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GNU is Not Unix Wireless Networking Hardware

Harald Welte Calls Out Netgear's Open Source Sham 199

Simon80 writes "Harald Welte, known for his involvement in various open source communities, has pointed out the shortcomings of Netgear's open source router hype. Netgear's own astroturfed community site reveals that the router requires the use of binary-only kernel modules for the wireless and ethernet hardware, which is supplied by Broadcom. Also worth noting are the missing features in third-party firmware versions supplied by Netgear."
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Harald Welte Calls Out Netgear's Open Source Sham

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  • No usable encryption (Score:5, Informative)

    by LotsOfPhil ( 982823 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @02:45PM (#29684149)
    One of the open firmware shortcomings is "WPA and WPA2 are not working." That is a pretty big shortcoming.
    • by noundi ( 1044080 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @02:53PM (#29684247)

      One of the open firmware shortcomings is "WPA and WPA2 are not working." That is a pretty big shortcoming.

      Or as in this case, one of the open firmware shortcomings: not being open. Epic fail Netgear, epic fucking fail.

      • by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @04:21PM (#29685311)
        The funny part is that they tried astroturfing about open software, and have provided a very poor product to exactly the people that would notice. The general public wouldn't care about the quality of a router (and usually not even the features). The general public really doesn't care if a router is open (although the attitude is changing a bit). They targeted these deceptions toward exactly the audience that would find out about them. This sounds like some very poorly informed marketing people thought they could get away with it.
        • The cool thing (Score:3, Insightful)

          by symbolset ( 646467 ) *

          Apparently they care enough about the geek market to try to appeal to the router-modders and to try to build some momentum with astroturfing.

          Now if they could just figure out that it's cheaper, more effective and more reliable to just do it right then everybody wins including them. Do it right and you don't have to astroturf - the grass roots want to grow.

          • I've understood from talking to an importer that WRT54GL was enough of a success (not a major seller, but an extremely consistent performer that just keeps on selling), that the gateway manufacturers must have realized there is a market here...

            I'm not surprised Netgear would totally fail it, though.

    • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @03:37PM (#29684741)

      No WPA(2) sounds very open to me.

  • I guess I will chugging along on wrt54gl with Tomato.

    • Me too. Rock solid for *lost count* years.

      But I'd like to find a replacement already. E.g. Gigabit switch would be nice. But browsing through list of DD-Wrt compatible devices can't find a single also with functioning USB *and* available in Europe.

      • That would be nice. I ended up just liking the router to a gigabit switch. I don't have any devices with n wireless at the moment, so overall it's not really an issue.

        Current uptime, 192 days.

    • I moved to alix 2d3 with pfSense.
      http://www.pcengines.ch/alix2d3.htm [pcengines.ch] and http://www.pfsense.com/ [pfsense.com]

      The thing can run circles around a wrt54g without sweating.

      Yah 54g is great, I used it for a long long time, however 3 boxes I had always had some kind of issues with 3rd party firmwares dd-wrt, openwrt even tomato. From hanging to dropping WAN on DSL, I stayed frustrated. In due time, I figured my frustration had nothing to do with me living in my mom's basement.

      pfSense + alix has been rock solid.

      The best part a

      • And if you want to save a bit of money, you can pick up the older WRAP boards quite cheaply now. I have one and it runs a stock OpenBSD install on a 512MB compact flash card. Everything works nicely, although I did compile a custom kernel to remove everything that's not needed. The ALIX seems to only have one miniPCI slot, which is a shame. The WRAP had two, so you could plug in an 802.11 card and a crypto coprocessor for offloading VPN calculations.
  • I made the mistake of buying their KWGR614 "open source" router a couple years ago, and boy did it suck. The firmware delivered with it basically did not work. It would drop connections after 15 minutes of being on and then stop working. Everyone else who purchased one of these lumps of shit corroborated this behavior. Their employees denied it on the message boards, and in the end said "it's open source, fix it". Which is weak, because I bought the thing hoping to play with it when I got a chance, not

  • Didn't we just witness android os having the same issues? Many important aspects being proprietary (proprietary google apps) as well as the fact that the OS can't boot without the proprietary binary drivers from each handset device?

