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Hardware Hacking

From "Happy Hacking" to "Screw You" 243

tquid writes "Trying to bridge the digital divide in Canada's poorest postal code, a principled group of hackers adopt "open source"-based technology spun off from an MIT project. Then the terms on the hardware are changed, and changed again, and then firmware to lock out the frustrated group's software is installed, screwing them out of their investment and many hours of development work."
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From "Happy Hacking" to "Screw You"

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:56AM (#22844480)
    that seem to run many big companies these days .... personally, what I don't understand is why people can't see that's it's not only just bad engineering, but, in essence, inhumane mismanagement.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:57AM (#22844488)
    What did they expect? Seriously. The company is taking a loss on each box at $50. They were probably hoping to make some profit off of the software service side, but these hackers come along and provide the service for free on the same hardware. So Meraki goes and raises HW prices to overcome their losses and the hackers get whiny about the high cost of the new HW. So Meraki then does all it can do at that point, force the HW to only run the special software and try to get back into the market.

    The hackers (especially those who put some kind of trust in "openness") are the ones who ruined the municipal network for everyone. They showed a clear lack of political savvy and it ended up turning what could have been a boon for both the city and Meraki into a political morass which ends up with no one at all happy.
  • by clintp ( 5169 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:04AM (#22844544)
    Community and city-wide wifi projects everywhere are failing. In general they turned out to be more expensive, more cumbersome, and difficult to manage than originally promised. The county-wide wifi program where I lived stopped development last year because the vendor's pricing model proved unworkable (give away low-speed, sell high speed). Other communities are having similar problems.

    To think that's *not* going to affect the cost of the remaining projects is just silly. Without the volume, the costs are going to go up for the projects that are still out there left undone.

    The rules of the game are *ALWAYS* changing. That's life. We can tell you're upset, but quit your whining.

  • Let everyone know (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:09AM (#22844578)
    Their wiki article has no Controversy section. It needs one. I strongly suggest that someone who was abused by them edit the wiki article setting out the case. Given their hippie like idealistic looking web site, I would have to accuse them of hypocrisy at least.
  • by masonc ( 125950 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:11AM (#22844602) Homepage
    I talked to Meraki about using their mesh network fro a resort I wanted to equip, but when I asked what would happen to our investment if they went belly up, they told me it the network hardware would be unusable if that happened. I said thanks but that's not acceptable.
    Who would walk a client into that sort of scenario? How many bright hopeful startups have we seen disappear without a mention? It's not like they would ever be honest and tell you they are running low on cash.
    I wouldn't mind if their service was value added, billing or accounting or something, but the network could still be used in the event they vanished. If the hardware was open and I could install a Open Source version later, I might have done it.
    Maybe Meraki needs to revisit their model and look at it from a customer's viewpoint.
  • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:17AM (#22844668)
    Part of the problem is that the company (Meraki) pushed firmware upgrades to all the units, including older boxes purchased before their revised licensing model. The new firmware locks down the units, making it impossible to hack them and impossible to load custom firmware and bypass the new locks.

    That's the really sleezy part--changing your licensing terms for new sales is annoying for loyal customers, but obviously can't apply retroactively to goods you've already sold. But this company is doing just that--trying to retroactively impose their new licensing and payment model onto units that were already sold under an open, permissive terms.

    So even though they still have the free code, they are now blocked from loading the code onto their own purchased hardware. It's probably not impossible--a talented hacker can maybe bypass the firmware and load custom code again... but of course they shouldn't have to. It seems to me that Meraki has more or less broken into customer devices without permission and made unrequested changes--rather illegal as far as I know.
  • by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:17AM (#22844670) Journal
    They sold the first taste of Heroin at less than cost in the hopes of locking people into an ongoing profit stream, and their hopes didn't materialize. That's terrible. Those poor business people.

    The hackers did show a lack of savvy. They were trying to help people who have no means to pay, and they put themselves in a position where they were relying on a for-profit corporation to achieve their goals. That's just stupid. Make deals with the devil, end up on fire. They should have known better than to leave themselves vulnerable to external leverage like that.
  • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:19AM (#22844684)
    IANAL, but it sounds like time for them to find a nice CDN lawyer who would do some pro-bono work to see if they have grounds for legal action. It would seem to me tha a "Tortuous interference" claim might be valid; given the actions appear to interfere with the owners of the hardware's ability to provide services as a result of the update.
  • by Intron ( 870560 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:23AM (#22844726)
    Why are they taking a loss? Fon [] sells a router for $50 and looks like an interesting alternative. They make money selling access to the customer network to non-members.
  • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:30AM (#22844774)

    What did they expect?
    They probably expected to pay the list price for the quoted product.

