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Hacking the Linksys NSLU2 - Debian and more - Development Community & Firmware

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Development Community & Firmware

Since the beginning, the driving force behind the NSLU2 development community has been Rod Whitby. Rod states: "We (nslu2-linux) are proud after two and a half years to still be the single point of nslu2 custom firmware distribution, with no known animosity amongst the users or developers of those firmware releases. We have 7500 subscribers on the nslu2- linux list, 4000 on the nslu2-general list, and 200 on the nslu2-developers list." And in addition, Rod counts over 50,000 downloads from the firmware site, slug-firmware.net. The community has been busy!

I thought it would be interesting to get a comment from Linksys regarding all of the activity going on with their NSLU2. Mike Wagner, director of marketing for Linksys states: "While Linksys does not support any of the alternate firmware available for the NSLU2, we are always delighted to see a product gain such widespread acceptance. Like the similar community that emerged to enhance the WRT54G before it, the creativity and ingenuity of Linksys customers inspires us to continually improve our products." So it sounds like Linksys is aware of the goings-on and is planning nothing to discourage it.

With a large community like the NSLU2 development group, there are going to be differing wants and needs. Some users are going to want just a few additional features over what the standard Linksys firmware brings, while others are going to want a full-blown Linux system. To address these needs, a number of alternative firmware distros are available from the download site.

The first custom firmware, called Unslung, maintains the original Linksys web-based user interface, but brings the ability to add more than 700 additional packages for customization purposes. Other firmware images remove all of the original Linksys code. The Debian/NSLU2 firmware and installs a standard Debian Linux system bringing along more than 15,000 installable packages! This Debian/NSLU2 firmware has proved to be a popular option. According to statistics gathered by Debian, the NSLU2 has propelled the ARM to become the third most popular architecture supported by Debian.

Along with these two firmware distros are several more variations that are designed for special needs. For example, the UcSlugC firmware installs a minimal system that is designed for users who have a specific purpose such as a designing a media player. UcSlugC can be run entirely from the internal flash of the NSLU2.

The OpenSlug firmware splits the difference between the Linksys firmware and the full-blown Debian system. While the Debian system is a complete Linux system, it's really designed to be run off an external hard-drive. OpenSlug, on the other hand brings more than 3500 installable packages along and can be safely run from a flash-drive.

For a complete comparison of the available firmware images consult this table, but be aware that as the Debian project starts to officially support the NSLU2, some of the "unofficial" Debian-based firmware images listed in the table may become obsolete.




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