  • He works for VIA, and they do the same thing...

    To be fair on him he has tried to make progress, but after a few years of big talk there is still no open source way to use the full features of VIA hardware.

    So don't buy VIA because of the fancy features in the silicon - cos there is a good chance that you won't be able to use them.

  • Also worth noting are the missing features in third-party firmware versions supplied by Netgear.

    So Netgear is responsible for the fact that a third party distribution is lacking?

    I suppose I'm to blame because you are a moron?

  • some manufacturing managers got together over tea and decided what to do with extra chassis/components for 1q2010 that weren't going to sell anyhow. Netgear is attempting to create a market the same way any other company creates a market, but is being shut down quickly in this case because the community is well informed and the technology is distinctly fraudulent by our definition of the "open source" term they have decided to embrace.

    Open source will prove an uncomfortable venture for netgear however
    • What do you need the old desktop and the ethernet NICs for? Just install OpenWRT, DD-WRT or Tomato on the router. It's not like "open firmware for a router" is something Netgear came up with.
  • Currently we have an old white box server with FreeBSD set up as a gateway/proxy. It's about 5 years old and we've not done anything to it in 3 years, but it's cheap commodity hardware and it has a 600W powersupply that sucks down a lot of juice. We wrote our own software that gives people wireless access for 3 hours when they buy a drink (coffee shop). We're talking a 400Mhz AMD K6-2 with 256mb of Ram.

    We'd like to put that software onto a router and have been looking at Single Board Computers, but have

    • Does it have to support your custom code? is it sufficient to gate access fo three hours? I think there might be hotspot packages that run under OpenWRT which might do the trick for you. (Captive HTTP splash/registration page, captive DNS until registered, etc.)

      If OpenWRT would work, look at a Linksys WRT54GL. About as cheap as it gets.

      You get three four ethernet LAN ports, wireless, and WAN port.

      You'd think the four LAN ports would be bridged, and you'd be right, but the unit and OpenWRT support VLAN taggi

      • It would have to run our software because everything is run off of in house gift/loyality cards and we wrote this application to bridge the POS and gateway, along with a custom splash screen, etc. This way, when the customer gets their card swiped at the registered it automatically logs in their system after they've registered.

        • How do you tie the gift/loyalty card to a registered user? I can understand the card authenticating a user to your gateway, but how does it match a particular PC to that user? username/password on the card, which the user uses to get their three hours (authenticated by your swipe)? Or just a unique serial number on the card which they enter as part of authentication?

          I'm getting the feeling that much of your custom work could be accomodated by existing hotspot software and the only "glue" would be getting th

    • We'd like to put that software onto a router and have been looking at Single Board Computers, but have yet to find anything that we like. All it has to run is Linux/BSD with an AMP stack.

      Anyone have a recommendation that would be low power. I've looked at beagleboard and wall wart, but really we need 3 Ethernet ports and a wireless card.

      A Soekris [soekris.com] should meet your requirements and then some.

  • by jtownatpunk.net ( 245670 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:09PM (#29686013)

    My WRT54GS has been stable for fucking years, absolutely years, rock solid for yonks, working its buns off moving packets. A couple months ago, I decided I was going to look for a new router that could do everything my old 54 can do plus wireless-n at 5.8ghz (maintaining g at 2.4ghz) and gigabit ethernet. I had to look at the $250+ range and I'm not even sure if those units would do it because I didn't bother scrutinizing the specs at that price. It may have been necessary to move into commercial grade equipment to get everything I wanted. Screw that. I can just hang a 5.8ghz 'n' WAP off a gigabit switch and plug that into my old 54 for a lot less money and not have to worry about unknown bugs, stability, etc.

