Perhaps It’s Time To Talk About All Those Fakes And Clones

A while back, I bought a cheap spectrum analyser via AliExpress. I come from the age when a spectrum analyser was an extremely expensive item with a built-in CRT display, so there’s still a minor thrill to buying one for a few tens of dollars even if it’s obvious to all and sundry that the march of technology has brought within reach the previously unattainable. My AliExpress spectrum analyser is a clone of a design that first appeared in a German amateur radio magazine, and in my review at the time I found it to be worth the small outlay but a bit deaf and wide compared to its more expensive brethren.

When A Bargain Relies On Somebody Else

The PCB of a Chinese spectrum analyser.
My cheap spectrum analyser in all its glory.

As part of my investigation I addressed the question of software, and found that the NWT4 package it relied on was the work of one man, [Andreas Lindenau, DL4JAL]. He made it available for free-as-in-beer on his website, which was fine when servicing German radio amateurs, but became a severe problem when he was expected to provide free personal tech support for thousands of buyers of a commercially mass-produced cheap instrument from China. I can’t blame him for taking it down under those circumstances, and neither should you.

This was a pattern I found repeated more recently, when my periodic scan for new cheap stuff turned up an SDR board. It’s a USB peripheral with a range from 0 to 1000 MHz, and when it arrived it became obvious that it was a clone of a commercially produced SDR.

The Clone Wars

The SDRplay RSP1 is a high-quality receiver that in its latest revised version costs around $100. The cheap clone I bought has inexpensive filter components, and has a line of input sockets because it lacks the RF input switch chip for different bands. It bears no branding, but a further search will find examples with RSP1 branding that definitely cross the line from “clone” to “fake”.

A black box SDR with a set of gold RF sockets on its end.
This is not an SDRplay RSP1.

As you may have already guessed, the easiest way to get my SDR working would be to use SDRplay’s software and drivers for the RSP1. They’re easy enough to get hold of because they’re available for RSP1 owners, but they are unambiguously not free and are certainly not licensed for use with anything but a genuine SDRplay board.

It’s the same story as with [DL4JAL]’s spectrum analyser software; a commercially mass-produced clone board relies on software support from the originator who gets a something of a headache and who loses sales of the project they put all the hard work into developing. Other examples such as the Saleae logic analyser clones to make it a subject that bears further investigation, so I reached out to both SDRPlay and to [DL4JAL] for their experiences. Of the two, SDRplay responded, and I had a conversation with [Jon Hudson], their marketing director.

On one hand, it’s understandable that SDRplay do not want to give publicity to the fakes and clones, which it’s evident have become something of a bugbear to them. The direct fakes are a clear breach of their trademarks, while the clones undermine the significant research and development investment that went into bringing the genuine products to market. Use of the software drivers with a clone or fake is a clear breach of the licence. I asked whether they would consider selling the driver as a product in its own right, and understandably the response was that they don’t want to endorse the closes and fakes in that way, neither do they wish to be embroiled in support for inferior hardware not of their own manufacture.

Enjoy Your Cheap Stuff, Responsibly

A NanoVNA characterising a whip antenna.
The NanoVNA isn’t a clone, it’s based on an open source project.

We all like cheap instruments, whether they are a logic analyser, an SDR, a spectrum analyser, or whatever. Sometimes the cheap products are based upon open source projects, such as the NanoVNA vector network analyser we looked at a while back, but it’s important to be aware that just as often they are clones of commercial products that have had a huge research and development applied to create them.

There may be some open-source enthusiasts who would respond that all such things should be open source hardware anyway, and that the devices have been somehow “set free” by the cloners. And we’d agree to the extent that Hackaday’s whole existence depends on open hardware and it would be a Utopian environment in which we could find any device of our choosing on GitHub and spin up our own version for a modest outlay.

But despite the many wonderful open source hardware projects out there, it’s imperative that promising commercial ones are not throttled, because without them we simply wouldn’t have so many of the devices we depend on. Ultimately, the choice is up to the producer of the device, right? And a cynic might ask why someone demanding a small producer open-source their device is not also pursuing a larger player for the same. Call me back when you’re standing outside Agilent Technologies with a placard demanding they open-source their ‘scopes!

Since we all like to see new products coming to market, it behooves us as the customers to question the origin of cheap new devices, and consider buying the real thing instead if they are clones or fakes. Judging by my clone SDR which is plagued with spurious peaks, I’d suggest that the real thing will be a far better product anyway.

(And just in case you’re wondering, the clones also work, legally, with the open-source LibMiriSDR software, which is what I used to test it out.)

Banner photo: “Genuine fake watches” by Erik Cleves Kristensen, CC BY 2.0.

84 thoughts on “Perhaps It’s Time To Talk About All Those Fakes And Clones

    1. It’s worth noting that the original Saleae hardware was essentially a 100% copy of the Cypress FX2 development board. This is the reason they were so easily cloned, Saleae did essentially no hardware development on the first models they released.

