Open Source Inches Its Way into Gadget Market

"This is the way we are following: Build reliable, innovative products, and by opening them, you will get the necessary feedback and contributions to improve them and design new ones faster and easier," Tisserant says.

That's the open-source ideal, anyway. On the flipside, "the worst-case scenario would be a project emerging using an open-source moniker, and it ends up being nothing more than a marketing gimmick," says Gartner's Driver. "If it's only from one vendor, or one source of support, those kind of things are the weakest forms of open source."

Who's in the Market for Open-Source Gadgets?

Unsurprisingly, the kind of user such gadgets are geared toward — and appeal to — the most is the tech hobbyist. The Touch Book has so far sold mainly to this crowd, says Tisserant, who says "several thousand" units have been sold. Yet his company is looking now to sell it to vertical markets. Because the Touch Book is highly customizable, it could easily be integrated into taxis or police cars, or connected to a hospital's private network as an "always on" portable device for medical staff, Tisserant says.

Then there's the Frankencamera, a Linux-based digital camera that can be programmed to control exposure, flash, focus settings and more. The camera is being developed by a team of graduate students at Stanford University and is meant for academic use.

Open Source Inches Its Way into Gadget Market
The Frankencamera digital camera

"Specifically, we want to make this easy for graduate students doing research that could use a programmable camera, or undergraduate CS students doing courses in programming," says Andrew Adams, one of the lead developers of the Frankencamera. "We're graduate students ourselves, and this whole project is born out of our frustration with trying to program cameras to do what you want them to."

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