIon (like the Palm V).

  65. Matthew Good says:

    As far as straight-up usefulness to the make community, I think the winner here is Palm devices. The critical mass combination of availability, cheapness, and power I think could be a huge win. Look at all the awesome Arduino projects out there… Think about what could be done with the power & touchscreen of an open palm device. If we could get that and nothing else, I think we’d be in good shape.
    Of course, being a watch geek, I’d love to see a reasonably-sleek watch I could program myself. I don’t even know what I’d do with it, not that it matters :)

  66. Matthew Good says:

    Just thought of something else. I’ve got a cheap Sharp weather station that I would love to be able to interface w/ a computer and expand. There are lots of weatherstation products currently in production and making people money, I’m sure there are several that went the way of the buffalo…

  67. Jean Christophe Arrazau says:

    What about the Volkswagen type 1 (also known as beetle) ?
    It would be great to see what people do with it if it was an open source project.

  68. Stephen Walli says:

    While it’s more content than HW/SW, it would be great if Microsoft released the Encarta dictionary under a CC license so the likes of Wikipedia might include relevant material. Not sure how messy it would be with all the photographs, audio, and video I remember from the last editions.

  69. Tor Arne Rysstad says:

    Some things I’d like to see open sourced:
    1. *Everything made by NASA (NASA, please!)*
    2. *Everything made by NASA (NASA, please!)*
    3. *Everything made by NASA (NASA, please!)*
    4. *Everything made by NASA (NASA, please!)*
    5. *Everything made by NASA (NASA, please!)*

    Oh, the list goes on and on.. :-)

  70. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting post! thanks for sharing this information! Further, most of the schemos for old synthesizers http://www.batterylaptoppower.com/compaq/nc6400.htm are already out in the wild, because the print versions were made available to customers or servicepeople who have shared http://www.batterylaptoppower.com/dell/inspiron-6400.htm them. Google “Moog ladder filter” and you’ll find 1000’s of examples of Moog schematic sheets, and even partial or complete BOMs.

  71. Anonymous says:

    Just posted on the twitter machine that technologies that are needlessly orphaned should get open sourced: smart shareholders would want to see that stuff out there so they can sell against it instead of hearing “the older version was better” and as with your examples here, look what might have been done with these. And the Newton: imagine those ideas, like the intelligent assistant capability, in a networked age with today’s horsepower. I never understood the appeal of Palm, other than it’s simplicity, and paper trumps that ;-) 

  72. Anonymous says:

    Just posted on the twitter machine that technologies that are needlessly orphaned should get open sourced: smart shareholders would want to see that stuff out there so they can sell against it instead of hearing “the older version was better” and as with your examples here, look what might have been done with these. And the Newton: imagine those ideas, like the intelligent assistant capability, in a networked age with today’s horsepower. I never understood the appeal of Palm, other than it’s simplicity, and paper trumps that ;-) 

  73. Brynjar Borgersen says:

    Windows 3.x, Windows 95, 98, 98SE, ME. NT3.x, 4, 2000.

    But I guess MicroSoft would HATE for anyone to see how messy their sourcecodes are. :/

  74. David Mackie says:

    I guess we should add the HP touchpad and it’s operating system now…

  75. Jagermo says:

    You can add WebOS to this brilliant article. So sad. 

  76. Jagermo says:

    You can add WebOS to this brilliant article. So sad. 

  77. Anonymous says:

    Great list of open source.
    How to implement toString method in Java

  78. MAKE | MIT brings Google App Inventor Back As Open-Source Project says:

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  80. pete says:

    Can somebody clarify the PCG1’s problem? the article only states “This is a complicated problem — it might be unsolvable until material sciences catch up,”….but no mention of what the problem with materials actually was. was it a materials issue?

  81. Daniel says:

    I know this is an older article, but I have one idea I’d like to see possible: open-sourcing 35MM motion picture film cameras. I mean, I know that everything is digital now, but I think it could be helpful in forwarding film and digital motion picture cameras, hopefully one day, someone who is familiar with it can somehow figure out how to bridge the gap between the two (since motion picture film camera companies have been trying to get digital to look more and more like film, often coming a little short in some places). This is just an idea, of course.

  82. Daniel says:

    Another thing: Sega gaming hardware. Open Source everything from the Genesis, to the SegaCD, the 32X, the Saturn and the portable gaming systems. I honestly think it’d be awesome to construct my own gaming cartridges and create new games for my 16-bit Sega Genesis. No school like old school. :D

  83. mark says:

    not sure about the practicality of this, but how about a wikileaks-like website/forum for former engineers/programmers of such products to post code/specs etc anonymously?

  84. MAKE | Is WakeMate Going Open Source? says:

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  85. NewTranceMusic.com.au says:

    Interesting idea definitely..

  86. Java Experience says:

    Well, recently I asked a guy that if you want to make your innovative tool large then donate to Apache and provide support for it from there and he really liked the idea. Tomcat, ANT, Struts, Play, Log4j al got popularity as they are associated with an organization known to manage open source the best way. There are enromous tools which have been donated to open source companies to manage it.Anybody mentioned Open Office?

  87. java67 says:

    Completely disagree with it. Look at all popular frameworks e.g. Spring, Struts they all are open source. Even Java which is by far most popular programming langue is open source.

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  93. VB6 Programming says:

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    1. Lewis Cowles says:

      I’m pretty sure they wont because VBA is basically VB6 with reduced API-access

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    I saw it introduced on national TV in the late 70’s.

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