Linux Still Needs Drivers

While Linux & Open-Source Center Editor Steven Vaughan-Nichols is glad Intel is moving forward with Linux support for Centrino, he thinks device driver support for Linux has to grow for the platform to really take off on the desktop.

I think of myself as a Linux expert. I was a Unix administrator before Linux existed, and these days I run Linux on four servers and four desktops in my home office.

I also know my way around hardware, and Im something of a network maven. And despite all that, I cant get Wi-Fi networking working on my Centrino-enabled Toshiba laptop.


To be specific, my main laptop these days is a Toshiba Satellite A35-S159. Other than having more memory than most notebooks, with 512MBs, with its 2.3 GHz Pentium 4-M and 60GB hard drive, its pretty much like any other modern laptop out there.

It also includes an Atheros AR5001X+ wireless network adapter, which supports the whole Wi-Fi gamut of 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g.

Thats important to me since I run g and a in the house, and nine times out of 10 when Im on the road, Im using the slow—but dependable—802.11b. Its probably also important to you since these days almost all laptops come with this kind of Centrino Wi-Fi pack.

/zimages/7/28571.gifLinux drivers for Centrino are due this year, Intel says. Click here to read more.

Or rather, I would be using 802.11b on the road with Xandros Business Desktop OS 2.0, which is currently my favorite Linux desktop—except there are no rock-solid working drivers for my Wi-Fi chipset.

Its not a distribution problem. I also run SuSE 9.1, Red Hat 9 and the latest version of Red Hat Fedora, and none of them does well by Wi-Fi. When it comes to Wi-Fi, Linux is lacking.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here for a column on users airing their complaints about Red Hat.

Now, thanks to the hard work of the people at the SourceForge MADWIFI (Multiband Atheros Driver for Wi-Fi) project, I can get the 802.11b side to work. To do that, though, I had to get the source code and make the driver myself.

This is annoying but perfectly doable … for me. For Joe User, its impossible. And, Im sorry to say, it still doesnt work right. My biggest problem is that for some reason, I and other users have trouble getting 802.11b to work when an 802.11g access point, operating in 802.11b compatibility mode, is supplying the bandwidth.

Since I mostly run my home-office Wi-Fi network off Linksys WRT54G 802.11g APs, well, Im hosed. So, what I usually end up doing when running Linux at home is I attach the notebook to my Fast Ethernet switch. And when Im on the road, I end up running—dare I say it?—Windows XP for Wi-Fi access.

Fortunately, Intel has finally released some Centrino source code to the developer community, so Im hoping that between Intel and the open-source community, well finally see some progress here.

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