The Linux flavor of the WRT54G is still in production, despite newer VxWorks-based version: Good news for the community of hackers, developers, and experimenters who rely on the Linksys WRT54G to power their projects: while the product sold under this model number will no longer use the Linux operating system as its basis, Linksys has created an offshoot model that will continue down the Linux path under the name WRT54GL.
The WRT54G in versions 1 through 4 used free and open-source software components for its embedded operating system and most of its functions. After some negotiation a few years ago, Cisco's Linksys division released all the code they had modified as they were ostensibly required to under the terms of the GPL (General Public License) and other software licenses for components they had used. Wireless hackers immediately figured out how to replace the baked-in firmware with their own firmware images to take advantage of the WRT54G's low cost and high availability. This appeared to end with the November 2005 release of v5, which switched to a proprietary OS while halving the RAM in the unit.
The new Linksys WRT54GL, however, is the v4 version of WRT54G stabilized on Linux. It will list for $79 MSRP (Amazon.com has it in stock for $71) and Linksys expects to sell 10,000 of them per month. The firmware for the WRT54GL (version 4.30.0) is already up on the Linksys GPL Code Center. Some folks on Slashdot have complained about the price difference between this perpetuated Linux model and the cheaper proprietary OS WRT54G--but that's how the market economy works. With 120,000 potential sales per year or $8,500,000 in gross retail sales, a competitor could engineer a better box for that market.
In an interview with Linksys, they told me that they had this model in the works for some time, but didn't want to tip their hand until shipping product was available in the channel. Company spokespeople emphasized that while the "GL" model can be flashed, they don't support any firmware but what Linksys officially releases. Still, they've kept a Linux model because the market is there for it. Linksys confirmed what some analysis firms have been saying: to their knowledge, the WRT54G is the single bestselling model of Wi-Fi gateway in the world. I'm not sure what model gets the No. 2 nod.
Peter Rysavy wrote in Network Computing today about his disappointment with the disappearance of the Linux-based WRT54G--he didn't get feedback from Linksys before he filed his piece--and what he sees as the lower-stability of the licensed VxWorks operating system that underlies the v5 release of the gateway. (I've heard this from others, including a colleague as recently as yesterday.) VxWorks is a closed-source system that Linksys told LinuxDevices.com uses half the RAM of the embedded Linux OS. This lets them conserve costs in a commoditized market in which they sell hundreds of thousands of WRT54Gs per month--every dollar saved is millions a year recouped.
Linksys, by the way, didn't develop their embedded Linux, but in turn licensed it from Broadcom, who created the Linux-based code for its reference design. Reference designs are built by chipmakers to provide a ready-to-go product that incorporates their chips. They can often be bid out and built without much effort beyond designing a case and customizing or replacing an installation wizard.