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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.


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Detail of a CQC iPad interface created by pjgregory, showcased on the Charmed Quark Website

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.

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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.”





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Article Topics

News · Product News · Home Automation and Control · Home Automation · Charmed Quark · Dean Roddey · Open Source · Cqc · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
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. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson. [More by Julie Jacobson]

17 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by IVB  on  07/07  at  02:21 PM

I’ve been a CQC user for nearly 6 years, and although i’m sad to see its demise as a commercial company, i’m thoroughly impressed by Dean Roddey’s decision to open-source it. He could have sold it for far too little at which point it would have likely died on the vine.

Instead, he’s altruistically given us all something that will live on & potentially mature and gain traction much faster than with him alone. Given that this is his life’s work, I can only hope I would be 1% as noble.

Well done, Dean, we thank you for your truly selfless act.

Posted by AnthonyZ  on  07/07  at  07:01 PM

I am also a CQC user and happen to be one of the “handful” of professionals who installed the product for clients. I am saddened by the fact that Dean was unable to succeed and that the product failed to thrive. The fact is, it’s an excellent automation platform that is vastly more powerful than many other platforms (C4, Homelogic, Colorado Vnet, etc) and yet, didn’t make it. Unfortunately, I believe that many integrators are looking for something that is easier to duplicate over and over again (understandable even if they do continue to use the label “custom”) or are too weak/lazy (unforgivable) and incapable of putting in the effort to rock a killer system. Just my $.02…

Posted by Whitevan Lifestyle  on  07/07  at  11:27 PM

You are all class Dean! I hope you stay in the industry and find your sweet spot. I know how much you have put into CQC and it takes a truly great person to do what you’ve done. Thank you.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  07/08  at  03:42 AM

@IVB—Dean is good to open the code, but I believe “altruism” is a strong word. In his own words, “Selling it wouldn’t be a likely practical solution. For what I could get for it, I’d do far better by having it public, so that I can prove what I’ve achieved. If someone bought it, I’d get a few bucks, and someone else would just take the work of my life and I’d never get any real credit for it.”

@AnthonyZ—why is it “unfortunate” that integrators are “looking for something that is easier to duplicate”? It’s hardly “weak/lazy (unforgivable)” to work with a system that makes the best business sense.

Posted by AnthonyZ  on  07/08  at  06:56 PM

Julie, reread my comment and apply context. Then note my comment on repeatability being understandable. Then we should be on the same page.

Posted by Dave Perrico  on  07/09  at  11:33 AM

It’s sad any time you see a product someone puts years of blood sweat and tears into come to and end. We share the same passion that Dean has for his product in ours and know how hard it must have been to come to his decision. Julie hit the nail on the head. You have to convince the dealers and system integrators that you are a real company with real products. Having a great product is only a small part of the equation. You have to have top notch technical support and bullet proof hardware and software.

Customer service is key and we pride ourselves on our tech support and white glove service. A common idiom is that you have to put in your 10,000 hours to become successful. Everyone here at Cinemar is well beyond their 10,000 hour quota’s and there’s no slowing down. I think that you can see by our new line of servers and touch screens that we are in it for the long run. Our software is as stable and robust as anything else out there. We are continually moving more and more to an out-of-the-box solution but with the ability to change it if you need to. Some things have been in development for over a year now that will illustrate this.

We are constantly developing new solutions and evolving products. We cater to the DIYer but embrace our system integrators. It’s a difficult and demanding line to walk. We try hard.

As for CQC and open source. Only time will tell. I’m not sure open source will reduce the complexity of the product without a major overhaul from Dean since he will still have to approve any changes and still have the final say in what stays and goes. One of the biggest obstacles in this business is that there is no one solution when it comes to automating your home. Everyone’s home is different with different requirements. You cannot build a one size fits all product. Meaning, try as you must, there will always be a need for customization after you install the software. A dedicated DIYer that is familiar with programming will probably be able to make it work for his home. But there is little probability that it is going to work in mine. So I think the open source route will be a long hard tow. Everything evolves. We’ll watch what happens.

While we’ve taken our fair share of criticism for charging for various plugins rather than following CQC’s pricing model, it’s a fact of life that there’s always new products coming out that require a driver to be developed. Which takes time and money. We recoup those investments by passing the costs onto our customers through our ala carte pricing structure. Cinemar would prefer not to develop drivers and focus more on the core engine (MLServer & MainLobby), but until the industry has a standard protocol across all manufacturers, we are forced to devote resources to driver development. But that’s what automation is all about, controlling various devices and software. This is one good reason Cinemar continues to stay profitable and in business. Our dealers are also big helpers in funding many drivers and core modules.

