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Wireless Networking Software Operating Systems Hardware Linux BSD

The Battle for Wireless Network Drivers 163

Posted by timothy
from the mind-the-nazgul dept.
An anonymous reader points out this Jem Matzan article "about the pain Linux and BSD programmers have in trying to obtain/write device drivers for various wireless cards," writing: This article also has a fairly detailed explanation of how wireless firmwares and drivers work. Two of the manufacturers are actively working with the FOSS community without requiring an NDA."
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The Battle for Wireless Network Drivers

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  • by mycal (135781) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @01:31AM (#17374108) Journal

    Trying to develop wireless 802.11 interfaces for embedded platforms I agree that it is a total pain in a arse. I even knew people that I worked with before at broadcom and couldn't get them to kick down the Software API. We finally got a Philips BGW200 system working and that wasn't easy either since even after filling out NDAs we got messed around for a few months trying to get the right documentation.

    But now it does seem that Atmel is working with people, and accourding to the article so is raylink.

    What you can do to help is if you have choice, support these guys when you have to buy a wireless adapter even if it is a few bucks more.

    -M
    • I think it's clear how difficult it is to reverse-engineer wireless drivers for linux. Just look at how hard it is to get your Linux laptop's wireless card working correctly, and multiply it by a million. - A grateful bcmwl43xx driver user.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Have to post AC for this, but:
        There is a small but growing movement in Intel to better support the OSS community, at least so far as making the binary object code redistributable, even if not modifiable. I know there are several in the OSS community that will say binary blobs are bad, but a start is a start. I was pushing really hard before I transferred out of the networking dept. a couple years ago.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Also have to post AC for this.

          I agree that open source is the way to go, and there is and has been a large OSS movement within Intel for years. Intel employs some of the best and brightest within the OSS community and makes a point of going after this type of talent.

          You obviously don't understand the legal implications of the FCC requirements for radio devices. EVERYONE wants to get rid of the binary blobs. NO ONE can do it without a possible violation of the slightly vague requirements the FCC puts out
          • by Bandman (86149)
            I also have to post as AC for this one

            Will you guys get back to work already??? Do you think I pay you to sit and surf Slashdot?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Monkelectric (546685)
      Broadcom has a building in Irvine, or Anaheim I think. I don't recall where exactly, but I know i've seen it ... Somewhere in orange county (CA). If its really that bad, there have to be enough geeks in the area to go down to the building and protest for a few hours. This is America god damnit.

      Just a thought.

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)
        If its really that bad, there have to be enough geeks in the area to go down to the building and protest for a few hours.

        The best protest is to vote with your wallet. If their wifi product doesn't shift units because the guy down the street is providing free-as-in-(beer|speech) documentation, then maybe they'll consider their position. A polite letter (yes, letter, not email) to the company might be worthwhile too.
        • by DavidNWelton (142216) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @05:34AM (#17374986) Homepage
          I set up a wiki a while ago in order to track hardware that does not work with Linux and that you should avoid:

          http://www.leenooks.com/ [leenooks.com]

          It's going pretty well and seems to have become popular enough in its niche that it's not just me maintaining it, and it (almost) pays for the hosting, with adsense.
        • The problem, especially with wireless cards, is that most of us don't have a choice in the matter. They come built in to most if not all laptops now and the retail selection is thus shrinking. If you buy a HPaq or Dell, you get a Broadcom card by default. If you chose an Intel CPU, you might be offered the Intel wireless card (which is the better choice even under Windows) but most people don't know this and choose to save the $25. Very few notebooks come with Atheros cards, and the Windows drivers are
          • ... and don't buy product that use these chipsets.
            • Spending $20-30 for a different wireless card is doable. If I'm looking at the lower end of the laptop market, it could be a few hundred dollar bump to go up to a model available with something other than a Broadcom card. That's a lot of money to spend to "vote with my wallet"
      • Broadcom Corporation
        16215 Alton Parkway
        Irvine, CA 92618

        That is their corporate headquarters.

        Also, they will be moving into the UC Irvine campus out in the industrial park area off California, if I remember right. For all I know, they could be moved already. Right now they have three buildings on Alton (main campus) and they have a handful more off Discovery (when you pass by Tia Juana's on I-5 South past Barranca(?), you've gone too far).

        But, no, I do not believe 'protesting' in person will help any. It
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by richlv (778496)
      well, it is even slightly worse... recently i requested information about wireless chipsets used in adapters manufactured by some prety large and well known company. you know, the information that is easily obtainable once you have the adapter by running lspci, for example.
      the response was... surprising.
      "Due to proprietary and copyright policies of our company, this information is not divulged for end users."
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by value_added (719364)
        "Due to proprietary and copyright policies of our company, this information is not divulged for end users."

