USING OPEN SOURCE DESIGNS TO CREATE MORE SPECIALIZED CHIPS
THE OPEN SOURCE movement changed how companies build software. @Facebook, @Twitter, and @Yahoo employees pitched in during the early days of the data-crunching software #Hadoop. Even after the relationship between @Apple and @Google soured, the companies’ coders kept working together on an obscure but important piece of software called #LLVM. @Microsoft now uses and contributes to the @Linux operating system, even though it competes with Windows. The embrace of open source isn’t about altruism. Facebook started using Hadoop because there was no commercial off-the-shelf software that met the company’s needs as it grew. Because Hadoop is open source, Facebook could customize and extend it to solve its specific problems; sharing its changes allowed others to innovate further, making the software better for Facebook and all other users. Collaborating on freely available code enables companies and programmers to pool resources to solve common problems and avoid reinventing the wheel. Companies build competing products and services from these open source foundations that they might never have been able to build otherwise. But the open source revolution has been slow to come to the hardware world. A number of open source gadgets and circuit boards have been released in recent years, but while it’s possible to run a laptop or server on nothing but open source software, the inner workings of our gadgets remain proprietary. An open source chip architecture called RISC-V could soon help change that. Chip maker Nvidia and storage company Western Digital have both announced plans to use RISC-V chips in their core products, and dozens of other companies have joined the RISC-V Foundation, including Google, Tesla, and chip giants like IBM, Samsung, and Qualcomm. RISC-V isn’t the first open source chip architecture, but it’s unusual for such a project to attract much attention outside of academia.