Community driven application development had never been so disruptive as it has been in the last few years. Whether or not Android is open or not is a different question but the likes of Cyanogenmod, Miui and other ROMs have truly revolutionized the way we use our phones.
But much before the advent of custom ROMs on the phones, there has been a thriving community of developers for routers. We have had the likes of DDWRT, OpenWRT, TOMATO-USB and other custom ROMs for our routers and these have explosively stretched the intended functions of these routers in comparison to the functionality provided by the manufacturer.
Take for example ASUS RT N16 or Linksys WRTG54, you can do lot more things on these devices than their manufacturers intended it to be. On an Asus RT N16 with Tomato USB firmware/ROM you can run VPN server, allowing you to connect to your home network from anywhere with a client. With some additional steps, you can have your own private cloud. Apart from the regular features like 802.11 b/g/n access, port forwarding, ssh, etc Other standout features include:
- NAS support
- USB Print server (you can access your USB enabled printer from LAN)
- Bandwidth Monitor (daily, weekly, monthly)
- Media Server
- Wake On LAN
- Access Point Isolation (Useful feature to isolate connected devices if you intend to use it in a public Wi-Fi setup)
- JFFS (Journaling Flash File System)
- Option to install Optware packages like Transmission clients, Proxy, etc.
- FTP /SFTP (with optware)
Although the built-in firmware had only some of these features enabled, but it pales in comparison with the capabilities enabled becaue of Tomato USB or DDWRT. One of the best features is the ability to install and use OpenVPN server. With OpenVPN client on your laptop/mobile you no longer have to worry about someone sniffing the traffic with the likes of Firesheeps and Faceniff when accessing internet from free or public open WiFi. If the router hardware supports USB ports, (you get two USB ports on RT N16) connect a flash drive and you have your private cloud on the go!
Of late even the manufacturers have started to provide these GPL based firmwares with their devices. Asus released a firmware called AsusWRT, based on Tomato firmware (with some limited functionality) and these are now available for many of their devices like RT N66U/N56 and others.
However, most of these GPL based firmwares are developed for routers only, meaning if you have a router with built in modem, chances are that they may not be compatible with these firmwares. Here is a Wikipedia article on the list of Wireless Router projects.
What firmware are you running on your router? Do let us know.