LinkSys Rocks

This is cool.

LinkSys last month switched the standard model of its ubiquitous WRT54G wireless router from Linux to VxWorks, starting with the “series 5” version. Now, LinkSys is shipping a Linux-based WRT54GL model that it says it created specially for Linux hobbyists, hackers, and aficianados. The L version is identical to the “series 4” WRT54G units that Linux hobbyists have long enjoyed hacking, according to the company.

LinkSys’s director of product marketing, Mani Dhillon, said LinkSys made the switch because, as a more deeply embedded system, VxWorks allowed the company to halve the amounts of Flash and RAM in the device, while retaining similar functionality. Apparently, reducing memory-related BOM (bill-of-materials) costs more than offset the costs of licensing a proprietary OS, given the WRT54G’s extremely high sales volume. “We sell literally hundreds of thousands per month,” Dhillon said.

The new, VxWorks-based WRT54G “series 5” models have 2MB of Flash, and 8MB of RAM, compared with 4MB of Flash and 16MB of RAM in the earlier, Linux-based versions. Although the “series 5” devices offer Linux hobbyists less elbow room to load alternative firmware (assuming they could get around the bootloader to install it), it seems likely the hacker community will rise to the challenge.

Linux hackers and hobbyists have long hot-rodded their WRT54Gs, adding features such as Radius authentication, bridge capabilities, VoIP QoS (voice-over-IP quality-of-service), and so on. The L model will continue to offer 4MB of Flash, and 16MB of RAM, in order to support the various freely and commercially available alternative firmware images for the devices that depend on those memory capacities.

That is great… So many manufactures would have done everything they could to discourage the hacking. LinkSys was smart enough to realize that these people made them lots of money and more importantly served as unpaid programming staff.

LinkSys was always “cool” about the hacking before but to make a special model just rocks. And it is good business, the next time I recommend a product for a customer, I’ll recommend a LinkSys device.

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