Cisco's rejection of open source success

Summary:Developers quickly launched open source projects that used the WRT54G as a bridge, as the heart of a mesh network, as a Virtual Private Network and Voice over IP server, even as a low power PC running what I like to call "Always On" applications, managing RFID tags, sensors, and actuators. What was Cisco's response to all this success?

Linksys WRT54G
In my interview with Jim Gatto last week, about open source insurance, one quote flew by me, so let's rewind.

The question was whether anyone had suffered a loss that an open source insurance policy might cover?

"When Cisco bought Linksys, it turned out some of the code in the Linksys firmware was open source. They were required to either open everything up or replace it. They decided to open it up"

He was talking, I believe, of the WRT54g, a WiFi router. A few months after Cisco bought Linksys, the firmware to the WRT54g was open sourced after it was found to be based on GPL Linux. Developers quickly launched open source projects that used the WRT54G as a bridge, as the heart of a mesh network, as a Virtual Private Network and Voice over IP server, even as a low power PC running what I like to call "Always On" applications, managing RFID tags, sensors, and actuators.

What was Cisco's response to all this success? Rodney Jaffe writes, "During this summer Cisco started shipping Version 5 of the  WRT54G. It was physically identical to the older versions, and the box noted no change."

But:

But Version 5 is an entirely different animal. Is now uses a totally new OS (VxWorks) which according to the developers is extremely difficult to modify/customize, and the RAM and flash memory have been cut in half.

Cisco killed its own success because it could not control what people were doing with its product.

Hopefully another router vendor will take the hint and release a router that supports what the old Linksys did, maybe with more memory, and a faster processor. Maybe they should advertise this fact, perhaps by seeding the open source community with them, supporting the old WRT54g projects, and advertising their Linux support. (It would also be nice if the new box supported 802.11n speeds of over 100 MBPS, so present users would have an incentive to upgrade.)

What Cisco has to say about all this is irrelevant to me. The answer should lie in the market. That's what I want to hear from.

Topics: Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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