Andrew Back of AB Open and FOSSi Foundation has been working on this great series of interviews called Open Source Digital Design Insights, in which he has been interviewing some of the great minds of the Free and Open Source Silicon movement (+ me). In the fourth episode the turn has come to me. As I watch the video myself, I realize how quickly time moves in the open source silicon world and how many things that have happened since then. I would therefore like to take the opportunity to add some more context as an addendum to the interview.
The interview was made at ORConf 2015, the same day as we publicly announced the Free and Open Source Silicon Foundation. We had been working on this for a year and it was a great feeling to present our ambitions to the world. The first thing that strikes during this interview is that we hadn't yet embraced the Open Source Silicon epithet ourselves and were still referring to our work as Open Source Hardware.
Another major theme that can use some more explanation is to role of the OpenRISC project nowadays. I would believe that most people coming in contact with open source silicon at this time will do so through the RISC-V project. When I started out, the RISC-V project was not yet born and OpenRISC was just about to become a teenager. OpenRISC wasn't the only free ISA around at the time. Most notably there were also free implementations of SPARC (both the LEON and the Sun T1/T2) and Lattice Mico 32 (lm32). OpenRISC was likely the most widely used architecture however and is still used in some critical infrastructure, which I'm unfortunately not allowed to speak freely of. Despite being widely used, the OpenRISC ISA hasn't been without faults, and already in 2011, we started work on a successor to the OpenRISC 1000 ISA, called OpenRISC 2000. Some of the things we wanted to fix was removal of the branch delay slots, better support for wider instruction lengths, instruction compression, more modular instruction set, revised memory model and other things. Unfortunately, we never got around to implement any of that, as we were a small group and there was barely enough manpower to do all the necessary work on or1k. Turns out, we never needed to, because a year or two after that, RISC-V came along and did all those things that we had planned for or2k - and more. In that regard, we see RISC-V as the spiritual successor to OpenRISC and we are happy to pass the dutch to RISC-V for future free thinking ISA development.
So what's the deal with OpenRISC in 2017? Well, it's not seeing as many design starts as it used to do since most new designs are based on RISC-V. My guess is that the ones who make new designs based on OpenRISC do it because they either already have a working OpenRISC environment and have no need to replace that, or because they know that it's a stable code base that has been ASIC-proven numerous times for more than a decade. On the software side we are still pushing to upstream some of the last bits of the toolchains, notably GDB and GCC. There are also some updates and clarifications to the specification, mostly related to the ABI.
I believe that the greatest legacy of OpenRISC will not be the ISA, but the idea and realization of a free and open source silicon ecosystem. A CPU isn't very useful by itself and much of what came out of the OpenRISC project was IP cores, such as peripheral controllers and a lot of support software. For example, the i2c and ethernet drivers for the controllers that came out from the OpenRISC project has been in the Linux kernel since 2006, which is seven years before the OpenRISC CPU support was added to the kernel. Some of the debug infrastructure that originated from OpenRISC is widely used in RISC-V-based designs. The FOSSi Foundation was born from a group of OpenRISC developers who saw the need for a vendor-independent group to foster the open source silicon ecosystem, regardless of which ISA is currently in vogue. ORConf was originally the OpenRISC conference. We have considered renaming it, but we like the name so we just have to find a good backronym (the best proposal is still Olof's Rock'n'roll Conference). Even FuseSoC was born as a tool to make it easier to build OpenRISC-based SoCs, and for the first year or two it was still called ORPSoCv3 (OpenRISC Reference Platform System on Chip version 3)
Enough said about OpenRISC. I think the most amazing aspect of the interview is that I did not mention FuseSoC even once. Nope. Not a single mention of FuseSoC in over 8 minutes! And if you think I look a bit like a zombie sloth on heroin in the interview, that's because I usually spend the months leading up to ORConf as Sonic the Hedgehog on amphetamine, so once everyone is seated and the conference starts, that's when I start to relax. It's a lot of work to organize a conference, but I absolutely love doing it and I hope that you will come to visit and enjoy as well. And if you haven't seen the other entries in the OSDDI series, please watch them now. They really are insights in the world of open source silicon from some of the most knowledgeable people in the field (+me).