Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cisco Convinces Press That Router Is News

I don't blame Cisco for pulling this stunt, but the company got mainstream media to buy in: Typical is this USA Today story, which follows the press release that the Cisco Valet is the company's "first consumer router," despite having purchased Linksys years ago and sold tens of millions of consumer routers during that time. The Valet has the same footprint, and likely similar innards with a new skin on top of it as most of the modern Linksys models.

Late in the story, the USA Today reporter notes the Linksys subsidiary, but has fallen for the marketing line that the USB dongle that lets you supposedly easily set up every device is somehow unique to Cisco, new, and exciting. The real news, I suppose, is that the Pure Digital team that made the Flip video recorder, acquired by Cisco, was thrown onto the home networking product line. But that's hardly a revolution in hardware, is it?

The notion of using USB drives (not one that comes with the device, necessarily) goes back several years to Microsoft's short-lived Wi-Fi product line, and some other companies--including Linksys!--let you write settings to a USB drive to move around to computers. (Amazingly, this time support comes in the first version out of the box for both Mac OS X and Windows!)

The notion of making Wi-Fi easy to set up dates back to, oh, I don't know, 1999? And it is far easier. Six years ago, I wrote "Beating the Wireless Blues" for PC World, which explained how to fix Wireless Zero Config problems in Windows XP and other troubles of the time.

At that time, about 35 percent of Wi-Fi routers bought at retail were returned to stores. Cisco says its number today is about 20 percent. That's closer to the return rate for all personal computer peripherals, but it also explains why Cisco is trying to change the narrative without necessarily offering anything new or different, just a further iteration of industry-wide efforts underway since Wi-Fi's inception.

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