    The company is taking a loss on each box at $50.
    That's the company's problem, of course. They are of course free to charge more or less for the devices whenever they want.

    So Meraki then does all it can do at that point, force the HW to only run the special software and try to get back into the market.
    Ah... so I see you missed the part where Meraki pushed firmware upgrades to existing units? They basically forced new software onto older units which lock them out. So, in effect, they sold a device with certain promises (namely, "open!") at a certain price, and then afterwards log into the devices and load new software to prevent the owners of the hardware from exercising the rights that were granted to them under the original contract terms. As far as I know, logging-into someone else's hardware (and then changing the software so that the hardware is now under your control) without their permission is illegal.

    The hackers (especially those who put some kind of trust in "openness") are the ones who ruined the municipal network for everyone. They showed a clear lack of political savvy and it ended up turning what could have been a boon for both the city and Meraki into a political morass which ends up with no one at all happy.
    I disagree. If the company was indeed selling the units at a loss, then that is their own stupidity. Customers taking advantage of what you offer ("open, hackable, access point for $50!") is their legal right and frankly is sensible. I disagree that giving into corporate demands at every turn is "political savvy". The company screwed them (and possibly broke the law), so they are warning others not to deal with that company, and it seems like they are going to try to find other hardware suppliers in the future.
  • by mgblst ( 80109 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:36AM (#22844830) Homepage
    How the hell would they now whether or not the company was taking a loss on each box? Is this something I need to research on everything I buy? You seem to consider this ok? Maybe I should check out the details on my monitor, to make sure that I am not supposed to make up some of the income for the company by visiting certain websites.

    If some company screws up and sells my "faulty" goods, then how is this any of my responsibility. And how does this allow them to go in and change the goods they already sold me?

    I am having great difficulty understanding your logic on this one.
  • by Gailin ( 138488 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:41AM (#22844872) Homepage
    Is it the hackers fault that Meraki instituted a poor business model? Is it the hackers fault that Meraki is incapable of finding a profit model that suits their needs? Is it the hackers fault that Meraki is retroactively applying their license by updating boxes without notice or consent?

    What a company hopes for and the reality of what they get is not my problem or concern. They are from fricking MIT. If they can't do a simple business analysis to come up with a workable pricing and support model, then what the hell are they doing staying in business. This is elementary level thinking, so no, the eggheads from MIT get no sympathy from me.

  • by Broofa ( 541944 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:50AM (#22844954) Homepage
    You're blaming the "hackers" for this? This was a project for a poor community with a limited, fixed budget. The hackers got involved because volunteer efforts were likely the only way this project was going to happen. The only thing that changed was that Meraki switched from one unaffordable model to a different, still-unaffordable one, and in the process alienated a group of hackers with a vested interest in helping them improve their product. Perhaps Meraki should have instead open-sourced their Dashboard code and tried to leverage the efforts of people who are able and willing to help them make it better. And at the same time take a long, hard look at their business model. Because it's threatened by a bunch of hobbyists with some spare time on their hands, they're going to be in real trouble. Rather than trying to extort (too strong a word?) subscription fees for their software, perhaps they would be better served by slightly raising the price on the hardware (which they did) and offering support/services contracts to those customers who can afford them. It's a pretty safe bet that these other customers are going to be evaluating vendors not just on the hardware and software, but also on how open their code is, how robust the user and developer communities are, and whether or not they can count on the vendor (Meraki in this case) to act in their best interests in the future.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:51AM (#22844974)
    Probably because, at the time, the Meraki hardware was cheaper than WRT54gs and already came with the relevant software installed.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @10:52AM (#22844982)
    A company selling hardware at a loss trying to recover that loss with software sales is their problem. Not mine. Printer manufacturers do that, too, selling their ink printers at a loss to cash in with cartridges. Of course, third party vendors quickly tried to push their own cardridges onto the market, along with refill kits, both of which are being battled fiercly by the vendors of the printers who want to protect their business model. You now have chips in cartridges, protected by law against being duplicated... and so on.

    It is a vendor lock in attempt. Try to sell the original part cheaply to win a customer, then milk the customer when he got the item and needs "fuel" to keep it running. Whenever something like this happens, you see a company get all defensive and try their utmost to keep their business model working.

