Of late, I have been hearing some rumblings about open source for the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX). Even as the IoX is still a dream to many, the shrewd marketers are already scheming on how to make their product the one that leads the pack, and many see proprietary source code, and hardware, as a way to differentiate themselves from that pack.
I get proprietary. One works hard to develop something using a well-paid brain trust and it should be able to be kept under lock and key. However, as an engineer, I feel there should be limits to it. Others do, as well, otherwise we would not have open source, particularly where the software/hardware is necessary to keep the pipe flowing.
I can see that in any number of applications for open source, from smart phones to smart homes, but I cannot see it for the interconnect within the IoX. It is not so much the technology inside the IoX devices, or the interconnect itself. Where I see it being the biggest problem is in the middleware – the stuff that handles the two-and-from – the IoX glue, if you will. I have a gut feeling that if that does not stay as open source, the IoX will be a bogged, sluggish, pieced together behemoth that will never realize full potential.
There are a number of excellent reasons for open source. First of all, app developers will see that as a positive. If they have to look to interface to a plethora of proprietary platforms, such as Google’s Thread platform, and Apple’s HomeKit, that will stifle development. Open source middleware will give these developers the ability to develop product, whatever it is, and grab a set of IP blocks that can just plug into the fabric – cheaper too.
In addition, open source middleware can actually be developed for the good of the IoX. Open source means there is no motivation to make it anything but top-shelf. The “top-er” the shelf, the better the code and the more secure it can be made.
But such has been the dream of the purist since the first Z80 came off the prototype board. Unfortunately, we are a long way from that. One manufacturer might use ZigBee as a communications protocol to create light switches, temperature controls, various sensors. Another might use Z-Wave, a third might use Thread, a fourth 6LoWPAN. And do not forget about LTE-M and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). Unfortunately, none of these can talk to each other, natively.
So, enter open source middleware. I see this as unfortunate if these platforms are not open to each other. There is Open Interconnect Consortium’s IoTivity, the Allseen Alliance, KAA, and of course, Unix (Linux). Then, there are niche open source platforms like embARC for ARC-based designs too – the list goes on. The talk is to be open, but they must be open to each other as well.
It is starting to worry me a bit. Thus far it does not look like there will be any abatement in the development of proprietary devices and platforms for both apps and IoX devices – that is a given. And competition is good at that level. But can you imagine the mess if the middleware ends up as proprietary, in any way, as well? One can hope that these middleware players, while they all have specific platforms they target, will all see their way to make their product truly open and able to connect with the other players. There is a lot of talk about open source. Let us hope it is not just rhetoric.
Executive Editor/Applied Wireless Technology
His 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, Lucent Technologies, Qwest, City and County of Denver, Sandia National Labs, Goldman Sachs, and others. Before becoming exclusive to publishing, he was a computer consultant and regularly taught courses and seminars in applications software, hardware technology, operating systems, and electronics. His credentials include a BS, Electronic Engineering Technology; A.A.S, Electronic Digital Technology. He has held a Colorado Post-Secondary/Adult teaching credential, member of IBM’s Software Developers Assistance Program and Independent Vendor League, a Microsoft Solutions Provider Partner. He is a senior/life member of the IEEE, the Press Liaison for the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society and a member of the IEEE Communications Society, IEEE MTT Society, IEEE Vehicular Technology Society and the IEEE 5G Community. He was also a first-class FCC technician in the early days of radio.