Posts from September, 2012

Site Compatibility Testing for Firefox for Android

Aaron Train

The Mozilla Developer Network has recently accepted an excellent
informational article written by Jason Smith, Lawrence Mandel, and Janet
Swisher essentially entailing the largely problematic issue of browser
and content compatibility with the mobile web. If you are interested in
site testing for Firefox for Android, please give the article a read;
and help us improve the web. Let us know if you have any questions about
compatibility testing or want to become involved in Mozilla’s mobile web
compatibility effort, please sign up for the mailing list.

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OMFG Closed Source 3D Printers

Al Billings

Bre Pettis

Wow. I posted about the new Makerbot Industries Replicator 2 yesterday. I’m still, site unseen except for the videos, impressed by the design and taking things to a prosumer level but Bre and MI have apparently confirmed that the software and (it seems?) the hardware are both closed source, at least according to Josef Prusa, and people are having an Internet style freakout.

Since the first Makerbot machine, the Cupcake, and all subsequent ones, were iterations off of designs from the RepRap community. RepRap is pretty much the epitomy of an open source community in both hardware and software. Earlier versions of the Makerbot software, ReplicatorG, just wrapped up existing open source RepRap software components. There has always been some tension between Makerbot Industries as a company selling itself and its ideas to the public (and investors) and the open source roots of their work but they have handled it fairly well until now. Bre and others there have been involved publicly in various open hardware events. MI released their designs for printers to the community, making them available in repositories and on Thingiverse, their site for hosting designs. This has led to quit a few knockoffs and a few outright clones, such as the Tangibot that had a failed kickstarter and was simply a direct, Chinese manufactured, clone of the existing MI Replicator. People have wondered if MI was going to continue to be an open source company in the face of threats like Tangibot, especially with having taken VC money in the last year.

Because of this history and the reactions of many open source folks to commercialization of FOSS work, people often seem to have an ambivalent relationship to Makerbot Industries. I’ve been one of them, having felt burned by the way they abandoned support of existing product lines almost immediately on shipping new versions, which is not what you expect from a commercial company with customers. At my hackerspace, this has made us unwilling to rely on MI for our printers, causing us to look at and use various alternatives (and to not replace our aging Cupcakes with newer MI designs).

Today, the shitstorm has landed (more of a shitnami as I write this). Josef Prusa, of “Prusa Mendel” fame, claims that he’s called MI and exchanged email with Bre Pettis and that it is confirmed that the new Replicator 2 and Makerware, their new software, are closed source. I’m not sure if this understanding is actually true or if it is that the software is closed source (it has a spiffy giant EULA) with open source components and the Replicator 2 reference designs will be open sourced once they’ve actually shipping in a month or two. The latter is what they did with previous designs, not making them available until after they ship. Regardless of the final picture on this, the RepRep and 3D printing community is freaking out today.

The comment thread on Josef’s post is pretty epic (and his “Occupy Thingiverse” post on and now there are a series of Google+ proclamations and responses (see 1, 2, and 3) as people start freaking out about the not-very-recently-changed Thingiverse EULA since Thingiverse is operated by MI. Josef’s post and the controversy have also made Slashdot and Reddit today with people making various proposals for moving the hosting of designs off of Thingiverse.

This ought to get interesting but I do hope people calm down. Even if MI and Bre have decided to go closed source, it doesn’t necessarily really affect the RepRap (or larger 3D printing community), given that 3D printing has been dominated by fairly large, closed source, corporate entities for decades. People can continue to iterate on designs and improve things. Personally, as much as I wish that it was open source, having an affordable (under $3,000) 3D printer that is reliable and usable by non-geeks will raise the bar for the larger community. It gives people a target to beat and to do so with open source. I do think people are up to the challenge and I look forward to seeing their work.

Update: Bre has posted an official reponse to the kerfuffle.

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New Makerbot Printer

Al Billings

Wow, today is an unexpected news day for 3D printing. Over at Ace Monster Toys, we’ve had a number of 3D printers, either in the space (Makerbot Cupcakes, part of a Prusa Mendel, and a Printrbot LC) but have always found them a bit of a pain in the ass, frankly. By and large, they haven’t lived up to the hype, mostly because of maintenance issues which make them a bit unreliable for the kind of day in and day out printing by random folks that you expect to have in a hackerspace.

We’ve been talking about getting an Up printer for a while. The downside of the Up printer is that it isn’t open source. It is a Chinese made printer using the ideas from the RepRap community but using closed source software. It isn’t a tinkerer’s device. A lot of people who have 3D printers have them as a project in and of themselves, which makes them fun to work on (I guess). If you just want to make a 3D file and print it, you’re less interested in the printer as its own project and just having it work. By a number of accounts of friends at professional prototyping shops and research groups, the Up just works. It feels bad since it betrays the open source ethos.

Because of all of this, we’ve gone back and forth on this. I still expect that we’re likely to get an Up at AMT, based on price and reliability. The wrinkle today is that Makerbot Industries, who was the first company to really comercialize RepRap hobbyist technology has finally created a printer that they consider a “prosumer” device, the Replicator 2. They announced it today in a live press event and their website has now been updated to reflect the new products.

My issues in the past with Makerbot Industries is that they tend to orphan users of their devices and have an annual or less update cycle. So, if you buy your new shiny printer kit from them, build it and are working with it, Makerbot Industries tends to end support a few months after you bought it in order to suddenly unveil their new printer. They don’t do legacy support, except within the community (not their staff), which really sucks. When I owned one of their Cupcake printers, I felt really burned by this. I know, for example, that Hacker Dojo in Mountain View just ordered a Replicator printer, which was the new hotness less than six months ago at Maker Faire, just a week or so ago. Suddenly, their printer is now old news and probably won’t be supported in six months.

So, this is the downside of a quickly iterating hardware startup.

The upside of quick iteration is that the state of the art seems to really improve quickly, which is the case today. The Replicator 2. It has a 0.1 mm layer height on the parts it prints out, which is damn good out of the box. I’ve seen other printers do this or better but not without a massive amount of tweaking and playing with them. This printer has gone from ye olde lasercut plywood, the standard for almost all, to a metal framed, factory assembled printer.


Features that they are listing are:

  • 1.2 L x 6.1 W x 6 H in(12.75 in diagonal) buid area (which is huge)
  • 100-micron layer resolution
  • Wear-resistant, oil-infused bronze bearings
  • Black powder-coated steel frame
  • Optimized for PLA (which is a nicer material in the long run)
  • New software (Makerware) which seems to be compiled code and optimized for use by normal humans (downside is that they are using a new file format…)

I’m actually excited by this device, which is unusual for my jaded self at this point. My main, personal, goal with a 3D printer is to design and print cool things. I’m actually quite tired of the ongoing “build and maintain a 3D printer from scratch or a kit” type projects. I just want to print stuff. This new Replicator 2, along with the current Up Plus and the upcoming Up Mini, is one of the few things out there to fulfill this goal.

The one downside is that Makerbot Industries’ prices keep going up. The Cupcake was something like $900 or $1,000 as a kit and the common price point is from there to about $1,400. This new device is $2,200, basically. That isn’t cheap, which means people really need to think about whether they want or need this device. It is definitely worth considering though.

Update: I see Wired magazine has a big piece up now. Make Magazine has a mini review up as well.

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