Open source helps Western Digital prioritize product features

Thanks to open source freedom, Western Digital's MyBook World Edition is a better choice than Apple Time Capsule for home backup

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.

[ Previously on InfoWorld, Savio weighed the pros and cons of Apple Time Capsule and Western Digital MyBook World Edition | Stay up to speed with the open source community via InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter. ]

Then it hit me: Western Digital is reading my mind -- and maybe my e-mail. (Well, maybe not.) But the company is absolutely learning from MBWE users and adding features to the supported firmware that advanced users have appended to their customized MBWE devices. Reading the MBWE forums as I have for the past three months, I learned 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 and tailor products 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 road map discussions. A typical user may not have gone through the effort or 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 manufacturers 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, while serving Western Digital's own profit motivations. It's a win-win, enabled by open source software.

Note: My only issue with the MBWE is that the network transfer speed, in the 15MBps-to-20MBps range, pales in comparison to the 125MBps theoretical speed of the advertised Gigabit network adapter. The speed is, however, faster than the 10MBps to 12MBps I achieved with the Gigabit-rated Apple Time Capsule on the same Cat5e Ethernet home network.

Follow me on Twitter: SavioRodrigues.

p.s.: I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

This story, "How open source helps Western Digital prioritize product features," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com.

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