The OSWALD Project
A university designing a UMPC like the OSWALD relies on the benevolence and support of both hardware and software partners. To stay on the upside of technological change, the OSWALD developers need to work with the Linux community to make sure their changes and needs are met. Tim Harder, a graduate student in Electrical and Computer Engineering and lead software developer for the OSWALD, puts it like this:
In open source, you have a lot of updates because a lot of people are working on different things. Currently, we use OpenEmbedded to create the BitBake files needed to create our custom Linux distribution, but an important fix to help us move forward is to find a development environment with rich contributions. We want to have flexibility as well as the high configurability that something like Gentoo provides. Gentoo packages more software for us, and we can take advantage of that.
Moving to a bigger development community, such as Gentoo, will minimize risks in the future.
On the hardware side, fortune smiles with positive support from a number of chip companies who have provided their chips free of charge, at a reduced rate or subsidized the build process. These include Texas Instruments, Tektronix, Intel Corporation and the National Science Foundation. Their support for this device comes from OSU's belief that the OSWALD will help train better engineers and programmers, but also because these partners believe in a substantial future demand for people trained in UMPC and embedded platform development.
Currently, the OSWALD's biggest challenge is broadening the program. Manufacturing hardware for a small community is expensive and risky, and the long-term costs may outweigh the benefits. Therefore, scaling up demand to other universities and even enthusiasts is the key to this devices' success. Right now, the OSWALD is available to students and a handful of friends. OSU, like many universities, is not set up for large-scale manufacturing or distribution. It will have to think up ways, as an Open Source community, to support these types of educational efforts in the future.
Thanks to Ben Goska, Tim Harder, Techtronix, Texas Instruments, Intel and the National Science Foundation.
Victor Kuechler is an undergraduate student studying English literature and writing at Oregon State University. He works as technical writer for the department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Dr Carlos Jensen is an assistant professor in the school of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Oregon State University where he leads the Human-computer interaction research group. His research focuses on usable privacy and security, open-source systems and open-source development.
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