Friday, 25 September 2009

Fantec MM-HDRL and Linux

Just bought myself a Fantec MM-HDRL. It's a well designed, compact piece of hardware that is badly let down by the accompanying firmware, and is a particular disappointment to this long time linux user for reasons both idealogical and practical.

Without going into too much extraneous detail, I shall just say that the interface is butt-ugly and somewhat slow to read folders of one's own media, but simple and intuitive enough to get by without recourse to the manual. RTFM? Only if strictly necessary.

My first issue with the device, albeit one of which I was already aware before making the purchase, was that it supports only two types of file system for the media partition, NTFS and FAT32, both of which have their limitations for me. FAT is obviously well out of date, what with its file size and name length limitations, and NTFS support under Linux isn't all that it could be, particularly the issues that occur when the partition is not shut down cleanly and there is no Windows machine with which to run a repair. As I said, this was something I knew when I made the purchase, but it was slightly galling to find out as I did later that the root filesystem of the firmware was trusty old ext3, along with the usual tools mkfs.ext3 and fsck.ext3. It seems, then, rather churlish to utilise the filesystem of choice for many linuxers and indeed the choice of the programmers of the MM-HDRL, but not include this as an option for the media partition. I did reformat as ext3, in the hope that it would just work, albeit without any official support, but the media browser was unable to see anything on the partition after that, so I had to revert to FAT.

Secondly, I was somewhat gobsmacked to find that the box is accessible on the network, via telnet, for users root, nobody, and guest, all without a password. Once in, setting said passwords, or indeed trying to tighten up security in any way is futile as the firmware is of course read-only. It does mean however that restricting access to the box on your local network is all but futile.

It turns out that there are a group of hackers working on ways to unload the firmware into a directory so things like root passwords and ssh can be added. The only problem is that the source for this is unavailble as far as I can see, requires windows, and the downloads are apparently recognized by several antivirus softwares as containing a virus. In spite of the protestations of the developers that this is a result of false positives, it does mean that you have to take their word for it against your AV program - hmmmm. And that's assuming you actually have a copy of Windows which in my case is a negative. Not for me, thank you. That stuff is all here, but, at the time of writing, a post asking for the sources, and the developer declining to publish them (which may have changed), is unavailable.

All in all, it's not a terrible piece of equipment but there are many little niggling issues that could be put right. In fact, it probably wouldn't hurt the owners of the device to open source it themselves and see if they can build up a community of hackers working on improving it.