State of the open source movement

I’ve ummed and ahhed about posting something like this but just wanted to hear about others’ thoughts and experiences. Or, even better, suggestions for making it work better!

I’ve been involved in open source since the late 80s (GNU, minix, etc). I’ve really noticed a change in attitudes lately. I’ve personally benefitted so much from open software and hardware designs (especially Emilie’s, TiNRS’, o_c, etc) for making my own steps into hardware synths that I obviously wanted to share my stuff. I’ve been really shocked that some things (eg the smt benjolin that Rob kindly gave permission for me to share non-commercialky) are being sold or other modules are being made and sold commercially…

I’ve also been really shocked that, instead of taking designs and adapting them, or feeding back errors and suggestions, I seem to be deluged with complaints that a part is out of stock at mouser and asking for an alternative resistor etc etc… I think this has surprised and shocked me the most tbh!

It’s really sad, but the amount of support this requires is genuinely making me wonder if it’s worth posting any more.

I just feel really sad that this is what it feels like it has come to! Maybe I’m just whinging, but I dont know how Emilie has put up with it!


The contrast with GNU etc is interesting. The mainstay products of the open-source software movement, as I perceive it, have always been development tools, or more broadly, software that forms a basis for other software. I think this enables high empathy between the people using those tools and the people contributing to them.

I don’t think software/hardware designs used for music benefit from the same degree of overlap between the goals of users and contributors. Most synth users – especially new synth users, who will predominate in a growing market – see the designs as a means to an end (making music), and see the designs’ creators as magicians with unrelatable priorities.

In my personal experience, going from 1) pure consumer to 2) firmware hacker to 3) supporting my first user, while keeping a focus on music, has been weird. I resent the intrusion of synth-design thoughts into my music-making process. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on synth design, and the goal I’m pursuing is to stop thinking about synth design. In other words, I find that empathy between user and creator hard to cultivate, even though I occupy both mentalities!


I think my issue boils down to what I perceive as a disparity in outlooks. I see that posting designs is an offering of knowledge or an opening sentence in a conversation and an opportunity to engage critical thinking and to learn (depending on if I am posting stuff or reading others’ work).

What I am seeing in return feels like a sense of entitlement to unlimited free support and a way for someone to obtain free(ish) stuff, but more the sense of entitlement without any responsibility for making any effort in trying to do something on their own (even as simple a task as finding alternative resistor part codes at mouser)

Maybe that’s harsh but that’s how it feels sometimes.


I think that may be related to the overall attitude on the internet. Services and websites that we use often offer free access, making their money by advertising, data collection or questionable “upselling” strategies. So many of the things people use don’t cost money (at least not upfront) while they’re still provided with a financial interest and thus come with professional support of some sort (usually bad). I think this may ultimately lead to this attitude where people expect you to do something for them without thinking about how you could possibly justify the time it takes.

I totally agree that this is a bad attitude. I guess the best way to deal with it is to explain politely why you won’t do the thing someone asked from you and possibly have some sort of pre-written response at hand so that you don’t have to waste your time with these responses.

I think open source projects in general need to be more vocal about the fact that freedom always comes with responsibility; in this case the responsibility to put in some work on your own and contribute back to the project whenever you work with it and produce some sort of usable result that’s worth sharing, e.g. updating the BOM when a mouser part is not available anymore.

Personally, though, I don’t (yet?) have problems with people harassing me about details of the few open source projects that I have put online. My small contribution to this community is probably not impactful enough to really see the problem you’re describing.


I think you’re absolutely right.
I’m pretty shocked at the number of messages I get, given that I dont think my projects are very impactful at all !!!

Just to make you blush - you say yours aren’t that impactful but out of your repositories I’ve built your Arc clone (which is a fantastic job by the way) and I use your vco tuner all the time - I’m pretty evangelical about it and I know quite a few people now using it ! So they’ve had a big impact on me :slight_smile:
(Also, following your link, I’ve just discovered the Analog-Rytm-Controller - I am likely to have to build that now ! Thanks !)