    1. That really depends on who one outsources the work to.

      A lot of contract manufacturers are taking their job seriously and won’t indulge in such activities. Since it would taint the very brand itself. Not to mention contracts and NDA’s making things a bit more secure on paper.

      But yes, some contract manufacturers do not care about you as a costumer, and will happily clone your product and sell it to someone else for a nominal fee.

        1. I generally follow the rule of not sending out anything proprietary (unless it truly is required.) until the third party has shown sufficient competence and professionalism.

          It is generally wise to focus on the few manufacturing criteria that are of importance. Provide a bit of a puzzle to test the manufacturer’s ability. Or look at examples of what they have done before. (Examples are however not always available however due to NDAs with other companies.)

          Now, sometimes this isn’t always an option. But then one should preferably stick to more well established entities, and not go to everyone and their dog.

          Likewise can one look into one’s already existing suppliers to look for extra capacity there. Perhaps shift something of less importance to a less trusted third party as to clear up capacity where it is trusted.

          Over time, one will build up a relationship with a new subcontractor/supplier and know if they rip you off or not. Start with stuff one don’t care about loosing. And end the relationship if it proves to be bad.

          But providing proprietary design documents to a random supplier one hasn’t worked with before is a fair bit inept. (unless the thing in question isn’t of major importance.)

    1. All they did was kill their market. The boards I’m most interested in, typically from Sipeed, just use MCUs with USB interfaces as their serial adapter now (BL602/702 in Sipeed’s case).

  1. The real point of clones isn’t to “liberate” the hardware, but to provide a second source and stop a company from monopolizing a product. Like, anyone can make a PC – it just has to have certain things in it to run any of the popular operating systems. Apple on the other hand wants that only mac owners can run their operating system, in order to make more money out of both hardware and software, which makes macs a bad choice for consumers. You should not consider buying the “real thing” just because it’s the original. Buy it because it’s better, because you get support, guaranteed compatibility… because it has some tangible point other than brand loyalty.

    This is pure capitalism at work: competitors bring the price of products closer in line to what it costs to make them, rather than towards the maximum price you can extort out of people. IP laws, patents, are simply an artificial barrier to competition to ALLOW companies to extract profit – a limited “reward” for coming up with something new. This is what people forget: nobody is actually entitled to profit, since the excess you take is exploiting other people’s work to take more than what you return to the economy, therefore harming the economy and the people.

    Where clones turn to fakes though is when inferior parts and designs are used to profit from the user’s ignorance, by pretending to be something else. That something else may also be another clone, but you don’t know that they cut some corners to make it worse than other clones.

    1. >competitors bring the price of products closer in line to what it costs to make them

      Perhaps, if you take away all quality control, care for worker safety and ignore development costs, at least in the case of most clones and fakes at least one, often all, of those negatives is true…

      Doesn’t excuse prices being ramped up to an excessive degree in the absence of competition. But competition should actually be genuine competition, creating their own spin on it and so creating a really good unique product (or paying some share of the development costs through tech transfer fees)…

      > nobody is actually entitled to profit,

      So are your working hours and all the product you created not worth being paid for? Do you expect to eat without pay (assuming you are not actually a farmer/smallholder that may eat their own produce)?

      Everyone expects to get something for their investment in time and money, and if they are actually producing good work, providing the customer service etc they really are entitled to it. IFF they choose to put out the honesty box and take whatever donations folks and companies using their work freely choose to put in that is great, I like that model. But you don’t get to steal from somebody and argue you didn’t as they were not entitled to what they created… That just leads to a world where nobody bothers to create or fix anything, as they will starve/freeze etc.

      1. >if you take away all quality control, care for worker safety and ignore development costs

        Why would you take that away? That’s part of what you are selling – why people should choose your product over others. The problem is rather that outsourcing to poor countries, or importing cheap junk from the same, has not been addressed properly through laws and customs. There’s two parties playing by two different rules, which is why you get shoddy products out-competing good products.

        >So are your working hours and all the product you created not worth being paid for?

        Profit is defined as the excess that you collect after all expenses (including yourself for labor expenses) are paid for. You can’t exactly claim all possible compensation when other people would gladly do your job cheaper – if you didn’t happen to be the exclusive owner of the intellectual property.

        1. So you’re happy with companies paying a massive wage to their CEO so they have no profit, but not with them making a refit (and returning profits to investors (ie your pension fund) or using it to invest in future R&D or have a cushion against future losses, or…)

          There’s something wrong in your argument.

          1. > So you’re happy with companies paying a massive wage to their CEO so they have no profit,

            Assuming all companies were non-profit, the companies who pay the excess to their CEO would be stifling their own progress compared to companies who do not. They would have less funds for attracting talent and to create better products than their competitors. Let them shoot themselves in the foot if they want to.

            > but not with them making a refit (and returning profits to investors (ie your pension fund)

            I am an investor myself and I invest so I can have more buying power. Still, I would rather have that by having cheaper products and a higher wage rather than by getting an interest on investment.