    In fact, I'm about to pick up a 54GL for my grandfather. I made the mistake of thinking a $20 TrendNet would be fine for him since he doesn't need traffic shaping or anything beyond a basic wireless router. Wrong. Damn thing quits every 5 or 6 days like clockwork. He has to unplug/replug it to get it going again. A 54 is worth the extra money because it just frickin' works. Linksys really hit the nail on the head with that line. As long as consumer broadband is in the 10-20mbit range, I'm not going to waste my time trying other routers.

    • True. I went through the trouble of obtaining a WRT54G v4 for my family's home network as the load (two users who like HTTP and email and two who like BitTorrent and games) caused most cheap routers to crap out on a daily basis.

      The thing is rock solid. I only need to reboot it very occasionally, maybe three or four times a year, and never because it hangs. On the other hand I have a Samsung router extending the network to the upper floor and the damn thing hangs once a month.

      When the next router becomes
    • Hear, hear.

      I have a 54GL, which I put ddwrt on a couple years ago (maybe more, definitely before Christmas 2 years ago). I haven't rebooted it since then. Period.

      Hell, I haven't even logged onto the device since then. Every time I consider upgrading to a 'n' wireless system, the reason I don't is because the current one works so well.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 08, 2009 @09:47PM (#29688285)

      The WRT54G series all use Broadcom chips pretty much identical to the ones you'd find in Netgear routers. See here:


      I am not proud to admit this, but I took a CCNA years ago, and I've built literally dozens of wifi networks using various combinations of off-the-shelf (or off-the-refurbish-list) routers and stock/modified firmware. I am a minor authority on the subject of cheap-ass consumer routers.

      Broadcom is what you'd call a "fabless semiconductor company," which means they design chips but don't actually manufacture them. Almost all consumer routers you can find today use Broadcom-based system-on-a-chips, which consists of basically a CPU, flash and DRAM, ethernet interface, and half a wifi-radio, all crammed onto a single CMOS.

      Broadcom designs the chip, someone else leases the design for the chip (and all the accompanying drivers) from Broadcom, then the person that leased the chip pays a third person who owns a CMOS fabrication plant to actually manufacture the chip. Then the chips get sold to yet another party, like Linksys, Netgear, Trendnet, Asus (my pick!), Buffalo, and others. The chip has several dozen wires hanging off the end of it, and someone connects them to various external ports or devices on the router: ten wires make a bank of five Ethernet ports, two or four wires are connected to one or two antennas (more if you have MIMO), more wires are connected to the status LEDs and buttons, et cetera. The end manufacturer is also responsible for providing firmware, which historically they've done by combining Broadcom's drivers with some code they ripped off from the Linux kernel (some manufacturers, like Asus and Buffalo, are reputed to be good about providing source code when they do this). Then they put it in a box with a compatible power adapter, slap a lame warranty on it (because many governments and retailers require them), and sell it.

      The end result is that pretty much all the routers you can buy are nearly identical in every way except firmware. Furthermore, almost no manufacturer can actually be bothered to provide long-term support for these routers (why fix a broken routers when they can sell you a new one?), and since firmware development is by far the most difficult and expensive part of what the end manufacturers (eg Linksys) actually DO, this is the area where most consumer routers really fail.

      (The other problem is that most Broadcom chips only have about ~100 MB/sec of memory bandwidth on chip, tops, which is obviously less than one gigabit per second (~125MiB/sec). This means that there are no consumer routers you can buy that are actually capable of routing a gigabit of traffic per second- at best they all seem to crap out around 160 megabits per second, in my experience (note: you have even less bandwidth when traversing the NAT gateway, particularly with traffic shaping enabled). This is mostly a limit inherited from the CMOS manufacturing process they use, I think - it's the same process they use to make DRAM and flash, and while it's cheap relative to the number of transistors you get, the resulting chips are rather slow compared to what you get with optical lithography.)

