Some day, free-design digital hardware may be the only platform that permits running a free system at all. Let us aim to have the necessary free digital designs before then, and hope that we have the means to fabricate them cheaply enough for all users.
If you design hardware, please make your designs free. If you use hardware, please join in urging and pressuring companies to make hardware designs free.
And from 1999…
Because copying hardware is so hard, the question of whether we’re allowed to do it is not vitally important. I see no social imperative for free hardware designs like the imperative for free software – Richard Stallman — On “Free Hardware”
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I remember asking about the contradictions many years ago. It became an issue with Linux and ram hosted binary “blobs” – microcode, and the insistence that it wasn’t free if it had a blob, even if it was pure microcode and couldn’t be compiled, or whatever.
At the time if a plug-in card contained a read-only (masked) ROM, it was considered ok, but if it had flash but the microcode for the flash wasn’t open, it was bad, or even worse if it was “ram” and had to be uploaded each time.
Yet even in his current rant, he misses FPGAs. You can implement “hardware” by downloading “software” to program the chip and it will run at full speed. You can download microprocessors. The ETTUS SDR is basically this. Even analog – ADCs and DACs attached or inside an FPGA.
Since I was and am both hardware and software, I chafed at the lack of freedom to study the design, improve it, etc.
You can emulate an ARM on x86 (QEMU – my Nokia N810 softwarewas mainly developed virtually) or vice versa – another gray area.