The open source movement, which I disrespectfully use as a term for the free software movement, has gone from a obscure group of nerds to the force powering smart-phones, the internet and large parts of our lifes. Taking away the need to re-implement the wheel of software each time, has brought a new playing field. A field where the innovation and added functionality matters more than the history and summed up code-base.
From a high-level viewpoint, the open source approach to software development means that more engineering resources are spent in moving the technology forward, rather than implementing what the competition already have. Another positive aspect is that everyone is invited. A key factor to open source is the liberty granted to your peers. Anyone can use anything as the base for anything. Good for students, good for developing countries, good for building a community instead of a set of fenced off gardens (or rather, walled in).
The open movement within hardware has been along for a long time, but it is growing in strength right now. Powered by the success of projects like OpenRISC and Arduino, the approach has gained popularity. The easy of access means that this often is the first contact with real hardware projects for students and other learners – giving momentum for the future. For the curious, check out openhardware.de, Open Hardware Summit and Open Cores. There are more sites out there – enjoy!