    This of course raises the question, why don't they just raise the price to match the cost? You offered that question yourself, why didn't they just raise the price by 70 bucks to make a profit with the original piece of hardware? The answer is simple: There's more money in milking locked in customers.
  • by farbles ( 672915 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @11:11AM (#22845126)
    Actually it's not pie in the sky. Go back to your dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged.

    Who's child is going to do better in school, the one with home internet or the one who had to wait for terminal time at a public site away from home?

    Bringing connectivity to an area increases economic activity in that area. By giving people a tool to communicate like internet access, they can start up everything from community-based discussion forums to small businesses online. They will think up uses for the connectivity no one else thought of first.

    There is a big and growing Digital Divide in this country coming from unequal access to high speed networking. The price point for high speed is too high for low income people, low income people tend to live in under-serviced areas, and the whole "Screw-you-I-got-mine" attitude should have died with Reagan but it is still with us today like a carcinoma.

    I've worked on a neighborhood wireless project to bring low price high speed connectivity to the poor and it is not easy to do. Hardware issues, stability issues, open source wifi drivers suck ass, NDISwrapper with wifi drivers is less stable than mercury fulminate at high heat but with all that, there are dedicated people working to try and improve the lot of others, something your precious Ayn Rand and her uber-klassen seem to blank on. Isn't there a McCain convention for you to be at?

  • by Pogie ( 107471 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @11:14AM (#22845158)

    I'll grant you that the goal of the do-gooders was a little ephemeral compared to giving the poor food, but if your goal is sustainable improvement of the lives of the economically downtrodden, you need to do more than simply give them something to eat. Also, it's pretty damn insulting to a poor person to imply that their biggest problem is putting food on the table. Maybe their biggest problem, now that they've solved the food and housing issue, is helping their kids to a better life. You know what might help with that? Access to a computer and the internet at home.

    One of the most difficult barriers to entry for folks from low-income backgrounds trying to gain some upward mobility is the lack of access to technological services/devices that those of us raised in a middle-class environment consider basic tools of life. How can you move from slinging burgers or picking strawberries (definitive low class jobs) to secretarial or temp office work (entry level middle class jobs) if you don't have a computer, or access to the internet, or excel, or MS word, etc? These guys were setting out to help bridge the "digital divide" -- explicitly trying to provide access to the online resources the middle and upper classes have to people who don't normally have access to them.

    The poor have a variety of needs, don't patronize them by assuming the only need you see is the only need they have.

  • by LihTox ( 754597 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @11:15AM (#22845166)
    So why not talk to Meraki and see if you can work something out rather than whining about it on your blog?

    Because (a) now we all know* to watch out for Meraki, and (2) Meraki might be more willing to fix a public stink than a private complaint.

    *(and knowing is half the battle. GI J... oh wait. sorry.)
  • by FlyingGuy ( 989135 ) <> on Monday March 24, 2008 @11:36AM (#22845386)

    summary I have seen on /. to date!"

    "Trying to bridge the digital divide in Canada's poorest postal code, a principled group of hackers adopt "open source"-based technology spun off from an MIT project. Then the terms on the hardware are changed, and changed again, and then firmware to lock out the frustrated group's software is installed, screwing them out of their investment and many hours of development work."

    I guess our beloved Cmd Taco has bever heard of the basic Who, What, Where, When of writing an article.

  • by RomulusNR ( 29439 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @11:38AM (#22845408) Homepage
    You forget that in the free market the customer is at the mercy of the company. The company can do whatever it wants in order to save money; the customer is the enemy and must be prevented from doing the same, lest it lead to the company losing money.
  • by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @11:45AM (#22845480)
    There are three types of IP lawyers:

    • Good, Honest IP Lawyers - These are usually unemployed, or stuck in low paying academic jobs
    • IP lawyers which profit off the fear of their clients. These guys lie about the requirements and risks of various IP issues, charge dozens of billable hours to write copyright header comments for the company's source code, tell companies that if they run their product on Linux they'll be forced to open all the code, etc. They usually also dabble in helping companies file bogus patents.
    • IP lawyers which help their clients come up with a fake cover for their real licensing motives. That's what we have here. They generate endless legalese to try and dissuade a company's customers from behaving in a way that is inconvenient for the company.

    If you want to have a "rewarding" conversation with an IP lawyer, you need to figure out which bucket they are in so you can understand the motivation behind their selected language. If you assume "logic", or "reason" are involved you may as well just bang your head against the wall.
  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @11:46AM (#22845488)
    This was step 1.

    Step 2 is getting people to donate old wireless devices and/or buy eepcs or XOs.

    Step 3 is always profit, but this time, it's profit for the folks in the neighborhood.

    I understand your confusion since step 2 is often listed as "???"

  • by mikael ( 484 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @12:15PM (#22845858)
    Anyone who went to school back 20 years ago would remember that the kids who had a complete home encyclopedia, dictionary, thesaurus, biographies on famous historical people, or had parents who were members of book clubs, found it much easier to write essays or coursework assignments and get good grades than any kid who did not. If you were in luck, you might have a friend or neighbour who had relevant literature. You could try going with an adult to the library (which was probably on the other side of town and only opened late one evening), but you were still taking the chance that someone else had already been there and already taken out the related books. Another chance was a second hand bookstore or the magazine racks of the local shop. Otherwise, you had exhausted all your options. Even the local bookstore would take two weeks to have an order come through.

    Even if it weren't a school project or coursework, if you were a kid curious about some piece of technology, you would be lucky if one of the documentary series had an article on that item, or if you found a science magazine in the local shop.

    These days, anyone can do a Google search, look for online published research papers, visit online magazine articles, look at online secondhand bookstores or Amazon. All before even having to leave home. That is, if you do have a home computer, internet connection and are familiar with the various applications (desktop, login process, web browser, search engines, touch typing).

    That is, if your family can afford a computer and internet access. Many employers complain that their applicants don't have basic computer literacy skills: knowing how connect a system together, keyboard skills, word processing, spreadsheets, E-mail, database packages (Maybe because anyone who does have those skills can find a better job, but it's sad that people don't already have those skills in the first place).

    Just by having a computer with internet access is going to allow you to learn many more basic skills in your own time, as well as keep in touch with the rest of the community (forums, job search pages, community college courses).

  • by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @12:19PM (#22845906) Journal
    Don't you mean "In a fascist society like this one"?
  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @12:28PM (#22846022) Journal
    The company is taking a loss on each box at $50.

    And? Your point?

    If they unwisely chose to sell them at a loss - TFB. They have every right to change the terms and price on new units, but IMO they have committed an outright crime (computer trespass, at the very least) by forcing new firmware on already-purchased units.

    but these hackers come along and provide the service for free on the same hardware.

    Any company that hasn't learned that lesson yet, deserves their fate. If your business model critically depends on something that a third party can provide cheaper (or free), your customers will use the cheaper version.

    They showed a clear lack of political savvy

    Riiiight - Because we engineers normally have legendary people-skills and political-prowess?

    Meraki presented a problem to people who live for solving them. Politics? Gimme a break. If you add non-game rules to the puzzle, someone will find a way to take them out to achieve a better solution.
  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday March 24, 2008 @12:37PM (#22846158) Journal
    I don't think anyone has a problem with their raising prices.Companies do that all the time,bug deal.The problem is pulling the asshat "we'll just send out a stealth update and brick the old machines" bit.

    Look at it this way-say Gateway is losing money competing with Dell.They realize they sold their machines in the past too cheap trying to play Dell's ball game.Nobody would have a problem with them raising the price of new models,or even trying to offer incentives to trade in your old Gateway on a newer more expensive model.But if they pushed out an update that bricked all the old models to where you could only run an ad supported version of Vista Basic on them,yes people would have a shit fit,and rightly so.

    In this case it has an extra waft of shit stink because they pushed this as a solution for the poor,whom are typically those who can least afford this kind of asshatery,and then bent them over when the vulture capitalists got involved.So I'm sorry,but this is a big "fu" and I wouldn't trust this company as far as I can throw them.But that is my 02c,YMMV

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @01:21PM (#22846888) Homepage Journal

    Community wireless fails when it is done in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. If a city does it with the intent to blanket the city and pays for it with a trivial amount of tax revenue for the good of the community, it works fine. If a city contracts it out to a company to manage it and pays the company, it works fine. If the city contracts it to a company without paying them and expects the company to cover the costs by selling faster access, it doesn't work at all, however, because 99.999% of people with access to a free network don't care about the speed. If they want fast downloads, they do it from home, work, or the hotel.

    Something else that works well is getting a Linux User Group or similar to go to businesses and offer to set up wireless access for them if they will pay for the DSL connection. It's not hard to blanket a city that way for the cost of a few Linksys or Netgear APs. Most people don't care that it isn't a mesh and they can't freely roam....

  • by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) * on Monday March 24, 2008 @01:26PM (#22846944) Homepage Journal
    If you're already past the hurdle, why not help the person over?

