DD-WRT Goes Major Label with Buffalo Technology

By Aaron Weiss

November 19, 2007

With the release of the new Buffalo Technology WHR-HP-G54DD, DD-WRT becomes the first third-party-developed, open-source router firmware to be pre-installed on a major company's router.

When an indie rock band with a loyal and passionate following releases its major label debut, fans can get a little stirred up. There are the supporters, who cheer the group’s success in "making it." And there are the doubters, who accuse the band of "selling out" and courting inevitable artistic decline. The same dynamic plays out in the world of software, where the products may not be as glamorous, but the fans are no less devoted.

In the case of popular open-source firmware DD-WRT, its big break—the equivalent of major label distribution for an indie band—came in the form of a partnership deal with Buffalo Technology, a worldwide vendor of routers and other wireless networking gear. Since the announcement last month, fan reaction has been enthusiastically mixed.

German company NewMedia-NET GmbH is the business face of "Brainslayer," primary coder of DD-WRT. Thanks to the deal, the new Buffalo WHR-HP-G54DD ships with DD-WRT pre-installed rather than Buffalo’s own stock firmware--a first for any third-party-developed, alternative open-source router firmware.

DD-WHAT?

If you haven’t been following the wireless router scene with the fervor of emo kids downloading B-sides by My Chemical Romance, DD-WRT is a popular open-source replacement firmware for a variety of wireless routers.

The stock vendor firmware shipped with most consumer-grade wireless routers usually supports only a narrow range of network capabilities, like basic security and management. In contrast, DD-WRT enables a laundry list of networking features that allow sub-$100 routers to possess sophisticated and programmable capabilities usually only found in expensive enterprise gear.  Among these newfound talents include bandwidth metering, QoS (quality of service), customized routing, support for public and private hotspots, client and bridge modes, and more--much more.

Like siblings, such as OpenWRT and Sveasoft Alchemy, DD-WRT was developed to take advantage of the seminal Linksys WRT54G router, which could be loaded with modified firmware based on Linksys’s stock version. But Linksys never blessed the alternative software. If anything, their subsequent, restricted revisions to its model line suggested a lack of enthusiasm for third-party firmwares like DD-WRT.

In contrast, Buffalo and DD-WRT are enjoying more than a little mutual affection. Buffalo scored a big hit among the DD-WRT community with their WHR-HP-G54 router, highly regarded for its strong specs and good mating with DD-WRT. And DD-WRT has become the most popular alternative router firmware due to its combination of comprehensive features, mature interface, and active community.

Making it official

To anyone in the know, it seems logical and welcome that Buffalo has reached out to officially support DD-WRT. The new WHR-HP-G54DD is said to be the first result of their partnership with NewMedia-NET. Users who hope to see the partnership yield a router with beefed-up hardware specs custom-tailored to leverage DD-WRT’s full capabilities (such as more RAM) will have to wait, though--the G54DD is just the WHR-HP-G54 hardware pre-loaded with DD-WRT "special edition," a pay-version of DD-WRT with support for features not available in the free version including PPPOE-Relay and a Per User Bandwidth Control.

With this first release, Buffalo hopes to gauge interest in what some see as commercialization of DD-WRT. Therein lies the rub among fans--some of whom are crying "sellout" at the relationship with Buffalo. There is fear and loathing that the end of a free, open DD-WRT is nigh, despite public reassurances by Brainslayer and NewMedia-NET that the Buffalo venture will have no impact on the continued development of open-source DD-WRT.buffalo_ddwrt.jpg

Patent (trouble) pending

But the whole affair may be overshadowed by outside forces—Buffalo Technology’s entire wireless networking lineup, including the new G54DD, is currently unavailable in the U.S. due to a legal injunction against the company. Buffalo is the target of litigation by CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), Australia’s government-backed high-tech R&D incubator. CSIRO is alleging that virtually all wireless vendors are in violation of its 1992 patent on technology which eventually became part of the 802.11 b and g standards. The organization began its U.S.-based legal test case against Buffalo Tech in 2006 and has since won a series of legal decisions, including the injunction in June of this year that has prevented Buffalo Technology from importing any new stock into the U.S.

Of course, Buffalo hopes to have the injunction overturned. Their plight has received sympathetic support from virtually every technology vendor, who themselves sit within the crosshairs of CSIRO. But until then, Americans who want to buy DD-WRT pre-loaded on the G54DD—or who want to load it themselves on the G54—will need to look to foreign vendors or on the world’s global marketplace (read “eBay”). Just think of ordering Buffalo gear from overseas as having the same cool, insider panache as that import Pearl Jam CD that you can only order from Japan.

Aaron Weiss is a freelance writer and editor based in upstate New York.



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