3.4. How much help are proprietary mass market measurement devices
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Proprietary mass market measurement devices often conflict with the principals of open data. They seem to want to keep your data in their data jail so that you have to go to them to use your data in a new context. Even at its best, companies often go out of business or believe they need a mass market to support any unanticipated use of their product. The following product properties suggest more likely success with open data (roughly in order from most satisfying to least satisfying):
- Supported with a Linux driver. Fairly rare except for HP's full support of their printers.
- Runs Linux. The Linksys WRT54G router is the most famous example, which was supported by Linksys only after the device was cracked open and an open source ecosystem was established. OpenWRT is the most open replacement firmware. At least provides hope that proprietary hardware can be opened up, but it is unlikely to happen for less commonly used hardware.
- supports a widely used standardized open interface. The most promising interface is devices with built-in web servers. Other common examples are data loggers that mount as USB flash drives or use SD memory cards. In the past RS-232 or serial interfaces were fairly open as they were usually text based, there were only a few commonly used speeds, few control signals were commonly used, data monitors and tap devices were available. I don't know how well these techniques work on the serial successor USB (see ruby-usb). This level also includes electronic devices that easily interface with analog digital converters in 3.5.-micro-controllers.
- Provides a Windows program that can save all data as text files. Probably the most common. Its major shortcomings are: manual intervention to get data into text disk files, software may break when your operating system is upgraded, and may require a dedicated Windows computer for Mac or Linux users.
- Provides no access to your data except through their proprietary services. Sports Brain was a particularly bad example of a pedometer that downloaded your data to their website and then went out of business, leaving you with a useless piece of hardware. I believe these devices have such a limited useful life, that they should never be bought. Most manufacturers and marketers believe if they don't trap you in a data jail they won't get rich.
The most promising trend in hobbyist electronics is 3.5.-micro-controllers and Input/Output mini-boards. These allow fairly sophisticated electronic projects to be completed with little or any soldering.
- SeeedStudio - micro-controllers with very nice sensor interconnects and mini-boards.
- futurlec mini-boards and computer adapters - breakout mini-boards for many connectors,
- breakout boards or sensors - datalogger, current and wind sensors,
- Digikey - huge selection of components (more corporate focus)
- Jameco - huge selection of components (more hobbyist focus)