Looking for a way to waste some time and impress the kids? Buy a piece of consumer hardware and hack it! Thanks to Linux–and the help of some Linux gurus willing to share on the Web–it’s all completely possible.
Tivo is probably the most famous hackable home appliance, and dozens of sites dedicate themselves to the countless ways to make Tivo even more useful than it is out of the box. Start at the Unofficial Tivo Hackers Site to familiarize yourself with the “enhancement” process (and with the fact that you’ll probably void your warranty), then Google up Tivo Hacks and have a blast.
If you’d rather not risk torching your Tivo, there are less expensive toys to tweak, with Linksys providing two of the more fun. The Linksys NSLU2 network-attached file server costs under $100 (without any drives–you need to add those yourself), and it includes an embedded–and hackable–version of Linux. I’ve got mine serving up my MP3 collection through my Tivo right now.
Linksys also offers the WRT54G Wireless Router, which also includes embedded Linux, making it possible to add all kinds of features, including enhanced bandwidth management, more range, additional (and probably illegal) channels and SSH server support. Rather than having to work through a lot of these tweaks yourself, Sveasoft and Hyperdrive both offer hacked versions of the Linksys firmware with a host of new options.
Keep in mind that vendors change software and firmware all the time, and a hack that works on one version might not on the next. And once again, if you void your warranty or turn your hardware into a brick, don’t blame me.