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IBM VC Calls For 'Open' Hardware

A revolution is coming to the electronics industry, says Juan-Antonio Carballo, partner in IBM's venture capital group -- and it's based on ''open'' hardware that will foster the kind of collaborative effort that Linux has brought to software.

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MONTEREY, Calif. — A revolution is coming to the electronics industry, says Juan-Antonio Carballo, partner in IBM's venture capital group — and it's based on "open" hardware that will foster the kind of collaborative effort that Linux has brought to software.

Carballo presented his argument before a somewhat skeptical audience at the Electronic Design Processes (EDP) workshop Thursday (April 7). But Carballo insisted that various kinds of "openness," including collaborative efforts and open-source models, will change the world of system-on-chip (SoC) venture financing.

"There's a pretty important wave coming in our industry that most of us are not noticing, and it could change it completely," said Carballo, who happens to be an avid surfer. "The open-source model is quickly extending from software to hardware, and it will provide a similar swell of collaborative innovation."

The word "open" has various meanings with respect to hardware and silicon intellectual property (IP), he said. At one level, it could mean the details can be viewed, but not altered. It might mean the hardware can be used for free in a design that can be sold. Or it might mean that a community of users can modify details, so long as they donate the modifications.

Thus, for Carballo, the word "open" includes but is not limited to the classical definition of open source, in which source is freely available and a community of users can contribute modifications. He also noted that "open" doesn't necessarily mean free of charge.

The dilemma, he said, is that companies need to minimize risk, and IP often comes from small, creative companies. There is risk in open silicon IP. An IP valuation methodology is thus going to be crucial for the open hardware effort, Carballo noted.

Carballo argued that open hardware produces a better return on investment. If a company is in an open standards environment, he said, time to profit goes down. And he suggested that giving away IP or tools for free, even for a limited time, could create a "huge incentive."

If everything is open and given away, asked one audience member, how will anyone make money?

"That's a different talk," Carballo said. "But think about how people are making money on Linux. It's in value-added stuff. Maybe you can make money on the chip, or on services around the core."

Carballo pointed to www.power.org as an example of the kind of collaboration he's talking about. Power.org claims to represent a worldwide community of developers, tool providers, and manufacturers who are collaborating on industry standards and delivering applications based on IBM's Power Architecture technology.

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