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Yeah, I think I know what you mean. At some point things get out of hand and the fun gets sapped right out of it. Maybe it’s easier if one starts from a (for lack of better phrasing) principled position with fewer/other expectations? I can’t say because my position is somewhat fickle, if not flat-out inconsistent :stuck_out_tongue:

But I don’t have any good suggestions either. My usual phrasing is that open source isn’t free of cost, it’s just that someone else is paying for you, but this is often forgotten (which perhaps ties in with what @TheSlowGrowth says about being more vocal?). Will more rules/licensing models help? Dunno. Wading into licensing is already onerous. Those that don’t care about rules won’t care about stricter ones. And the mob-ish enforcement always seems a bit icky and selective. So I’m not sure that’s going to incentivise people to invest time and risk releasing things…

Which is admittedly all fairly wishy-washy stuff :wink:


Open source (and the internet) removed a lot of barriers. One such barrier is experience. Used to be you had to have some experience in the field just to even be aware opportunities existed. Now, literally anyone can; comment on, find, download, and get in over their heads, on almost any subject.

This is the fallout of sharing your expertise now. Your potential audience is huge - not just folks that are in your field.

Some thingss were better before social media and search engines erased a lot of lines.


Thanks both - @pid and @SkyWriter - I just dont know what the answer is ! Maybe it’s just me being grumpy ! But I do know back in the early days of GNU, it was all about what you could offer and give back to the projects - that was the fun of it - the rate of learning was so much quicker with all the open source stuff. You’d never dream of feeling entitled to unpaid support or demand help on something that you would be expected to work out or research yourself… it would be way too embarrassing to ask about something you could find out yourself, but if it was non-trivial then everyone would help…


It’s more a matter of “can’t” than “won’t” with most folks. They see something they would really like to try, but they have no skills for it.

I see it in my kids a lot; stuff you and I take for granted - having the 40 odd years of experience - how to approach technology. We literally witnessed it from the ground up. It’s 2nd nature. For them, to have to tackle it all at once, can be intimidating.

And there’s soooo much cool stuff out there! Like here! Who knew it would be so much fun!

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That’s an interesting point. But frankly, isn’t it good that the audience is bigger now? More requests asking for help doesn’t necessarily mean people are less willing to invest time on their own. It could just as well mean that there are more people participating in general. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Maybe those who expect free support and handholding are just the tip of an iceberg that’s simply much bigger than it was 20y ago?
Or putting it differently: Isn’t it a great thing that people tinker with projects that are intially way too complicated for them? Eventually, it’ll help them learn something new. In a world full of technology, it’s super important to leave no one behind. Someone who did a couple of DIY projects (successfully or not) will feel a lot more confident to attempt to repair their washing machine. Or understand the importance of right to repair.

That’s wonderful! Actually, regarding this project (which is among the first I shared and the most popular, afaik) I have received a lot of emails from various people but I didn’t have a single one that was rude or expecting something unreasonable from me. Most of the calls for help came from people who were overly cautious and wanted to confirm their thoughts before they went ahead with the build. Some of the messages were clearly coming from people who didn’t have enough experience to complete the project but in the end I think most of them managed to get the thing working eventually.
On the other hand, it was wonderful to see that Barnaby Walters organized the group buys and put a lot of work into updating the documentation. The project was something I had originally done just for myself. But through his efforts it was made more accessible and eventually quite a few built themselves a device that simply isn’t available commercially anymore.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: My experience so far was only positive. I guess we simply look at a different, small subsection of the scene.

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Yes, I hope so.
It’s not always obvious if someone’s asking out of beginner’s mind, a momentary lapse of reason, or impatience/entitlement and well, I maybe don’t give people the benefit of the the doubt as much as I could. Similarly, some people do such a phenomenal and consistent job of supporting their projects that it’s easy for users to assume that motivation everywhere (or, as a project maintainer, even feel bad for not matching it?).
I suppose it’s also a matter of scale – 1001 variations of any question will eventually become annoying. More use of “please” goes a long way, and for Pete’s sake RTFM :wink:

Commercial use or group buys, though – if you’re going to manufacture and sell someone else’s project, take on some responsibility of support for your buyers, make sure the damn things work, then add to the documentation, anything. No excuses there.


Maybe - but it’s more that it seems that a lot of people wont try to find out…

Quite likely to be honest… maybe I’m just being grumpy - I am always happy if the questions are sensible or asking to gain knowledge - it’s the complaints that a BOM is out of date or the silkscreen should be larger that irritate - other questions are usually great and are nice to answer ! So maybe I’m just being a bit snobbish…

It may ebe that the Arc clone has quite a high barrier of entry - you need to be happy programing and you need to sort out a decent panel ? Plus source quite a lot of different things like the light shapers etc… ???

