Cisco's rejection of open source success

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?

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Linksys WRT54GIn 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.

Topic: Open Source

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4 comments
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  • open source inovations...

    it should go to show, a close knit community of programmers that get no pay can show cisco how its done.. kinda like the belle at the ball..
    nynetsec
  • What's in it for them

    Sure it was a cool device but the business equation yields different results than your analysis.

    I don't think the open source firmware helped increase Linksys sales. Besides a few OSS enthusiasts very few end users would get any benefit from the availability of an open source firmware for that device.

    Conversely, the benefit of decreasing the memory requirements is a direct impact on product cost and either end-user price or profitability for every single device sold.

    As a business it does not take long to decide which option to go for.
    jc@...
    • Early Adopters

      Jean: Most companies think it's a mistake to annoy early adopters and gadget freaks. Their negative recommendations can reduce your future market share significantly.

      But you are right about your analysis. I don't think the answer lies in arguing about it.

      I think the question is whether another vendor will take this as an opportunity.
      DanaBlankenhorn
  • I recently bought a WRT54G, found out it was v5, and prompty sent it back!!

    I paid twice as much on eBay for an old v2 WRT54G. Everybody knows about DD-WRT http://www.dd-wrt.com and yes, Cisco's stupid decision will hurt future LinkSys sales. People are smarter than you think, especially when there is a major benfit such as being able to increase the range of the wireless signal from the default 28mW up to 251mW.
    xunil skcor