Openness is a virtue


This is a bit of a rant. Bear with me.

We are working on a whiteboard capture and retrieval project (more blogging on this later). The goal is to capture whiteboard images in some unobtrusive manner and then store and index them for future retrieval and browsing. We currently capture with a video camera, but thought it would be good to be agnostic with respect to the source of capture.

mimio makes a whiteboard ink capture tool that uses an IR receiver to track positions of pens on the whiteboard. You still use the same dry-erase markers, but house them in an IR-transmitting enclosure. We thought that would be perfect to tell us when and where inking was taking place.

The software distributed with the device includes an integrated client that receives events and displays them on the screen, so we looked online to find an API or SDK to capture events from these pens. No luck. Tried several searches, nothing. Found only a stale reference to a page that doesn’t exist any more.

So I called them up. I asked whether they had an SDK that third-party developers could use in conjunction with their hardware. The person answering the phone asks for my name.  Then she wants me to spell it. Huh? We finally got past that, and I asked my question again. I got put on hold, and after a short wait the answer came back as “No.” I asked the question in a slightly different way to make sure that it was understood, but the answer was still the same.

How is this possible? Why would a company that sells hardware not want third-party developers to build on it? Yes, they also distribute their own client software, but that’s bundled with the hardware. Why not give it away for free or charge some nominal license fee to increase the installed base of their hardware? Makes no sense. How can companies expect to prosper in our open source culture without fostering a community of users and developers to extend the capabilities of their products? mimio’s competitors such as eBeam and Smart make SDKs available to developers. Why wouldn’t mimio?

I hope that the people responsible for mimio’s business strategy are aware of the opportunities they are missing by dismissing potential sources of revenue out of hand. It would be even sadder if this policy was simply the result of a tech support department that wants to reduce its workload.

End of rant.