Firefox, Linux, LibreOffice etc. are the proof that open software are successful. But, open hardware has never been massively adopted and used in the industry. Keeping everything secret is still the commonly rule followed by corporations. It seems that thing are at least slowly changing.
First, some major corporations like TI, NXP, Freescale, Xilinx and others have started to promote their chips by creating open communities :
- TI : Beagleboard
- NXP : Mbed
- ST-Ericsson : Igloo
- Freescale : iMX
- Xilinx Celebrates Winners of Industrys First Open Source Hardware Innovation Contest
The fact that major corporations are looking toward open source world is certainly a big change.
Usual open software license like GNU GPL are not adapted to hardware. Real efforts to define open hardware licenses are also in progress. At least the FSF is considering the open hardware license :
We can also see more and more open hardware that may really interest companies. One very interesting place to visit is the CERN Open Hardware Repository, where you can find complex projects like the White Rabbit. A system to synchronize 1000 nodes with sub ns accuracy over 10km. Even if its not very used in industry, Arduino is very popular among hobbyist, and also a commercial success for its distributors. 30 000 boards were sold in 2006, and The Arduinos community was estimated to 100 000 users in 2010. Other open hardware actors like Dangerous Prototypes sell their products through distributors (http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/wherelabs-m-9.html).
Some additional links :