            > or using it to invest in future R&D or have a cushion against future losses, or…)

            I would rather have the funds being spent on current R&D instead of on future R&D. As for cushioning against losses it is possible to factor that as an expense rather than as a profit. Basically the funds stay with the company rather than finding their way in the capitalists’ personal pockets.

        2. >That’s part of what you are selling
          As a clone/fake no its really not most of the time – you are selling a bit of tat made as cheaply as possible but close enough to whatever you cloned to trade in on their good name so folks will buy it, and perhaps it even functions well enough. But you don’t generally actually care about that, as you don’t have to – just fly by night company turns up sells ‘ATl’ branded knock off ATI products (and yes those are different letters technically).

    2. I think the obvious issue with this particular product is that the hardware has a cost, the software is freely downloadable, but people with other hardware start asking for non-free software support, all the more galling to the company when it’s because the other hardware doesn’t work correctly with software written for the original hardware. Even worse, if they don’t, their product gets a bad rep because of the issues with the copies.

      1. There you have to ask, who do you want as your customer? People who buy clones off of aliexpress thinking they’re the real deal? Are these the kind of people who would spend any money on you anyways?

        If a guy in a Toyota shows up at a Ford dealership complaining what a s**t car they’ve sold, you kindly show them the door. Even if you could bend backwards to make them happy, what would be the point?

        1. You have missed the point. You have problems because thousands of clueless buyers who have got their gadget from AliExpress thinking that they have saved money is now costing *you* money (on top of the lost sales) that you have to spend on support. Even answering e-mails and checking receipts to check who is entitled to support and who isn’t costs a very non-trivial time of the customer support staff and thus money straight out of your pocket.

          And when you don’t provide the support and refuse such request you get very vocal and very entitled cheapskates smearing your name all over the internet complaining how your product is crap and how your support sucks.

          Which could well sink your business if you are a small shop. People do see and read such reviews and have no means to know that this entitled bozo didn’t buy the original device but a cheap clone from China – and expected support and bugfixes for free.

          And if you are doing this as a volunteer because it is your hobby, it could (and did for many!) spoil all the fun you had with it. People don’t do hobbies to answer irate e-mails from clueless fools who don’t see a difference between a donkey and a monkey but think you owe them something.

          You have obviously not been in this situation.

          1. Whereas Apple will give you support if you turn up with any Apple hardware.

            Whereas if you have problems with getting windows running on a PC, the hardware manufacturer blames M$ and Microsoft blame faulty hardware. Assuming you can actually speak to their support.

            If the big players get so sick of this they can’t be bothered to offer support, I feel for the small guys.

            I’ve bought boards off Ali and many I have no idea if they’re clones, legit, or open source.

          2. A lot of companies are really confused and have trouble identifying what their business actually is.
            It is designing hardware? Is is providing support for that hardware? Etc…

            If your product is popular enough to be cloned/copiued, there is an entire community that will happily provide support for you. That community can even provide free advise for changes/revisions for your product.

            Companies need to learn how to create and embrace symbiotic ecosystems and stop seeing “externals” as parasitic threats.

    3. well the clone probably pays component cost but not software & design costs, and when it’s not sold clearly, the clone itself can force reputational costs upon the original developer. so it’s not exactly as simple as you speculate.

      but more to the point, i don’t think a $100 SDR that covers every band up to 2GHz has much profit margin built in! i’m totally ignorant about radio design but i would be inclined to believe that the clones mostly subtract quality, rather than “trimming away the fat.” so they probably aren’t compelling products in their own right, even given that they freeload on software&design costs.

      in general, i totally agree with you Dude, i’m just pointing out that this case of a $100 SDR is already pretty cheap and doesn’t really fit the pattern you’re talking about

      1. It’s a tricky question, but presumably one does not clone a product that hasn’t already been established on the market for a while and gained enough popularity that someone went through the trouble of copying it. It’s not actually that easy or cheap to replicate the product because you have to reverse-engineer it first.

        However, the $100 SDR is usually based on some special highly integrated SoC chip which is generic, and the “original manufacturer” is doing the exact same thing as the cloners. They were simply the first to wrap it up in plastic, and the original selling price was way more than $100 before the clones appeared.

        1. I work in hardware and can tell you that manufacturers that offer clones absolutely do not care about providing a quality product. They cut costs everywhere down the chain (development, testing, components, process, QC). They provide zero support and you’ll be lucky if they offer refunds. A company manufacturing clones or fakes is not playing the same game as someone developing a quality product from scratch, their business model is to kick stuff off the loading dock.

          The difference might not be visible to a hobbyist that doesn’t mind spending hours troubleshooting or replacing a knockoff, but if you want a product to work right, be well documented, and have good support, good luck getting any of that from a clone manufacturer.

    4. Development of the product costs money that is meant to be earned back from selling the product later at a price higher than the actual manufacturing cost of the hardware. Cloning an existing design is cheaper than designing from scratch hence the clones can be sold at a profit for less than the original. How do you propose we pay for the development cost / encourage investment in development of new designs ?

