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Updating firmware on a consumer-type device can be
done safely if the firmware was properly written in
the first place.  It is common to have boot code and
loader code resident in non-modifiable Flash memory.
That way, if an update fails (e.g. power dumps while Flash
is being updated) the loader will still exist to try again.
I once worked for a company that had a unique method
of updating firmeware that was virtually foolproof.
Unfortunately, I am sworn to secrecy about the details
(If I told you, I'd have to......etc.)

Hakim Madjid replied:
> Yes, in some cases, you can update your firmware. I most consumer-type
> devices don't let you do that. I think I can see why. Because if the
> bombs, you possibly wind up with an inoperative device. This would
> potentially cost endless service and possibly legal hassles for the
> manufacturer.

> Garrett Wollman Writes:
> >In some cases they do.  It's possible to even change the operating
> >system on a first-generation TiVo!