      As for your grandfather's router, I suggest you try running BitTorrent on a computer connected to it, and see what happens when you quickly spawn hundreds of new TCP connections. I'm betting it'll choke, because the onboard NAT has to keep track of each individual TCP connection, and your $20 Trendnet router (which is probably quite old indeed, regardless of how recently you purchased it) probably isn't expiring old TCP connections for a good 12 hours. There's probably a way you can set the NAT TCP timeout value to something more reasonable, like 15 minutes (if it's not in the web-based interface, try downloading the config file and editing it with a text editor - I shouldn't have to tell you the risk [wikipedia.org] from doing this). You can also look up DD-WRT,

  • A lot of firmwares, like DD-WRT, have issues with binary only drivers and programs. I ran into it with the nas process in DD-WRT a few months ago.

    I had decided to move to WPA2 Enterprise. It sort of worked, but there is a long standing bug in DD-WRT relating to WPA2 Enterprise. WPA2 Enterprise depends on Radius. The nas process will only try a Radius server once. If it fails, then it won't try again. The only workaround is to kill the nas process one way or another. Then to make it all the more fun

  • Say you're a real company, with a real closed source code base and you decide to make an open source push.

    You're going to have some code that you can't open, either for legal reasons or patent reasons or internal politics or because it's heavily patched code that only makes sense to a few key employees, and you want to clean it up before releasing it. So parts of it will remain closed. Otherwise, do explain how you'd sidestep all the legal, technical and political issues, while running a company and deliver

  • Not quite that bad (Score:4, Informative)

    by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:14PM (#29686757)

    As the developer of a popular fork of Tomato, I'd like to address a few points:

    Not all features supported

    Specific to their Tomato port:

    1 > WPA is not working.
    2 > There is no support of SAMBA server .
    3 > NAS is accessible only through command line using ftp. No GUI support to
    access NAS is available till now.

    1: Presumably, WPA2 is, which means that this isn't a showtopper, just a big annoyance. There's actually only one missing feature here, WPA support. The rest would not be expected.

    2/3: Mainline Tomato doesn't support any of this on USB-supporting routers anyhow.

    Binary kernel modules

    This is no different than mainline Tomato, which also relies on binary kernel modules. In fact, most opensource firmwares DO.

    Looking at this from the perspective of one of the authors of Tomato/MLPPP (bonding multiple DSL lines using a fork of Tomato), only WPA is really of any concern, and even then, you can work around it by using WPA2. This router adds support for 802.11N, more (MUCH FASTER) RAM, and a far faster CPU (200 -> 480MHz, plus other architectural improvements). Considering that memory throughput/latency and CPU power are our main bottlenecks when bonding multiple DSL lines, this router remains quite interesting despite the lack of WPA.

  • Is there a router with the following:
    1.802.11b/g WiFi (N would be a bonus but not essential)
    2.Ethernet (dont need Gigabit, 10/100 is fine)
    3.ADSL2/2+ support
    and 4.100% open source software with NO binary blobs for Ethernet, USB, WiFi or DSL

    My current router has all those features (except possibly only being ADSL1) but it has binary blobs for the WiFi and DSL.

  • This is Broadcom's doing. Blame them.

  • by Dragoness Eclectic ( 244826 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @02:59PM (#29696931)

    I wish Welte enabled comments on his blog so I could post this there.

    However, the article summary was enough to explain everything. Netgear is using Broadcomm chips. I've worked in the embedded firmware arena before; Broadcomm does NOT release its drivers under open source. You only get to see the source if you and your company lawyers sign really nasty NDAs, perferably in blood. I'm pretty sure the specs for programming the chips are under NDA, too. Netgear does not have a choice about releasing the drivers as binary blobs if they are using Broadcomm stuff. The only way to get open-source Broadcomm drivers is to reverse engineer them, and Netgear probably isn't in the business of reverse-engineering their suppliers product. Hell, they're probably contractually forbidden to do so.

    You will never get a fully open source product from a vendor that buys from Broadcomm, until Broadcomm changes its policies. Period, full stop.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.