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Charmed Quark: Get Ready for Open-Source Home Automation

Charmed Quark is closing shop after eight years, offering its robust CQC home automation software and a rabid fan base to the open-source community.


Detail of a CQC iPad interface created by pjgregory, showcased on the Charmed Quark Website
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Updated July 29, 2010: Charmed Quark has decided not to open-source its home automation software. Click here to read story

There have been plenty of efforts over the years to bring home automation to the open-source community. However, none of those efforts has started with a fully baked home-control system, a rabid fan club and sizable installation base.

Now, we have the first real shot of open-source success with the unfortunate demise of Charmed Quark Systems, Ltd., developer of CQC automation software.

Charmed Quark founder, developer and indefatigable evangelist Dean Roddey is giving up on the business after eight years. The passionate guy that he is, however, instead of abandoning CQC’s fan club altogether or selling the company for a pittance, Roddey is opening up CQC’s source code and documentation for the taking.

Until this week, the software plus an almost-obligatory one-year maintenance fee cost $795 for a single use.

Roddey posted this message on his Website July 5:

I have decided to open source the product and withdraw it as a commercial prospect. I don’t really think it has a home other than with you brave folks who are willing to take on something fairly heavy. Basically there are tinkerers and there are professionals, and in between those two large groups are the few, the proud, the techno geeks. But the professionals aren’t interested in our product, and I don’t think it can compete in the lower end, and I don’t really want to honestly. There are other products that already have that niche filled fairly well.

Having followed Charmed Quark for years, I couldn’t agree more with Roddey’s assessment, but I hoped he could beat the odds.

In the end, Charmed Quark failed in the custom channel because CE pros demand hardware, customer support and viable business partners – something the company couldn’t provide. It failed in the DIY channel because CQC software is just too complicated for all but the geekiest of home-control enthusiasts. Plus, the tireless tinkerers generally won’t plop down $800 for software.

In all, admits Roddey, his company sold just 420 systems to consumers plus “a handful of pro systems.”

Sadly for Roddey, but fortunately for the industry, we now will have our real first shot at open-source home control.

Landscape for Open-Source Automation

To be sure, there are plenty of ongoing efforts and many failed attempts at open-source automation, but none has started with an established product, brand and user base like Charmed Quark has.

A few years ago, Pluto was good enough that Monster Cable made a substantial investment in the open-source Linux-based automation platform. Monster gave up pretty quickly on the resulting Einstein automation system, and Pluto has fallen off the map.

Pluto eventually morphed into LinuxMCE, which today commands considerably more attention; however, the LinuxMCE interface is unattractive and inflexible (to say the least), and the software supports precious few third-party devices for audio, video and automation. It basically boils down (today) to PC-based media management centered around MythTV, Z-Wave-enabled automation, IP cameras and Cisco phone systems.

Lately, we’ve also seen some movement with OpenRemote but the effort isn’t generating much buzz in the enthusiast or professional installation markets. Linux Home Automation lost steam pretty quickly. Ditto for other open-source initiatives.

If anyone can do it, my money is on Charmed Quark.

Currently, Roddey is figuring out the best way to migrate his wares into the public domain while he looks for a full-time job.

In his forum posting, he writes:

The product isn’t going to go away. It’ll still be there. Though development will obviously slow down a bit initially, hopefully it may even do better after that as some other folks become able to contribute. One thing about this product is that it’s not just a product. It’s a huge general purpose development framework on top of which a product is built. So actually, many other types of products could be built on top of it, in addition to the automation system. So there’s the possibility of building a fairly robust open source development community based on this code base, which would at worst indirectly benefit the automation product, and probably more than indirectly in many cases.

Rise & Fall of Charmed Quark

Like many home-automation products, CQC started as a hobby for Roddey, who took the software further than any other one-man, part-time home-control aficionado.

Roddey is one of the few home-control vendors that has mastered social media since the beginning – long before Twitter and Face book—culling an enthusiastic following from his countless postings on industry Web sites and forums, most notably AVSForum.

Plus, his software is really good, with a programming platform so robust it can do virtually anything the big guys can do.

image
CQC interface created by sic0048

CQC supports scores of third-party audio, video and automation subsystems (including all of the most popular ones) and enables rich, customizable user interfaces.

“You can change anything in CQC, which is what I like about it,” says integrator Bryan Brademan of Paradise Electronics, Horseshoe Bay, Texas. “You can write your own drivers, your own templates.”

Brademan has installed CQC in two (and counting) Pluckers restaurants in Texas. The systems run virtually everything in the joint including dozens of TVs and satellite receivers, Sirius/XM tuners, gaming, A/V receivers, multisource/multizone audio, karaoke, digital signage, and more, although the automation systems currently operate separately.

Like many CQC users, Brademan started out as a do-it-yourselfer, tinkering with the software in his own home, and eventually installing it in a friend’s place. He’s an IT guy with vast experience installing A/V switching systems in commercial venues.

For that reason, he doesn’t have much need for the proprietary hardware required of most established home-control systems.

“All hardware is industry-standard,” says Brademan. “For other control systems you have to buy their box.”


  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]

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