I stumbled about a text which describes why it is beneficial to disclose hardware programming docs and why it doesn’t help in keeping this information away from the competition. I don’t repeat it here, so go and read it.
It’s a little bit old (last modified in 2003), but IMO still up-to-date. If someone approaches a company for hardware docs, please provide this link to them!
Unfortunately it fails to mention that it would even be nice to get docs for obsolete or not supported anymore hardware (if your competition learns even stuff from your hardware which is 3 – 4 generations old, it is not really a competition and you most probably are leading because of innovation, if not you either are too expensive and opening the docs would be a reason to buy regardless, or your software development is not good enough and opening the docs would allow users to fix this problem themselves). This could be a first step for a company to “test the water”. It would be an investment without any money in return (the company doesn’t sell such hardware anymore), but it would show the company how it affects their image, how much they have to invest and what they can get in return (when people do creative things with your obsolete hardware you haven’t imagined before, you can bet they can do the same with your current hardware too… you may get an entirely new market “for free”).
If you apply some more thoughts about this topic and for example graphic cards, you even notice that any information the competition may get by looking at freely available hardware docs for graphic cards (instead of reverse engineering it), can only be used 2 – 3 innovation cycles later. This is caused by the short turn around times between new graphic cards. When a new graphic card hits the market, a development team already works at the second next generation (and the next generation is most probably not only in feature freeze but at the bug fixing and performance enhancement step). Now, how much value does the competition gain from this? I would say only the money needed for the reverse engineering. At the same time you gain money from hardware sales from those people which use (the result of) your hardware docs. And the competition is required to open their docs too (see below for the “computer freaks” part), so you can safe the money for the reverse engineering later too.
For soundcards this is a little bit different. There you don’t have such short cycles, but currently there you have a published standard (HDA) and you have Creative with no docs at all on the other side. Hey, Creative, if you stumble upon this, what about kicking Microsoft in the ass by providing your hardware documentation to anyone and benefiting from a lot of people which are pissed off because their shiny Creative-gear doesn’t work on Vista? I’m sure a lot of people are willing to spend their free time to find a way to make your hardware useable on Vista (and on other OS’) without getting money from you. And I’m sure people will find a way to get stuff out of your hardware which makes your eyes fall out of your head (and increases hardware sales). Oh… yes… hey, VIA, what about the docs for your soundgear too? There’s no market for selling hardware docs, but a huge market to sell sound hardware. And those people which play around with non-mainstream software are those people (computer freaks) which recommend hardware to people (mom, dad, neighbors, friends) which don’t play around but just use mainstream software. Those “ordinary” people may not depend on your hardware docs, but the computer freaks will more likely recommend stuff which works not only on the mainstream stuff (just in case someone wants to try some non-mainstream stuff).
The same (computer freaks recommending hardware) is true for cable TV / satellite TV / … stuff.