Open source as a philosophy and is not just limited to software as you might at first assume. You can have open source books, hardware and even beer (opens in new tab) (yep you can make your own beer).
Now, Sun Microsystems has open sourced its latest chip, the UltraSPARC T1 processor (opens in new tab) and its Hypervisor API under the General Public License 2.0 and it is available at opensparc.net (opens in new tab).
It is clear that Sun Microsystems seeks to emulate what Linus Torvalds did for Linux 15 years ago. By opening the whole system to the eyes of the world, Sun hopes to encourage participation, get free PR, reduce the cost of development and bring hardware development to a new level.
Inherently though, this kind of initiative is bound to attract a lot less interest than free and open source software (FOSS) for example, simply because generally hardware is a lot more complicated than software and the price of entry is exorbitant.
After all, not everyone has a £1bn 65nm processing plant readily available. Microprocessor giant, Intel has just enough to be counted on the fingers of one hand. In contrast, anyone can write, compile and run code on a five year old computer which obviously expands the user base to millions.
Sun is adamant that open source is the way to go and is taking over IBM as the most open source friendly IT company out there. After Star Office, Solaris and SPARC, one cannot help but wonder what will Sun's next open source step be. Watch out these columns for more.