    Well, my post is an implicit suggestion to read more, which is the best help there is. The only real way to help your spelling is to read books. I read one or two books a month on a slow month, sometimes a couple a week, including literature, science, math, politics, and plenty of fun stuff too, despite the fact that I spend time at places like /.. It's the best, and possibly the only effective, way to increase your vocabulary and improve your spelling. If you are well-read there are many, many other benefits, such as actually knowing what you are talking about. These benefits aren't just good things to have, they are necessary to be an educated person, which most people on places like /. purport to be. Despite the wealth of information around us, I get the impression people, as a whole, are becoming more ignorant, not less, and the spelling skills of the average person seem to show it.

    While some people just don't have brains that adapt well to good spelling*, almost everyone will benefit from actually reading well-written material, especially material that was written fifty or more years ago. Language is very precise and if you misuse it, you are prone to being misunderstood. Effective communication requires proper use of the tools, namely language.

    * One of the most well-read persons, and possibly the smartest person, I've ever met spells like a remedial fourth-grader, but people like him are uncommon, and he specifically blames his lack of ability to not being taught phonics as a kid.

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @01:30PM (#22847008) Homepage Journal

    The economics of the situation are simple: they hired the world's most incompetent ISP, Earthlink, to manage a network. It's like two trains heading towards each other on the same track: you know from the first second that it can't go well, but you just can't look away.... Earthlink can't even manage their own network, based on the hideous connectivity I experienced. I can't imagine how anyone could have expected them to manage community wireless....

    Add to that the assumption that Earthlink would have to make money (not just break even---they aren't a nonprofit and their stockholders will keep insisting on making more money) by selling a higher tier service. For that to be viable, you have to A. have some nag screen when you first connect that tells people how to get the higher speed connection, B. have two parallel networks so that the "how to get the higher speed connection" is easy enough for people to remember how, and C. make the public network so unbearably slow that people will want the faster network. You should immediately be able to see the fundamental flaws in such a scheme.

    Hiring a company to manage the network can be a good idea, provided that A. the company is competent, B. the company is compensated for the costs of running the network, and C. no policy decisions are made by the company.... If even one of these things is not true, it's going to be a horrible mess.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @01:56PM (#22847484) Homepage Journal

    I disagree. If the company was indeed selling the units at a loss, then that is their own stupidity.

    It's not necessarily stupid; it depends on whether selling the unit at below costs makes it attractive for your customers to do other, more profitable business.

    Consider the proverbial "razor/razor blade" business. You sell the razors at a loss, but you make it up by selling your customers a pack of blades every few months for years. Now if those blades, tear bloody furrows in your customers' faces, then having a bad product is what makes your business plan bad, not having a bad strategy.

    Nobody in his right mind would buy network equipment where the vendor has demonstrated willingness to push a firmware update without customer permission -- period. Much less if they claim that this allows them to unilaterally change the license and lock the customer out of his own equipment. Granted, in the razor blade model, you have a kind of proprietary feeling about all those razors you lost money in, but you can't go fishing through people's medicine cabinets without people concluding you're dangerously off your rocker.

    I can understand how it happens. There are two reasons that businesses fail. They either run out of cash, or somebody with a note or something steps in and pulls the plug (which seldom happens if the cash situation is healthy and on track). I've seen plenty of companies that had a reasonably good product with a plausible strategy, but they just had a fatal cash hiccup; either outgo that was a bit faster than anticipated, or incoming that was a little of schedule.

    It's like somebody who ingests poison in a murder mystery; after a while, your recognize that tic as the first of what will eventually become agonizing death throes. The problem with a start up even trying to reposition its products that all their existing customers who bought the old story, and now are unlikely to buy from you ever again. Anybody with any sense knows its easier to sell to an existing customer than a new one, so it probably means one of two things: either they suddenly tripped over a pile of cash that's going to allow them to bootstrap a new business plan, or they've run out of cash to make the old one work. Everybody knows you don't make much money off of early adopters, but you can't use your privileged position with them to mess with their systems, but it doesn't mean you can afford to alienate them unless your original business plan is a total write-off.

    Mind you I'm just talking about drastic repositioning of the products that leave customer's future plans messed up. I'm not talking about trying to extort new business out of your customers by exploiting your access to their property. That's either extremely desperate, or extremely, sleazily stupid. I don't know anything about this company, but desperate is much more common than utterly sleazy, although sometimes they go hand in hand.
  • by bhima ( 46039 ) * <> on Monday March 24, 2008 @02:09PM (#22847732) Journal
    So now I'm curious how much work would it be to roll out an open version of the hardware? None of this sounds like it's particularly special... I say this as an software engineer (I only do embedded stuff) not as a hardware engineer. I'll bet a few grad students could whip up an equivalent board (or a daughter board for a mass produced product) in short order (particularly having an existing board to begin with).