        LOL. You'll get the same response from Seagate when asking a question about the output of smartmon tools. Actually, that's wrong. They'll tell you to shut down the system and run a DOS pass-fail utility if you have concerns about drive health. Then they'll tell you the information you're looking at, or asking about, is proprietary, and they can't discuss it.

        If it wasn't for the 5-year warranty, I'd
        • by jridley (9305) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @10:10AM (#17376516)
          If it wasn't for the 5-year warranty, I'd be looking elsewhere.

          I decided to start ignoring the warranty on drives.

          I mean honestly, if I have a drive fail, the LAST thing I'm worried about is whether I'll get my pissin' $70 back for a 250G drive. I want my DATA not a few bucks.

          I recently had my first real, hard, unpredicted (no SMART warnings) failure EVER out of dozens of drives from every manufacturer, and it was a 4 month old Seagate SATA drive. HP sent me a replacement, I put it in last night, and after 4 hours use the SMART data reads 4 hours spin time and 54 hardware ECC hits. I have 5 year old Maxtors (with 1 year warranties) that don't have 54 ECC hits.

          I don't care if they have a 100 year warranty; I don't care if they're giving them away for free; I'm not going to use drives I can't trust.

          I'm not buying any more Seagate for a while. Maxtor either since Seagate bought them. I think I'll buy WD for a while; I just picked up 2 of them and they're spinning nicely and behaving.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by wolrahnaes (632574)
            I'm a bit of a Seagate fanboy, so take my word with a fair sized chunk of salt, but I think you just had a run of bad luck. It happens. The odds are slim, but then again people have won the lottery twice in a row so anything's possible.

            My desktop runs all Seagate 7200.x 250GB drives. One 7200.8 and two 7200.9s. The two .9s (6 months old) have 9 ECC errors between them and the .8 (15 months old) has 60. Most of those errors were recorded about a year ago when I had this computer temporarily in a cheap s
          • There are 3 kinds of hard drives.
            • Ones that have failed.
            • Ones that will fail.
            • Ones that got retired before they fail.

            With good backups (I use a rsync script for drive mirroring and a dar script for DVD archiving) the consequences of a hard drive failure generally mean 15 minutes taking the backup out of the mobile rack (unplugged and removed from the computer room when not in use) and put it in the drive slot and if the bad drive's in warranty, waiting for the replacement drive to come back and mirror

          • by Ed Avis (5917)
            If the disk fails I don't care about the $70, but I would hope that the manufacturer does, and to avoid losing that $70 they'd take care to make the disk more reliable. This is the purpose of warranties. It would be better still if the penalty on failure were something unpleasant for the manufacturer - e.g. if the disk fails within the first five years then a randomly selected employee of Seagate has to eat rotting fish. Does it do me any good? Nope. Would it give me more confidence in Seagate products
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by kimvette (919543)
          How the heck is the reporting from S.M.A.R.T,, an open standard, proprietary? You should present that question to them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Arker (91948)
      In the case of Ralink, at least, you don't even need to pay any more. They're in some of the least expensive wifi gear on the market.
  • I've spent the last 3 hours using nasty work-arounds to get rt73 driver working on linux. Still no go.
    • by bersl2 (689221)
      Want some help?

      One of the different things about the drivers for newer Ralink hardware is that they require firmware files. Did you know about this?
      • by JoshJ (1009085)
        Oddly enough, it compiled for me on Ubuntu Edgy. He's on Feisty with the same kernel I've got, I sent him my made folder, and he couldn't get it to make install, and gets odd errors if he tries to make it. I'm wondering wtf the problem is (have been trying to help him via gaim).
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by GrizlyAdams (999280)
          I have compiled the latest rt73 drivers on Edgy and had mixed results as well. There is one nightly that I got working great with a vanilla 2.6.19 kernel: rt73-cvs-2006120917. The current CVS HEAD should work too, it appears they just reversed a kthreads patch between what I have and HEAD.
          Main issues I've had were with VIA EHCI usb 2.0 host controller crashing Linux when I tried to use the adapter on my router. I use the Belkin F5D7050 v2000 on my desktop machine in Windows, Linux, and MacOSX. Interesti
  • The companies (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @01:32AM (#17374116)
    The two companies are Ralink and Amtel.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by kripkenstein (913150)
      "The two companies are Ralink and Amtel."

