Sunday, April 15, 2007

Importance of Open Source

I've had a face-to-face encounter with the most important feature of Open Source today. This chance encounter occured as I was trying to update the firmware for my router. I periodically update the firmware to ensure that the security is up to date.

I went online to search for the latest firmware patch for my router "WBR2-G54" from Buffalo. So, I googled for "WBR2-G54 firmware" and was fairly surprised to find none of the listings referred to a Buffalo firmware. Further checks revealed that support and updates had been discontinued for my router. Sad.

However, the top google results referred to something called OpenWRT. I've heard of these open wireless router firmware before but had never tried them. The OpenWRT firmware is based on the original GPL firmware for the Linksys WRT54G router. These routers run on Linux and so, the firmware source code has to be Open Sourced as well.

Further checks showed that my router design is also based on a similar design. Checking the OpenWRT site in detail showed that my router was indeed supported. There were even detailed instructions on how to update my router with the latest OpenWRT firmware. This got me excited as I could now run Linux on my router as well!

So, I quickly downloaded the latest stable version and flashed my router with the firmware. Then, keeping my fingers crossed, I rebooted my router and it worked! Haha! So, I spent the next hour setting up my *new* router with new settigs. With the open firmware, my router is more powerful that it ever was before.

Essentially, I can login to my router using SSH and get full access to the router. I can run all the normal shell commands like the kind that I'm familiar with on a desktop. So, it was fairly easy to diagnose and setup various settings. However, it also comes with a web-based interface that I can use to set things up from a GUI. The web interface is basically a front end that will execute the sequence of shell commands.

Now, I'm happy to say that it's all working. So, I didn't brick my old router. So, one thing that open source is important for is the maintenance of old technology that the original manufacturers no longer wish to support. Since Microsoft is cutting off Windows XP next year, most people might feel the need to upgrade to the latest open source OS instead.

[Okay, I admit that I'm geeky enough to love the idea of running a Linux OS on my router!]

No comments: