I'll admit, I was a little bit excited when I read earlier this week that Netgear was launching a quote-unquote open-source router. It's not very often--well, hardly ever--that one sees a larger corporate manufacturer of computer hardware so brazenly embrace the ideals (and code) of the open-source enthusiasts. If anything, it seems that companies in the networking space tend to go a little out of their way to ensure that one can't add or tweak a store-bought device with unofficial firmware. I think they'd much prefer to up-sell you additional features than watch you unlock them yourself, but that's just me.
And yet, here we are! An open-source router! Just the kind of thing you want to bring home, install into your network, and begin updating with the best DD-WRT, OpenWRT, or Tomato firmware you can get your hands on. Imagine the possibilities! Imagine the new features you might be able to play around with! Imagine the joy in your family's eyes when you tell 'em how you've transformed your Jekyll of a local area network into an beastly, unrestrained Hyde. They'll talk about this day for the next five family gatherings at least!
I exaggerate, but only because it seems that the marketing team for Netgear's WNR3500L gigabit router is probably benefiting the most from this "switch" to open-source. I can't see average consumers using this device to its fullest potential, if that's even possible to begin with. The WNR3500L isn't actually open-source all the way. By incorporating closed-source drivers into the product--and triumphing third-party firmware that may or may not run afoul of the GPL itself--Netgear could actually be costing consumers valuable security and functionality.
That being the case, why would one ever want to switch to open-source?
Netgear announced their latest foray into the open source wireless router realm with the Netgear WNR3500L. Cisco based Linksys routers targeted at consumers have been flaunting the Linux OS for quite some time. However, Netgear has plans to become a favorite amongst the open source networking community.
The WNR3500L rocks the latest 802.11n support and is fully customizable with the latest open source firmware out there: DD-WRT, OpenWRT, and Tomato. Som Pal Choudhury, senior product line manager for advanced wireless, also mentioned their “Development Partner Program, with multiple software vendors and developers creating customized, robust, commercial-grade applications on the WNR3500L.”
In addition to the open source community, Netgear has collaborated with software application companies to deliver applications such as hotspot software by Sputnik, and remote access by Leaf Networks, among others, to run additionally on the Linux platform.
In terms of hardware, it sports a 480MHz MIPS 74K CPU, 8MB of flash memory, 64MB of RAM, 5 gigabit Ethernet ports, and USB ports for shared peripherals. Netgear will launch the router this Fall with a starting price of $139.99.
The price is a bit steep; do you think the flexibility of Linux and additional software, not to mention full 802.11n support is worth the price tag?
Third-party router software has been around for a while, but we can’t help but keep recommending it to users who want to add undocumented features to their home network. Our favorite router firmware package is still Tomato, which we favor for its compatibility with a wide range of router brands and models, user-friendly interface, and powerful feature set. We’ll show you how to upgrade your router’s firmware to the newest version of Tomato and then configure the Quality of Service settings to manage your network traffic.