    5. The whole idea of intellectual property is foreign to developing cultures, it is a colloquial idea in the US. Even in the US, in the early 1990’s the idea you could copyright a song was nonsense. The patent system started with a protection of physical implementations then extended to electronics and finally software. It was said to protect individual inventors, but obviously that purpose was temporary and big corporations hoarded patents. It is not a great system and we should not expect others to adopt it, it looks like a land grab to them.

  2. A pocket spectrum analyzer isn’t the sameas a $1000 one.

    In 1977 Wayne Ryder described his spectrum analyzer in Ham Radio magazine. It had limited range, but is one of the better ones described. It even had two bandwidths. I learned a lit from the article, back when we learned from magazine articles, rather than just copy.

    Spectrum analyzers became more “common” when the idea of using cable converters started being used. Much wider range. But many limited, and some little more than scanners with visual output.

    Maybe 15 years ago Wes Hayward described a spectrum analyzer in QST. About to 150MHz, but a more serious project.

    Most of the people buying pocket spectrum analyzers have never even read these intermediate steps. They think they’ve bought a $100 unit for a hundred. They don’t know what’s inside so they don’t know the limitations. Someof their needs could be fulfilled by a wide range SDR, since they are looking for outputs.

    1. I agree.

      Another thing that seems to be misunderstood by todays people are analog instruments. They assume they’re obsolete.

      But in reality, an analog scale with its little latency (of a multimeter/volt meter/ampère meter etc) is still useful when it comes to rapidly changing voltages/currents. The latency lets the pointer sweep between a minimum and maximum value, so the operator can make out an estimation.

      Same goes for analog scopes or, say, hybrid scopes with memory hold function, I think. They can display certain phenomena in a more eye-friendly, smoother way or won’t become confused. It’s simply physics that’s live, no computer and ADC are involved.

      1. You CAN do something similar with a DMM. You see it oscillating and just check the min and max.

        Tbh most of the time I’ve seen oscillations they would have been too quick to catch with an analog meter anyway. Min and Max will catch it though.

  3. That’s why Intellectual Property was invented. If you don’t protect your IP Rights, the public is free to enjoy the fruits of your labor. That’s how progress happens. If you outsource to low cost countries, you’re asking for arbitrage. I’m not a big fan of DRM, license managers, single, etc., but I understand why a manufacturer would implement them. Like it or not, such measures are the driving force behind a lot of Open Source.

    1. Sorry but that’s nonsense. This is not your contract manufacturers who clone the devices, by far not. That’s just a popular myth often peddled by folks who don’t know much about the business but tend to have a racist/prejudiced axe to grind. All the while they rely on products made in China (like their latest iPhone …)

      Most of this stuff is simply either a pre-existing open source design e.g. the various component testers, TinySA spectrum analyzer, SDRs, etc. In some cases literally driving the authors out either out of business or stopping the project (like the one mentioned in the article) – so much for it being the driving force behind open source.

      Or the design has been reverse engineered – like the Saleae logic analyzers. Their original design was literally a Cypress MCU + voltage buffer, with all firmware loaded on boot from the PC. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to clone that. People were making these out of the Cypress devboards and such way before the Chinese cloners caught wind of it.

      For more complex stuff there are specialized shops in China that you can hire and they will do the complete reverse engineering work for you and deliver a complete schematics, board layout files and what not, sometimes even including firmware read out of decapped chips! All for a very cheap price.

      Software is also not a problem – most of these companies will helpfully supply a cracked copy of the original software with the gadget, no matter how much DRM you have loaded the code with. If you overdo it, even your legitimate customers may end up preferring to use the cracked versions than having to deal with the annoying DRM (saw that happen!)

      So all I need to reverse engineer your device is to buy one. All your previous IP is on my desk. And if I am in a country where enforcing your trademark, patent or copyright is very difficult then you do what, exactly? Enforcing something like a patent costs millions even in your own jurisdiction – imagine having to fly overseas to a foreign country where you need to work with local lawyers to do that! Nobody will do that over a $100 gadget.

      So this doesn’t have a simple solution.

        1. i like your frame, “effect on creative ventures in the long run”, but i find it hard to believe your assumption that the effect will be negative.

          like most everything humans do, it’s a dialectic. there are multiple parties with multiple interests and they meet in the middle. there is no ideological purity, no ultimate triumph of the pirates or the cloners or IP law. and within each iteration of the battle, everything has trade offs!

          so it will no doubt harm some companies at some times, and then probably harm some userbases as well. but it will also create new users, new experiences, new opportunities. and at every stage, there will be opportunities for talented designers or novel ideas to win the day.

          from perfuctory research, it looks to me like sdrplay itself started out as essentially a clone of an airspy product, hoping to enable their users to use the free airspy software. that was ugly for a while, though i have no reason to believe sdrplay behaved dishonorably. but it was a conflict. and now it seems that conflict is left behind, and someone is cloning sdrplay’s products and hoping to use their software for free. perhaps less ethically? i don’t know. my point is, it’s a cycle and a food chain. when one strategy has reached its end, the parties switch to different strategies and different positions.

          as long as there are new ventures entering the market, as long as talented engineers can get paychecks to work on projects they love, so long as end users and hackers can get ahold of awesome hardware to play with, it keeps going on. and i don’t see any reason to believe the long term trend will abolish these goods.

