VIA's Open Source Notebook

by Ostatic Staff - May. 27, 2008

If you've been scanning the news today, you might be under the impression that VIA Technologies had released an open-source notebook design. The OpenNote mini-note reference design has gotten a a sudden burst of press attention, but most of the stories don't seem to understand what's really open about this design. It's worth a look, as it shows the extent to which "open" is becoming a marketing term.

Here's the idea: VIA makes custom silicon, as they have for years. But, like most chip manufacturers, they make available "reference designs" showing how to assemble their bits into a full computer (or, in this case, ultraportable computer). If you take a look at the new VIA OpenBook site, what you'll find is that the open part is the CAD files for the plastic case around the machine. Anyone who wants to get together with VIA to make an ultraportable can register, download those designs, and modify them under a Creative Commons license.

While this is certainly more flexibility than many reference designs offer, it's not open in the same sense as the OpenMoko phone or the Open Graphics Project, both of which we've covered here in the past. Unlike those projects, which aim to publish the full details of an entire hardware and software stack, the OpenNote simply makes one piece open while holding the rest under wraps. VIA is not, for example, offering to share their microcode.

On the one hand, it's nice to see that "open" has become such a powerful term that everyone wants to find some way to share in the open glory. On the other, though, all the variations on openness, from open CAD files to open standards, mean that you need to pay more attention than ever if your goal is to focus in on truly open-source projects.