    So... Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke and move on to a different platform.
  • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @02:14PM (#22847828) Homepage Journal
    ``I think that the only way community wifi is going to work is if it is community-run, not-for-profit, and vendor independent.''

    There, I emphasized that, because I think it's the most important part. Whoever runs the operation, there is always a chance that they will turn against you. Not being dependent on them lowers the chance that they will and leaves you free to find an alternative if they still do. Vendor-independence is a Good Thing everywhere, not just for community wifi.
  • Automatic Updates (Score:2, Insightful)

    by InterStellaArtois ( 808931 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @02:17PM (#22847904) Homepage
    This is why I never feel comfortable with 'updates', unless I've vetted them first.

    FTA and the linked blog, it appears the firmware update was pushed by the manufacturer, therefore didn't have to happen. I'm not blaming the people affected here as in principle, you may want to receive security updates etc. as a matter of course.

    But personally I'm finding more and more that 'updates' often regress the performance of a product due to unnecessary flash new features and political modifications you'd never want or benefit from (such as this).

    If the affected users had automatic updates turned off would they be able to legally continue as they were? Would reversing the upgrade somehow implicate them? Is there a legal issue at all?

    So yeah, I like to avoid updates whenever I can. That's why I'm still running Win 98 First Edition.

    (j/k about Windows 98)
  • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @03:05PM (#22848680) Homepage
    The issue wasn't so much partnering with a for-profit, but not being smart about how they did it.

    If you just take a for-profit's product and retool it, then don't be upset if they discontinue the model and leave you stuck - they aren't under any obligation to sell it forever.

    On the other hand, writing up a contract between an open-source and for-profit organization where each benefits and has defined responsibilities should be safe. Perhaps the open-source develops the design/code, and the for-profit can make a killing selling it to companies with deep pockets but has to allow cheap/free use for certain purposes. Or you could just develop full blueprints and make them open-source, and pay per unit for actual production.

    For-profit companies are often more efficient and can achieve higher economies of scale. On the other hand, they don't share your mission, so you're an idiot if you just lock yourself in without any legal protection.

    In this particular case things are a bit more sleezy since the company didn't just stop supplying new equipment, but they went out of their way to break already-sold stuff as well.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2008 @04:21PM (#22849514)
    They have broken a contract. The units were sold with software as is under one contract. They then retroactively broke the contract with those customers by changing the firmware, effectively changing the contract with the customer, after the point of sale. This is illegal. Lawsuits for millions should follow. If the software was GPL (or such), then what they are doing really flies in the face of the FSF. A dozen very powerful lawyers could be standing on their necks within the hour.
  • by joebob2000 ( 840395 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:36PM (#22851880)

    This platform is based on el-cheapo 802.11 b/g which is a highly competitive, low margin market.

    Basically, all the HW is in the ASICs, and the ASICs and reference SW are not open. In your example, a couple of grad students will do the work of an experienced PCB designer, which in this case will probably be OK since they will just be copying the reference design layout and handing it off to the PCB fab house.

    Unfortunately, the only way to get the chips is to deal directly with the manufacturer. If you ever want to get any chips, you will need to convince the chip company that you are worth their bother. They would rather push all their chips to their top 10 customers, which are companies like Cisco, Sony, Apple, Microsoft, etc. At low volume, all you represent is one more company that they have to spend money supporting.

    If they decide to deal with you, you will get fed their standard reference drivers. Since this project is something special, you may need register maps, the API to customize the reference drivers, and more support to get up to speed. You are now acting like a key customer instead of yet another OEM slapping some plastic around a reference design.

    I think that it would be tough to do a better job making cheap HW than some overseas OEM, and that's not the real problem anyway. The real trick is getting the Chips and SW you will need from the chip manufacturer when you are attempting to take control of things that they prefer to control. Basically, you are at odds with their sales and marketing strategy, and you do not offer large volume.

  • by toddestan ( 632714 ) on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:34PM (#22852254)
    They probably slapped a EULA on the installer for the updated firmware along the lines of "By installing this upgrade you agree to ...." in which I would assume they attempted to cover their asses with a bunch of lawyerly speech that no one paid any attention to. While it's certainly very shady, it's probably not illegal.

To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. -- Elbert Hubbard