I previously wrote that open source freedom helped me choose Western Digital’s MyBook World Edition (MBWE) over Apple’s Time Capsule as our home backup solution.  I hadn’t considered the value of open source freedom to Western Digital’s product planning process.
I initially selected the MBWE over the Apple Time Capsule, even at a $30 price premium, with the following justification:

“…since MBWE is running a Linux kernel, the ability to add functionality to the device was almost limitless. There’s a strong community of MBWE users that have everything from BitTorrent clients, to PHP, to a PBX running on MBWE devices.”

Just after I wrote the post I decided to check for a firmware upgrade.  Lo and behold, the MBWE firmware now supports Time Machine and an open source BitTorrent client.  These two features were top of my ‘wish list’ with the MBWE.

Then it hit me.  Western Digital is reading my mind, and maybe my email.  Well, maybe not.  But they are absolutely learning from MBWE users and adding features to the supported firmware that advanced users have added to their customized MBWE devices.  Reading the MBWE forums as I have for the past 3 months, Time Machine and BitTorrent clients are very popular customizations to the MBWE.  Before Western Digital added ssh access to the MBWE, it too was a popular advanced user customization to the MBWE.  I differentiate between advanced users and typical users.  Unlike typical users, advanced users tinker with products and tailor the product to their own needs. Western Digital is smartly looking at the customizations that advanced users seek and offering these customizations within the base product. User actions trump user surveys in product and feature roadmap discussions.  A typical user may not have gone through the effort, nor had the technical wherewithal, to install a BitTorrent client on their MBWE.  But the typical user is likely very happy to see it as a feature in the MBWE firmware.

I’m convinced that consumer electronics vendors have much to gain from using and exposing open source within their products. Sure, there’s a risk that another vendor could repurpose the open source software to build a competing consumer product.  Considering how tightly integrated and optimized the software and hardware is in a consumer electronics device, access to the software alone isn’t a compelling competitive issue.

I’ve previously argued that consumer device manufactures should open source their firmware.  As a very happy MBWE customer, I’d reiterate this call.  And remember, I paid a price premium over an Apple product for the MBWE.  I’d happily do so again and highly recommended the MBWE.

Kudos to Western Digital for using open source to offer user freedom, a great user experience and value for (my) money, whilst serving Western Digital’s own profit motivations.  A win-win, enabled by open source software.

P.S. My only issue with the MBWE is the network transfer speed, in the 15-20 megabyte  per second range, pale in comparison to the 125 megabyte per second theoretical speed of the advertised Gigabit network adapter. The speed is however faster than the 10-12 megabyte per second I achieved with the Gigabit-rated Apple Time Capsule on the same Cat5e Ethernet home network.

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P.P.S.: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”