Free Software Foundation Certifies Hardware That Respects Your Freedom

The Free Sofware Foundation, the very same organization responsible for the GNU General Public License and open source advocacy on the part of the Free Software stalwart [Richard Stallman], has certified its first piece of hardware as Respecting Your Freedom.

This new certification goes far beyond the goals of Open Source Hardware. In addition to providing documentation, schematics, and design files, hardware certified as Respecting Your Freedom must meet much more stringent requirements.

Of course, all software used with RYF hardware must be Free Software, but the certification also carries with it a few more requirements. The source and CAD files must be provided, it must use formats unencumbered by closed licenses, and the hardware must not spy on the user.

The honor of the first RYF-certified piece of hardware goes to, of course, a 3D printer. It’s the AO-100 printer developed and sold by Aleph Objects, Inc., a.k.a. Lulzbot out of Colorado.

With so many Open Source Hardware projects coming down the pipe, it’s great to see a somewhat more militant organization (that’s a good thing!) such as the Free Software Foundation provide a certification process for hardware projects. Keep in mind this isn’t a ‘certified once and forget about it’ proposition; the FSF is willing to provide a bounty to encourage the public to report violations of RYF certification. Anything to keep them honest, right?

32 thoughts on “Free Software Foundation Certifies Hardware That Respects Your Freedom

  1. “The source and CAD files must be provided, it must use formats unencumbered by closed licenses”

    So I’m supposed to port designs to a free CAD package? That can’t be for real.

      1. what’s free?
        what’s CAD?

        is 2D DFX files enough?
        even for 3d objects?
        are STLs enough, or does it have to be “editable” design drawings?

        What about scans of hand drawn orthographic drafts?

        is that enough?
        If I give you a orthographic draft of a part, you should be able to make it, will that be “open enough” for most people? I doubt it.

  2. This is a good thing, and a bad thing. It will make open what exactly you get when you go for an open-source project. But it is also extremely onerous for one off devs. This could lead to a 2 tiered structure of “profit making aka funded” versus one off hack projects. If I developed a thingumie, I would think twice about applying for this licence unless I was going to make money to cover the time used getting and _retaining_ the licence.

    1. Yes, if you don’t want to make open hardware you won’t get a certificate.
      Next you’ll report that only non-profit orgs get listed as non-profit and profit-making endeavors don’t..

  3. How about respecting the freedom of a developer to use the tools of his choice?

    If you happen to use Eagle then no big deal, tough luck if you use Altium.

    I can supply Gerbers and PDFs of the schematics, if you really need to muck around with the design then feel free to copy it verbatim into the CAD package of your choice, but on your time, I’m not going to do it for you.

    Sorry, either I’ve missed something or this is a crock.

    @Rob, “you/your” is generic, I’m not referring to you :)

      1. They state on their page that “Some of the electronics design documents in these sub-directories use the EAGLE XML schema used by the proprietary software, Eagle. We are providing these files so that people can help us convert them to formats that are supported by free software, such as gEDA and KiCAD. Your help in this matter would be greatly appreciated.”

        However, as of today, I believe that the last of these files has been converted into a format that can be opened and edited in kicad.

  4. Why does one need the certification?

    How about I continue doing my thing and use the engineering software and compilers I paid for and just give away source files as usual. If you have the software I have, great, if you don’t, don’t force me to convert it all because I wanted to share it.

    I have one of the first complete open source drivers for the ea-dogm LCD , and I gave it away so everyone could use his low cost LCD, I even help companies incorporate it into their projects. But don’t force me to port it to another compiler because you don’t want to buy what I bought, go port it yourself!

    1. What you said is correct, but it misses the point. I think the idea of certification of openness is like how electronics get approved by the FCC to certify that they won’t electrocute people or jam airplane navigation. Real freedom requires openness and transparency, and certification helps maintain that transparency using the same sort “social contract” thinking that makes up the framework of western-style government.

      The beauty of it is that it’s totally optional. You can use any kind of whacky license you want and any tools you want, you just can’t then pretend to be certified.

  5. From the webpage:

    However, there is an exception for secondary embedded processors. The exception applies to software delivered inside auxiliary and low-level processors and FPGAs, within which software installation is not intended after the user obtains the product. This can include, for instance, microcode inside a processor, firmware built into an I/O device, or the gate pattern of an FPGA. The software in such secondary processors does not count as product software.

