I wrote this in response to comments on the Yahoo! group illinoisdigital hams about the need for open source and standards vs. the perceived proprietary nature of the D-STAR via the early implementation by Icom:

I know where you are coming from, I’m a big Open Source (in its broad definition – see Wikipedia article) advocate. I have been using Linux, GNU, MySQL, Apache, … practically from their beginnings. But have another perspective on some of your points.

Open Source is not free. There are implementation, support, and maintenance costs among other things. What it does allow though is open review and community participation in the development of products, which I believe makes them better products. The user/implementor of Open Source can choose from a market of ideas and make trade-offs between paying for the costs or absorbing them through their own labors.

We use all kinds of proprietary products in Amateur Radio, from vacuum tubes to microprocessors. Whether we homebrew or use commercially built products, we use building blocks of proprietary technology.

D-STAR was developed as an open protocol, not open source. I resisted it until recently because I don’t have the design skills to design and build the hardware platform inside a D-STAR radio (nor the math skills to create a great Vocoder from scratch). Icom was the only game in town and while they make great products, they haven’t caught the vision of opening and documenting their interfaces so that others can build on their building blocks. (Which would lead to more sales.) Then I learned that there were a few folks out there working on open designs for hardware, so I took the plunge and bought a D-STAR handheld (an IC91AD) and headed off to Dayton with it in hand (could have saved some money by waiting until I was there BTW) and one of the first things I saw was a working 2 meter D-STAR radio, homebrewed completely from components and user written software (WHOO-HOO, thanks “Mel”), a few months ahead of when I expected to see it. I also saw a board that can emulate the inter-repeater/controller control line protocols Icom has implemented as well as the Internet protocols that gateways use to talk to each other and the builder has written software that can be used to create open source replacements for the controller and gateway. So now, there is hardware and software to build our own repeaters and gateways (that don’t necessarily have to do it the Icom way of implementing the open on air protocol) and create our own applications that run in the network.

One could probably do the same thing with P25 (open specification) on the radio side, replacing the vendor proprietary stuff on the back side and, in software, create a gateway to route between them (at least in the local zone) — It remains to be seen if that could be done with Mototurbo technology (is their on air protocol patented?).

However, in each of the D-STAR (OpenDSTAR – see the coming opendstar.org site) and P25 examples they will still be built using some proprietary components such as the AMBE2020 and IMBE vocoders, A/D and D/A chips, microcontrollers, etc. as building blocks. That is how Amateur Radio has always been done. Our great opportunity is to build really “killer” applications for the technology that brings Amateur Radio back into relevance to the regulators. I don’t care if someone buys the technology or builds it, but open source is important to innovation in our hobby — right now D-STAR is ahead in that game thanks to some pioneers who are providing the tools and building blocks in an open and “free” approach.