          1. Well it’s ultimately about the long term consequences both social and individual, about how we treat each other. The “as long” is an attrition battle where the “correct” outnumbers the “incorrect” but not a safe assumption in a society that rewards selfish behavior for themselves and their descendants aka slippery slope.

  4. Products are going to get cloned, so manufacturers might as well make the hardware open source.

    The open source community, in turn, needs to recognise that software and customer service are the real products and to make sure they are supported appropriately.

    Arduino would not have happened without avrdude.

    1. If you open source something you need at least some of the users actually paying the developers and support teams enough to live – at some point they need to actually get something for their work or they have to abandon it.

      Much as a I love opensource you can’t just will the hardware and software into the open.

      1. Open source does indeed have the downside of not being as sustainable from a development standpoint for a lot of projects. Especially for hardware.

        If one freely gives the competition the tools to make the product at component cost, then one as the designer/developer won’t be able to be competitive against one’s own creation made by some random third party one has little to no connection to.

        And it is generally best for everyone if those who have experience and enthusiasm also can survive on the thing that they make. Else they won’t be able to continue.

        Proprietary and closed sourced solutions can actually be superior to an open source solution in that regard. The manufacturer/developer is substantially more likely to stick around.

        This is also why a lot of companies for an example don’t mind “software as a service” since it ensures future support and upkeep. Even if it technically becomes more expensive compared to buying a perpetual license. (however, this isn’t protection against the key developers packing their bags and leaving, or other impactful organizational changes.)

        Now, open source does have its own list of advantages as well. But it isn’t without flaws. It works rather well if people could respect each other, but the world is far too profit oriented for such.

        1. >Proprietary and closed sourced solutions can actually be superior to an open source solution in that regard. The manufacturer/developer is substantially more likely to stick around.

          Since the funding for OSS usually comes from donations or pro-bono work by developers doing their thing out of personal interest, it is more the case that nobody actually listens to the users to whom the software is targeted. Since they’re not paying, they’re disregarded or regarded more or less as “stupid children” and you’re just doing them a favor by bothering to throw out some half-made piece of junk.

          Whereas with closed sources software sold for profit, the user is the king – if the user doesn’t like what’s going on, they go away and so do your profits. Open source software thrives better in B2B environments where two companies may share the effort to develop e.g. a database management program they both use for mutual inventory keeping etc.

        2. >This is also why a lot of companies for an example don’t mind “software as a service”

          Rather, they dislike having to manage their software inventories more than they hate paying extraordinary license fees for “cloud” software. However, it’s swings and roundabouts – data protection laws and concerns mean that companies now want to own their data rather than push it to someone else’s computer where they can’t control it.

          Now we’re in a kind of schizophrenic phase where companies don’t want any fixed costs or assets like IT departments and would rather lease the entire thing from hardware to software from someone they can get rid of easily, but they also don’t want any outsiders to see or touch any of their stuff, so the service must be in the cloud but the data must be local…

          1. Except, “cloud based” and “software as a service” isn’t the same thing.

            Now, one usually comes with the other. But they aren’t mutually inclusive. (Even if it is hard to run a cloud based solution without recurring user fees.)

            My statement were rather about the supplier of the software being liable to provide bug fixes and support in the long term. Something a lot of open source projects not always manages to do in the long term.

        3. >The manufacturer/developer is substantially more likely to stick around.
          I’d argue we are seeing ever more cases when that isn’t the case, even if the company still exists the product is just killed off, and quite possibly remotely bricked or the services it rely on disappear, with amounts to much the same thing.

          For instance look at how many things Google kills off, usually just as its actually getting useful and widespread…

          It also doesn’t actually matter if the developers walk away in opensource – its opensource, if its worth it your company, some group of companies or the community at large you will find somebody is willing to pay enough to get some dev time on it, or a user/dev will pick it up. So at worst some fork continues at best its a seamless change of primary maintainer.

          1. I would though partly argue that the world is far larger than just Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and these other “large” players. A lot of software solutions comes from far smaller companies.

            However, your last paragraph is a bit of a utopian idea. Yes, sometimes it works nicely.

            But often times it will be a far more major investment than any company is willing to undertake.

            Open source software is also not always all that well documented, and going through available documentation is rarely all that sufficient to quickly pick up the project and continue on it. A lot of pieces in the puzzle tends to be missing since the developer or community considered it “obvious”.

            Then there is also the fact that most companies do not have a software department eager to tackle such a challenge regardless. Just because one has a need for software doesn’t mean that one will have a dev team on hand to take up the slack. (and those that do have a dev team usually already has them occupied with other stuff as is.)

            Not saying that it is impossible to continue when a maintainer/community abandons an open source project. But rather that it likely isn’t possible to do within a reasonable time frame with available resources, and throwing money at the problem is oftentimes not economically viable regardless.

            Oftentimes the solution is to abandon it and find a suitable replacement. Something that often is a lot quicker and easier to do.

          2. All a matter of Inertia and alternatives – if you are already stuck with x and it works just fine but a few updates would be nice then there is no great hurry to abandon ship to whatever else might just do what x already does for you. That change will be time consuming and quite likely very costly in its own right.

            Awkward documentation it might takes months for your dev team to getup to speed on is still massively better than having to roll your own from scratch, or being left without anything when the closed source alternative pulled the plug…

            I’m not saying a dev walking away always leads to the project being picked up, as of course it doesn’t – in the same way when some company pulls one of its products some other company doesn’t immediately jump into fill that niche. But if there is a need to then it CAN happen in opensource. Where closed stuff you end up back at square -1 going through the uber buggy beta and alpha stages again if there wasn’t already a competitor you chose not to use last time the decision had to be made.. In that case you probably had a reason to choose the guys that just ran off, so you are still likely going back to square 0 maybe square 1 if you are lucky – and you still have to pay for and update, then train everyone in the replacement.

    2. “Arduino would not have happened without avrdude.”

      That’s true, maybe. But a world without Arduino wouldn’t be that of a loss, also.

      Before Arduino, people used the Propeller/Basic-stamp chips or the PIC16F84 for little projects.

      Before this, there were 8051/8052 based single board computers (SBC) and Z80
      “EMUFs” (German term).

      On 805x systems, the AH-BASIC was popular, too. It’s now free. Originally madw by intel developers, it was a very powerful, mature BASIC with EPROM-writer functionality. It could store data/code blocks in EPROM, one after another. It also had floating-point math, interrupt handling etc. Very cool! 😎

    3. One of the basic errors of open source software is thinking that you can develop for free and then only sell support as your main business.

      Guess what: if you make money out of support, you write software that requires lots of support, which means people don’t want to use it because the base product is obtuse or poorly made.

      1. Sorry, that’s complete nonsense. This sort of FUD was last spread by Microsoft back in the 2000 or so, when they were trying to convince people that Windows is a better option for servers than Linux only because if it is free it has to be crap, ain’t it so?

        There are plenty of companies who have this business model, supporting and developing open source software – and are doing just fine, with their products certainly not being neither obtuse nor poorly made. Just look at Redhat, Suse (Linux distributions + cloud offerings) or Collabora (contract development & support of various open source sw stacks, such as Vulkan drivers, Mesa, gstreamer, supporting these things for automotive industry, etc.)

        However, it is not a model that works for everyone and everything.

  5. It’s a case of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, Jenny. What you do affects what someone else does; and what they do affects you. This tends to make people “play fair”.

    In a village or small group, this is obvious. If you dump your trash in the neighbor’s yard, he’ll catch you; and dump his trash in YOUR yard. You both suffer. So it’s in both of your best interests to cooperate. If you don’t play fair, you’ll be ostracized, punished, or driven out.

    We’ve created a global economy; but without governmental, legal, financial, or even ethical rules to encourage people that are widely separated to cooperate. Your actions affect someone far away, that you never see. So it’s become perfectly fine to “dump on” people in distant places because there are no consequences.

    Stealing someone else’s intellectual property, their inventions, their work, wrecking their environment, or even their life for your own personal gain has become the norm. It won’t end until governments, laws, or just personal behavior stops rewarding it.

    (“We cheat our customers and pass the savings on to you” — Dilbert’s employer)

    The best we can do as individuals is to follow the old maxim: Treat others as you wish to be treated. Don’t buy from people who steal, because you don’t want people to steal from YOU!

    1. +1 Kudos to you. I really mean it. 😎👍

      What you’re referring to is something that people don’t like to hear, maybe.
      Profit to one person often means loss to another.
      That’s what the old saying “One man’s joy is another man’s sorrow” already knew.
      That’s why I personally never was a fan of capitalism or economics or any other *isms.
      Resources aren’t endless, also. Earth needs time to recover in a similar way we do at weekends. That’s why I think that ever increasing economic growth is an illusion. All in all seems today’s way of making business very childish. At least to me.

    2. fantastic comment. I’m fortunate enough that if I want a legit widget, I can either buy from a reputable source or I live without it, for the most part. It kinda sucks but isn’t devastating for me to pay actual top-dollar money for what, and to whom, I deem deserving of my hard earned money. This also has a knock-on benefit of me not just buying a bunch of cheap crap that I don’t really need. Overall actually, I haven’t spent any more money than before, I just have nicer stuff that I actually need and use, and less breakable crap. Isn’t a perfect philosophy but it is definitely pretty good, and there are certainly exceptions to ” you get what you pay for”. I have never bought anything off aliexpress or whatever. I try to buy US-made goods, tools especially, etc but it is very hard. I love your analogy of dumping on other people.