    We want users to be able to upgrade and control the software at as many levels as possible. If and when free software becomes available for use on a certain secondary processor, we will expect certified products to adopt it within a reasonable period of time. This can be done in the next model of the product, if there is a new model within a reasonable period of time. If this is not done, we will eventually withdraw the certification.

    So what exactly does it mean when “free software becomes available” for these processors and I/O devices? Is it when the manufacturer releases one or when some group or person writes a free version? Does alpha or beta code count? What if someone releases some free firmware for a low level chip but the creator of the free hardware doesn’t have time to test it out? What if there are four forked versions? Does the hardware creator have to look at all of them to rule them out? Can the hardware creator refuse to include the free firmware because it’s too buggy or doesn’t provide required performance? What if getting the firmware on the chip requires some gymnastics? If the hardware creator switches hardware on the next model solely to avoid this requirement, do they lose the certification?

    This opens up a lot of problems, IMHO. Instead of choosing which hardware (and firmware) to include based on technical merits, hardware creators will have to spend their time evaluating and testing free versions to make sure they work well enough for inclusion/replacement in the project (once it’s released) OR risk losing certification.

    And, really, what does this certification get you? “Well, you’ll lose it if you do something non-free!” Like losing the open source designation stopped MakerBot from putting out its latest printer……..

  6. this isn’t onerous simply because it is optional. designers can still do what they want to do if that includes this certification great if not fine. there is some measure of extra good will that follows a FSF cert but no one will hate you if it’s missing.

  7. I really think that the title “respects your freedom” is misleading and gives a sense of entitlement. If a company shares it’s source with the public thats fantastic, and should be rewarded, but we are not entitled to it. I think that this certification suggests that products that don’t qualify in some way disrespect our freedoms, and that is just not true.

  8. I am all for it if it provides some kind of recompense against the Open Source community that lacks in customer service. Otherwise, file it with the JD Powers report and the BBB as non-effective bureaucracy. I’ll bet BoingBoing is already printing up bumper stickers because that is all they do.

    /Thanks for taking my money and then burning me several times Open Source “community”. No more brotherly love in my wallet.

  9. I’m trying to understand which part of the requirements actually requires open CAD formats for a hardware product. I don’t see that in what they wrote.

    Could someone point it out for me?

  10. Hi Brian,

    Thank you for covering this story. However, it appears that we were not clear enough in our press release or our requirements page.

    Our certification is about free software, not about free hardware. (We do not require that certified products provide hardware designs). That’s an issue we should think about in the future, but it’s not relevant to most of the hardware (such as PC-like computers, phones, etc) that we hope to certify.

    The purpose of the certification mark is to let users know that the hardware product ships with all free software, that the user can modify and update the software on the device, that the product won’t implement DRM, and that it won’t collect and transmit data without the user knowing about and being in control of such activities.

    If a company is willing to sell a computer (or some other computer hardware product or component) that comes with these sorts of guarantees, then hopefully our certification program will help connect them with customers who value this sort of thing.

    Thanks again for covering this story and thanks also to everyone who is providing great feedback and advice on this discussion thread :-)

    Joshua Gay
    Licensing & Compliance Manager
    Free Software Foundation

  11. I wonder if the 3G cellular module in the GTA04 phone would count as a “secondary processor” for the purposes of this certification.
    Other than that, I dont see any real reason the GTA04 couldn’t potentially achieve this certification. All the software is free (AFAIK), there are no restrictions on user modification, compilation is done through GCC. Any spying the device does would only be done by the UMTS module and only as required by the cellular protocols. There are no other similar products from the same mob so confusion is not an issue and as for formats I dont know which formats the various GTA04 software distributions can play but I bet they are all using standard Linux media libraries to do it (all of which handle open formats alongside the closed formats)

  12. This is nothing to do with the certification, which I’m a fan of, but that certification mark is terrible. You can see that it was laid out by hand – as the letters go around the top semicircle the amount of slant varies quite a bit, and they slowly drift further and further away from the outer edge. The letters are also not reshaped to fit into the circular text path but just rotated individually. The font choice for the URL at the bottom is also kinda ugly. Sorry! It’s probably just the OCD kicking in… Sorry.

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