Fortunately most devices have *some* hardware only recovery mode, no matter how difficult to access, that can be used to reflash everything from scratch. In Sansa's case, the c200 and e200 series use a combination of bootloader and rom to run. Factory wiping the device is a matter of forcing the device to load a bootloader directly from USB and then use the emergency safe mode of the standard bootloader to load a new ROM from scratch. It takes an open source ecosystem for some motivated hacker to come along and write a tool that only Sandisk has, and only in factory. A few more clicks away, and now the device is running Rockbox dual booted with the original firmware.
I used this guide. http://www.rockbox.org/twiki/bin/view/Main/SansaE200Unbrick
This got me thinking. One aspect of open source that wins it many followers is that 'it just works, because everything is just a generic case'. For example, when connecting to the cisco crapware PEAP authentication system on my university's wireless network, NetworkManager just sees it as another network, shows me a standard dialog to get the user name and password, and then does the right thing. Likewise connecting to the crapware cisco VPN i have to connect to daily. There is no need to use special software to access remote network shares, whether they are SMB, NFS, or SSHFS, whether i am using nautilus, dolphin, or the command line using Fuse. Everything behaves like a general purpose system, and components on a Linux System get along just fine.
Hardware corporations that make consumer hardware aren't going to just start writing debricking software for Linux (or even OS X) just because Linux is out there though. Much like the beginnings of the Linux Kernel, there are certainly many hobbyists are coming up with novel ways to take control of our own paid for hardware using every hack possible. The only catch is, to execute many of these fixes, it requires running a compiler, entering things on a command line, and tinkering with various firmwares until it works. What would it take to make debricking 'just work?'. Could we convince Gnome and KDE to detect a bricked USB device when attached to the computer? Can we convince them to pass it on to a standardized recovery program with optional plugins for all sorts of devices? Would this convince enough of those clever hackers to come together and start writing plugins for their own devices? Would larger companies jump on the bandwagon once we advertise that we can support their hardware better on Linux?
Even if we can't, i'm certainly indebted to all those clever hackers out there who at least keep trying. Today i've saved a 30 USD device from the garbage bin.