Firmware Foibles

I’m continually amazed at the things clever geeks can make odd bits of hardware do. Take, for instance, the Linksys NSLU2, or the many wireless routers that can be modified to do so many, many things their manufacturers never intended. Why run an Asterisk telephone server on a PC drawing 150, even 250 watts of power, when a $50, 15 watt “router” does so just as well? It’s clever, it’s geeky, and it’s environmentally-friendly. What more could you ask for?

Well, for starters…

…I’d really like to see more effort being expended on making older, more obsolete bits of hardware usable again. In theory, if your device has a processor, memory, and some semi-standardized way of talking to the world, there is probably some way it can be re-purposed to do new things. I mean, okay, yes, it’s neat that there are dozens and dozens of wireless routers you can hack to run Linux. Now, how about we make some of the thousands of older “network appliances” useful again? Older firewalls and security devices from Sonicwall, Juniper, Cisco, Watchguard, Netscreen, and others are no longer supported and vulnerable to exploit with their most recent firmwares. How great would it be if they could be re-purposed as open-source routers? Has anyone tried?

What about those “Alphashield” boxes that regularly sell for $30 or less? The manufacturer claims to have sold over a million of the damned things; has nobody really been able to hack them? Has anyone tried?

I don’t get it; it’s like people will spend a huge amount of time and effort to hack and mod just about anything with a wi-fi antenna, but completely ignore all the thousands of dirt-cheap ethernet-only devices out there, even if they’re a dozen times more powerful than any of the wireless routers. Hell, at any given moment there are a half-dozen old Cisco network cache machines (CE/Cache Engine/Content Engine) on eBay for dirt-cheap prices – weird little PIII boxes with SCSI and sometimes IDE support, usually 256MB or so of RAM and a couple hard drives, all in a small rackmount box. They should in theory be fully Linux-compatible, and would – I’d think – make great, cheap home multimedia servers. Yes, as far as I can tell, nobody’s too interested in this, though it’s been done at least once.

Yes, I know it’s neat to have a little tiny router that can do lots of cool things, but where’s the love for all the other hardware out there?

Published in: Geekiness, General | on February 17th, 2009| 1 Comment »

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  1. On 2/17/2009 at 4:55 pm cb Said:

    Mobile phones too – the world is awash in routers and mobile phones, it seems silly that we are still manufacturing new ones.