    3. Well said. Thank you.

      So many folk seem to have and share strong opinions that don’t seem to include this important piece of wisdom/insight/morality/ethics.
      And, for that reason, unfortunately, I won’t be subscribing for new-comment notifications on this article, though I’d love to see them on this particular comment-thread.
      But please keep up the good work. Hopefully the right folk will hear it at the right time.

    4. Conversely, I wont over pay a company for something I can get for less just because their brand name is on it.
      Selling of the brand name to lesser companies is also rife. You think you’re buying say a dishwasher from a well known german company only to dig a bit deeper and see they sold the rights to use that name for dishwashers to a brand you’ve never heard of. No oversight of quality control, just the entire rights of use of a name to inflate price.

      Or large US companies that specialise in say aerospace, but for much of their other business OEM other’s products and merely put a big sticker price on them.
      So you’re actually overpaying for a lesser product you could buy cheaper from the orignal brand.
      But that’s fair game?

      This goes especially for mechanical tools. They are all cloned and sold for a fraction of the price, shipped from China. The same place the original designer is paying to get them made. Probably the same factory.
      If they werent so greedy, they would make them in their local market, make less profit but not be on the radar of the cloners quite so much.

      Essentially, the cloning is fully the fault of the businesses that out sourced everything to China and screwed their native economy in the name of profit in the first place.
      Now they want to blame the consumer, when they and they alone created the problem.

  6. “Ultimately, the choice is up to the producer of the device, right? ”

    Sure, if they started their design from scratch, freeware or designs that they legally licensed. There’s a time when it makes sense to demand something be open sourced. Such as when the producer incorporated pre-existing designs that were released under the GPL, Share Alike or similar licenses that don’t allow for extension in a closed source product.

    Just look at the old Linksys WRT54 routers! Linksys had no right to rely on GPL’d code if they weren’t going to share back. And so they were made to do so. And as a result we have native Linux WiFi drivers today. Sure, those original ones are all obsolete now but that’s where the ball got rolling. Without that incident we would probably still be relying on Ndiswrapper for WiFi on Linux today!

    I do think people who design something have a right to chose to keep it closed, release it freeware or open source it. Sure, I guess even non-com licenses are the designer’s right to use. Though I wish fewer would do that. If you are open sourcing it you probably aren’t producing it too so it’s not like non-comm licenses sere to protect your income. Well, except maybe for a few companies that actually do both release and produce their designs. (mostly 3d printer parts I think). Anyway, with most non-com designs I think it’s a symptom of some sort of mental illness. People selling my design that I gave away freely and never was going to make money off of hurts me somehow? Probably not enough hugs as a child.

    I think these Chinese clones of open source designs are exactly why non-comm licenses are a bad idea. If I release a design of something for hobbyists to use I want to further what’s out there for all the hobbyist world, maybe even come back to me with improvements someone else shares. And those clones benefit the community a lot! Look at all the previously out of reach hardware we can have now!

    But a non-comm license might just be open source enough that the person who would have otherwise designed a similar tool and released it with a real open source license might not bother. Then the whole maker/hacker/hobbyist world is a little poorer.

  7. Reminds me of something my unit would do when deployed. The was an unofficial contest for who could find the best fake Rolex watches. There were some truly awful ones, but also a few that at least looked the part. Nobody actually expected a real Rolex for a couple of hundred dollars, but they did keep time. Often better than the real ones. :)

    1. I bought a fauxlex decades ago and thought I was being smart.
      It took a while for me realize that even if the watch was an excellent fake, I am not the kind of guy who could wear one and get away with it. I mean, it would shout out “Does this guy look like someone who can afford a Rolex?”
      Now, if I drove a good enough Fauxrrari…

      1. Ugh, fancy watches. If you buy a fake Rolex, people will know it’s a fake if you are nice person. To convince them the watch is real, you would have to behave like the sort of ostentatious asshole who would blow ten grand on a watch. Is that really how you want to present yourself?

  8. I like the “compile the code for free or pay for the Windows installer” type option with all bug reports and support only available for those who use the git repository to build their own. It is a pretty good filter and if somebody else want to add to the ecosystem by offering an additional support themselves then so be it, at least the support requests to the devs get distilled down to a manageable level where it is mostly dealing with bugs and not user error/ignorance.

  9. Actually, it’s SDRPlay’s non-free license is the reason I don’t touch their hardware with a 40′ barge pole.

    On paper, it looks good… but being locked to AMD64 binaries is a deal breaker for me.

    Would I buy one of the Chinese clones trying to pass itself off as the same? Not if it relies on the same proprietary blob to work.

  10. I designed a mechanical antenna product in 1994 which my company still sells today (2022). It was amazing that within a year of our product introduction there were at least three Chinese clones on the market which also still sell today.
    Jim WB4ILP

  11. So…
    A couple of years ago, I bought both a Spectrum Analyzer and an SDR from Banggood (~$50 each) I haven’t gotten them to work because I don’t have support from the original software writer(s). I somewhat expected to find support through Banggood’s forum (hah!). I have pretty much given up on getting them working, but I don’t blame the original developers for any of that. I was being cheap and got what I paid for.

    Oh, I may be wrong, but I don’t have the same regrets about buying the $15 transistor checker, it didn’t need any additional software to work.

    1. It’s good that you’re happy with the transistor checker, because the cheap clones of those won’t ALLOW you to install new firmware. In their relentless race to the bottom, they now use a clone of the AVR processor which won’t let you update to an open firmware…. so yeah, it’s actually a great example of cheap clones ruining an open-source tool for everyone else.

  12. Y’know, it becomes fairly obvious who in the discussion has actually sold products, especially products where part of what’s being sold is intellectual property, and those who haven’t.

    Rather than get into realities of development, tooling, and marketing costs that we have to be willing to pay somehow if we want to actually see new stuff released, I ll just remind folks of a point made by Stallman ‘way back in the Gnu Manifesto: if you accept the ideal that software should be free, you should also accept that support should cost. In the FSF’s world, a developer owes you nothing beyond what they offer. You are free to reverse-engineer it and support yourself, if you have the resources to do so, or to hire someone else who has made that investment. Generally that would be the original developers because they already have all that knowledge, but RMS wanted to leave space for others to come in if the developer’s price is truly unreasonable or they drop support for the product.

    If that’s the world you want, expect to pay for every support request, even if it’s a bug report. And to go chasing after forked versions that include the fixes you need.

    Free as in speech. Not free as in beer. If you want to bet your own business on someone else’s work, expect to pay for their part of the ecosystem in one way or another. There are valid models for paying up front or after adoption or both, and paying in cash or in effort or in failures of your product, but you will pay.

    In the end, it’s all thermodynamics…

    1. Once a company gets to a certain size (ie becomes corporate) even if you’re paying for the software and getting free support, the bean counters see support as loss making and they throw it out there as either to be out sourced or sent to the 3rd world with no real training just cheap labour.
      So as a customer paying for the software you are simply not getting the support.
      As anyone who has ever rung a call centre with a problem beyond “turning it on and off again” will know.
      Its utterly frustrating to know more about the product than the person supposedly employed to help you.
      These days it’s barely possible for most 1st line to have actually read your message in full and comprehended it.

      So I embrace open source, because typically there is a community around it and likely has a higher knowledge and understanding of it’s operation and willingness to share than closed. Plus if you dont get the answer the tools are there to go figure it out yourself.

  13. “I can’t blame him for taking it down under those circumstances, and neither should you.”

    Well thanks for trying to tell me what I should and should not do, but I don’t think you are the person to do so, and in fact; as if to illustrate that, I DO blame him.

  14. I can see we’re going back to the 80’s where there will be a serial number in hardware, keyed to the software. It worked well, and because it was essentially unnecessary it faded away – until it became necessary because of piracy and fakes.
    There’s nothing wrong with licensing open source hardware and software for a small fee to sustain the licence model, I suspect we’ll see rolling codes start to appear on IS projects, to minimise the cost of maintaining licences.

  15. A long time ago, someone started selling a kit of the timer i made for my uv box

    But somehow they provided the wrong kind of led display and a few have contacted me to ask to charge the firmware to work with that. I helped and support questions stopped pretty fast.

    When we put something out there with the intention to give it free for others, i think we all get a bit bitter when some company starts making money of our work without any compensation.
    I bet if this happened more to me, i would be less willing to share designs.

  16. I can’t compete against cheap cloned knockoffs. So I don’t make goods and sell them and hire people to make them for sale. Nor did I start my own company to be ripped off. I make stuff for myself and my friends while the rest of the world doesn’t know about it.

    It would be nice if I could make money on Hardware and Software and hire my neighbors so we can make a living. It would be nice if I could buy products made here at home. Instead of sending money overseas to a country that buys Russian Oil that then funds Putin’s war machine.

    I was taught that Private Property is critical for a Free Society to exist. Without the Right to Private Property we can not monetize our ideas, our thoughts, our writings, our software, our songs, our designs. Without Private Property its more difficult to make a living and maintain life. Without a Right to Life one is not Free. When we buy clones and steal software we are stealing someones Private Property.

    Our Democracy may not be perfect. But it has enabled innovated products, great ideas, abundant amounts of food, and devices that make our lives more productive and easier.

    Maybe someday American Companies will move back home. Maybe they’ll realize that they need innovation to make new things for them to sell. Maybe they’ll realize that the Capital provided by the offshore Countries isn’t free, and that eventually their partner will own their factories, and their products, and their Company. Maybe American Companies will come to realize that when their partners do not have our values they end up indirectly supporting the invasion of another Free Country.

    Freedom isn’t Free.

    1. Democracy in this scope has no value in itself, it is only a tool to measure the collective values of the people. As a thought experiment: if most people think it is ok to randomly kill children, democracy won’t do anything about it. So a working democratic society is ultimately dependent on the majority of the people to be good. Let’s keep this foundation strong.
      (I’ll stop here, since this is no political forum)

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