Let’s Talk Open Source

Proprietary products need to talk to each other in the IoE world.

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Of late I have been hearing some rumblings about open source for the IoE. The sad part is that there is still talk about anything else. Even though the IoE remains a dream to many, the shrewd marketers already are scheming on how to make their product the one that leads that pack, and many see proprietary source code as a way to differentiate themselves.

I can see that in any number of applications, from smart phones to smart homes, but I can’t see it for the interconnect within the IoE. It’s not so much the technology inside the IoT devices, or the interconnect itself. Where I see it being the biggest problem is in the middleware, the stuff that handles the to-and-from. It’s the IoE glue. I have a gut feeling that if that doesn’t stay open source, the IoT/E will be a bogged-down, sluggish, pieced-together behemoth that will never realize its 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 a product, whatever it is, and grab a set of IP blocks that can just plug into the fabric. It’s a cheaper option, too.

Also, open source middleware can be developed for the good of the IoE. Open source means there is no motivation to make it anything but top-shelf. The higher that 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, and a third might use Thread, a fourth 6LoWPAN. Unfortunately, none of these can talk to each other natively.

So, enter open-source middleware. I see this as unfortunate if these platforms aren’t 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. There is not going to be any abatement in the in the development of proprietary devices and platforms for both apps and IoE networks – 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 each has 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’s hope it isn’t just rhetoric.