We think CQC’s approach vs Cinemar’s is a right brain vs. left brain scenario. Different approaches to arriving at a great looking interface that controls everything in the home. While some users find our system easier, others may not agree. We wish Dean the best and perhaps our paths will cross again. Who knows? Maybe someday he’ll be on our side of the brain helping us out.

For those who have purchased CQC in the past, we’re offering a Competitive Upgrade Program to transition them to Cinemar at a great price.

Posted by Juha Lindfors  on  07/09  at  02:07 PM

Couple of interesting points made there.

(1) Everyone’s home is different. Very true. Automation products are framework/platform plays at software level. They do need to be configured/customized to some degree in all cases, today quite a lot in some cases, in the future as technology evolves maybe some improvements can be made, but I doubt this need will ever completely disappear.

What this also means that automation is fundamentally always a service business. The customer service, technical support, installation, maintenance, it’s all there. First line phone/online support, 2nd line, onsite, consulting. And the business of training the professionals to do it all.

And the vendor value-add to service business lies in the tools they can make available to the installer/integrators to service customers.

(2) Lack of standards. By far the biggest thing holding the industry back at the moment. New device, new driver, everyone scrambles to repeat the same work, over and over again.

This is where Open Source is a key differentiator. It establishes a platform. It creates a common platform for everyone. Once integration/driver development is done once, it is free for everyone to consume. So that increased driver development cost you’re now free to spend somewhere else in your business.

And that means increased growth. It means more specialization when you’re freed from chasing the latest device driver development. And it means more innovation.

And fundamentally, it gives more credibility to the smaller players as they can immediately claim support through the integration points enabled in the platform.

It is the lack of this standard platform that keeps home automation business in a deadlock.

Juha Lindfors
http://www.openremote.org

Posted by gordonlighting  on  07/10  at  08:25 AM

Charmed Quark seems like they have a business model for a programming house, not a hardware integrator.
Perhaps a business model where they program Crestron, Lutron, HAI, AND their own home-brew would be more rewarding and at the same time allow for growth in other areas. Nice panel graphics and layouts; could be an alternate source of revenue.

Posted by Neil Cherry  on  07/14  at  06:08 PM

Hmm, bad and good news on Charmed Quark. I’m sorry to hear that Rodney had to go down this road that’s really bad. Rodney is well respected in the HA community. It’s good to hear that the software is being open sourced. This doesn’t leave the community helpless and hopeless. Rodney I salute you!

Juha (above) has addressed the issue of Open Remote. I’ll tackle the Linux Home Automation site. In the words of Monty Python: “I’m not dead yet”. Really it’s not abandoned! I’m way behind on my updates. I even forgot to post about my home automation presentation at the Trenton Computer Festival back in April. Boy that’s embarrassing!  I’ll sum it up as busy. Busy related to home automation, work and family. Besides the LHA pages are more a library than software.

I’m still involved. My home is run by Misterhouse and though the main software version hasn’t changed, the development version is updated quite often with new features (long story). I’m hoping to have IPv6 added to Misterhouse by the end of the year.

Posted by Not so fast  on  07/23  at  09:34 AM

It looks like CQC is still in business and the open source plans are off.

Posted by Chris  on  07/23  at  05:39 PM

They’ve just ensured I’ll never go with their product again. They can do whatever they want, but as a business person, so can I. I’ll continue to steer people to Prodigy, HAI and the like. Their commercial licenses are too expensive anyways. People who waver on their word are scary to do business with.

Posted by John  on  07/29  at  09:05 AM

Oops… this story was featured in a “Top 10 Stories” segment from today’s CEPro newsletter…. even tho it’s already been superceded by a follow up story showing the product is no longer going open-source.

DOH!

Posted by Steve Crowe  on  07/29  at  09:09 AM

Hey John,

Those Most Popular Stories are chosen based on how many views they got.

Posted by John  on  07/29  at  09:13 AM

Steve - Understood.  For those who are seeing the story for the first time, might be good to post a link to the followup, just to avoid confusion.

Posted by Steve Crowe  on  07/29  at  09:16 AM

Great thinking, John. Link has been added to story and here it is as well: http://www.cepro.com/article/charmed_quark_on_open_source_never_mind/

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