The big mistake we made with O&C, imho, was releasing the Eagle and Gerber design files for the PCB. Mea culpa, I pushed Max (mxmxmx) to release them. Big mistake. We were receiving a modest income stream from O&C PCB sales, just enough to help offset the capital costs of better testing of teh module and its firmware (costs of building multiple version prototype PCBs, parts, test equipment etc). Then pusherman and other group-buy people pulled the rug out from under that, something that would have been unlikely had we not released the PCB design files. After that, we swapped to asking for a small (few euros) donation for each module sold commercially. Some honourable people complied with this (thank you!) and for a while we continued to receive a modest trickle of funds which continued to spur efforts on improving the O&C firmware and working on a successor module. But by then, the micro O&C hardware derivatives (at least one of which was definitely an improvement on the original) had completely replaced the original O&C hardware design, but provided no revenue stream to the original designer and coders. That’s a fundamental flaw with open source hardware. The final act was when someone further modified the O&C hardware design, adding attenuvertors tot he voltage outputs (or was it the inputs?) and apparently introducing voltage offset errors in doing so. He asked us (specifically mxmxmx) to write firmware modifications to suit the modified hardware, then failed to test it all properly before selling the redesign. afaik, he continues to sell the modified O&C design without the voltage offset errors ever having been addressed. Happy to be corrected if I’m wrong. That left a very sour taste in our collective mouths. Nonetheless, in late 2019 and early 2020, we were actively working on a O&C successor, this time not intending to open-source the hardware design, but then COVID-19 came along and we all had to focus on our day jobs.

Anyway, my advice is: don’t open source your hardware design. Open source the firmware code, by all means, but open source hardware is a step too far for the generally very immature modular synth community.


Thanks Tim. I hear you - it’s pretty frustrating for you guys. (I’ve also had people buy pcbs from sellers and then come to me for build support… so have a slight understanding of your frustrations). The costs of prototypes can really add up as well (especially as we are not doing it commercially) !!!
The bit I keep weighing up is just how much I have personally benefitted from others posting their designs - I’ve learnt so much. It means that I want to give back in the same way - the flipside is the work it generates from queries, etc.
I’m thinking long and hard about whether to post any more designs - I may well do but am just reflecting on it and taking a bit of a pause !


Things like O&C and all of the Mutable RipOffs made me
a) not releasing source code - although its sometimes hard creating your own functions instead of just grabbing an open source library
b) not releasing Gerber or DipTrace (in my case) files
c) make sure Firmware updates dont run on virgin Teensys

But if i can contribute anything to a O&C successor wether it is open or closed source just let me know. I owe you guys and im happy to help for free.


The Mutable ripoffs are a tricky one for me as I’ve been guilty of doing some (never sold any or received cash for them though and all designs are published) eg

  • module tester smt eurorack module adaptation
  • 4hp triple noise/s+h based on kinks
  • 4hp triple buffered mult based on links
  • 4hp 2-sections of veils
  • 4hp 2-sections of blinds
    (both the 4hp veils and blinds modules can be chained indefinitely in any combination)

I did them all for my own use and as learning exercises (I wanted a buff mult for doepfer vcos, I wanted lots of noise/s+h for clouds, I wanted the smaller vcas for small portable skiffs, the module tester was to fit on my desk in a smaller footprint with other useful test kit etc). None of them are adding much as they are pretty blatant ripoffs but they served a definite purpose for my setup that the original modules didnt quite serve… so I hope they are in the spirit of the licence.

@forecaster - i think what you did isnt a “RipOff”, its 100% in the spirit of open source: learn, adapt, change, fit it to your needs, publish what you did. A RipOff - at least to my definition - is a braids in exactly the same footprint, with exactly the schematics running exactly mutables original firmware, just changed the graphics on the panel, intendet to be sold in numbers. Also a RipOff, albeit a “not so bad one” are all of the small MI Modules as they dont change anything as the Layout. If like to have seen a smaller footprint braids with an OLED, i think this would have been more in the open source spirit, changing Hard- and Software to make something based on an open source design rather than just copy. Un an unrelated sidenote you stole my idea of a 4hp chainable 2Ch veils. Would you mind pointing me to your docs? :wink:

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Ha ha!
All my files are on my github.
(I really need to upload some firmware edits for some mutable modules - I’m way behind on sorting it out!)
Most of my newer stuff is going in this directory: