AIRTAME: Broken promise of "open source"

End of 2014 I bought an AIRTAME dongle, right after their successful kickstarter campaign. Airtame promised an open source wireless streaming solution for all major desktop operating systems - Linux, OSX and Windows as well for iOS and Android devices. They even had an extended desktop feature - using the wirelessly connected TV as a second screen!

A bit after half a year I got my HDMI dongle device and was underwhelmed. Streaming was laggy and broke, audio stuttered or did not work. No extended desktop. No android screen sharing. No open source.

Open Source

I bought the Airtame HDMI dongle for ~150€ (in 2017 it costs 300€) instead of a 35€ Chromecast or an equally cheap Miracast stick because they said their protocol and their firmware would be open source.

Here:

[...] The dongle runs our open source software which you also install on your computer from our homepage. Everything is built upon our own open protocol.

AIRTAME ApS Indiegogo profile

And here:

Everything is built upon our own open protocol. Users interact with the device through our open source software available through www.airtame.com

Businesswire 2014 International CES Exhibitor Profiles

And there:

The dongle runs our open source software which you also install on your computer from our homepage. Everything is built upon our own open protocol.

VBprofiles: Airtame

Their Indiegogo campaign "AIRTAME: Wireless HDMI for Everyone" ended in 2014-01, and the first dongles were shipped 2014-11 to the backers and buyers.

Today is 2017-04, three years have passed. Neither the dongle firmware, nor the desktop or mobile phone software are open source. The protocol is not open either.

Airtame failed to keep their promise.

Raspberry Pi firmware

During their campaign they posted new "stretch goals" on 2013-12-05:

They reached the firmware stretch goal 2013-12-13 and wrote:

We'll now release the official firmware to the Raspberry Pi in March'ish together with the 'Hacker Special' perk!

There is no Raspberry Pi firmware anywhere to see today on their page.

3 stages of open source

The Airtame forum has a thread about open sourcing and they said:

We are still commited to open source once it makes sense, from the maturity of the product, the business and the community around it.

Attila Sukosd, 2015-08-13

and then, a year later:

Since around the time this comment was posted we have been refactoring the core streaming elements of Airtame.

This means that releasing any source code related to this "outdated" code would be pointless as it would break the projects people create with the open source code.

We are almost done with this refactoring, coming in V2.0 and V2.1, and once it is completed we will begin releasing APIs.

tomyardyoung, 2016-06-13

We have three stages of "open source" now:

  1. 2013: Everything open source, including the protocol
  2. 2015: Open source once it makes sense from a business point (i.e. never)
  3. 2016: Release APIs

Airtame got over a million in funding on Indiegogo when they promised "all open source". Over the years they back off more and more, until now they are only promising to release APIs - which does not mean open source at all. It only means your open source code can interface with the Airtame, e.g. by using a closed binary library provided by them.

Wrong reasons

Not good enough

Airtame kept rewriting their software because they thought their initial version wasn't good enough. This was used as reason to not open source the code, which is a wrong reason.

Code it is never good enough. You either do open source and keep improving your code, or you do not open source. Airtame is, nearly 4 years later, not open source.

I believe they never will be because of business reasons. Their roadmap does not even mention source code releases.

But changes!

Another reason they gave was that they want to be able to change fundamental things. It looks like in their eyes open sourcing the code would mean a stable interface and protocol - which is wrong. You can do anything you like even if you are open source. It just happens visibly for others.

Apart from the code being closed despite their promise in the funding campaign, the did also not document their streaming protocol which would have allowed to build third-party streaming applications. This was also because they wanted to be able to change the protocol.

Solution

The correct way would have been to document the protocol + open source the code, and put a big "work in progress. will break." sticker on it.

Airtame would have kept their promise, and people would have been happier than they are now.

Written by Christian Weiske.

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