      Apparently Realtek deserves an honorary mention, since TFA says "Realtek has reportedly been responsive to requests for hardware documentation without requiring a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)" - the only difference from the wording for Ralink and Amtel is the addition of 'reportedly'. Oddly TFA doesn't explain the difference, but perhaps they just had less information about Realtek's relationships with OSS developers. Anyhow from the interview with the Realtek s
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @01:36AM (#17374142)
    I was trying to get an [unnamed] card working.
    I spent days looking for drivers for this card.
    There were many comments negative about this card
    and it's drivers. I was mostly attempting to use
    "ndiswrapper" with a variety of versions of drivers
    for this card and chipsets.

    Hint: Turn OFF the security on the network.
    Test just the card. Not the boneheaded typo in the pass-phrase.
  • Of all the things (Score:2, Informative)

    by Swimport (1034164)
    Of all the reasons given on this site for the dominance of Microsoft over the mainstream OS market. I think lack of drivers is the main cause. You know your hardware is going to work with Microsoft. If other OS's were able to use drivers written for windows I think you might actually see some competition. Right now companies write drivers for Windows, and maybe Mac Linux if they think its worth it. Its a catch 22, no one writes drivers for an OS with a relatively small number of users, and people don't
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by timmarhy (659436)
      i agree to an extent, in that anything you buy will come with divers for windows. i've had some shocking experiences with windows drivers however.
    • Re:Of all the things (Score:5, Informative)

      by infinityxi (266865) <[infinityxi] [at] [yahoo.com]> on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @02:12AM (#17374296) Homepage
      No, lack of drivers is a product of Microsoft's dominance. Vendors didn't inherently go with Microsoft because they were Microsoft (Before they started being used on every desktop). Microsoft is now the dominant OS therefore vendors will release drivers especially for windows. Ever look at an AMD chip in the plastic? It says Designed for XP, same for 90% of the graphics cards made for PCs today. I think that the only way to have a level playing field with the drivers are for the vendors to open the code of the driver (NOT the firmware as some douchebags will want you to think) and/or give out some clear or semi-clear documentation on how the computer should interact with the device. OpenBSD has made leaps and bounds on doing this and stay committed. In fact they have excellent wireless support, especially since they love to be technically correct with code/security etc. Open source operating systems lack the back door business deals that make this easier to accomplish but it is a hell of a lot better than it was back in 1999. Win-modems anyone?
      • by dknj (441802)
        thats because its cheaper to develop the hardware functions in software. winmodems were a clear example. wireless is the next winmodem. winmodems were held by few market leaders and they made bank off of it, when winmodems were reverse engineered.. clones came out along with a level playing field for unix. the problem is, most of the device is located in the driver. release the driver, companies can make their own cheap wireless devices at broadcom's (for example) expense*.

        Intel PRO wireless chipsets d
        • by Nimrangul (599578)
          Quit posting now, you're making a damned fool of yourself. Not many wireless drivers make use of the local CPU to do their work, most are still based in the onboard chip of the wireless card, what they lack now is the memory to store said firmwares and they must therefore be loaded at boot time. No, FreeBSD doesn't, "have this." FreeBSD has the same firmware restriction as anyone, SuSE doesn't have the restriction because Novell signed a contract to allow the redistribution of said firmwares with their L
    • by canuck57 (662392)

      .... Right now companies write drivers for Windows, and maybe Mac Linux if they think its worth it. Its a catch 22, no one writes drivers for an OS with a relatively small number of users, and people don't like not being able to easily use their hardware on an unsupported OS.

      Actually this is not true for most chip sets. Lets take Broadcom wireless chips for example, they did produce a "reference" design long before cards are mass produced for Windows. There reference designs use Linux. Thus Linux drive

    • by LWATCDR (28044)
      "ts a catch 22, no one writes drivers for an OS with a relatively small number of users, and people don't like not being able to easily use their hardware on an unsupported OS."
      Not really. The real problem is that it is just about impossible to write a driver for Linux unless you make it GPL.
      Unless a company wants to make the driver GPL and then fight to get it into the kernel it is just about impossible to support Linux in an end user friendly way.
      Linux doesn't provide a stable binary driver API. Even if a
    • by jc42 (318812)
      You know your hardware is going to work with Microsoft.

      Hmmm ... That's not my experience, or the experience of a lot of other people that I know.

  • Site slow, mirror (Score:3, Informative)

    by killa62 (828317) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @01:40AM (#17374170)
  • by quiberon2 (986274) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @01:49AM (#17374192)
    If you want (say) a disk controller subsystem from IBM, then IBM will generelly supply the adapter microcode as 'Object Code Only, All Rights Reserved'; and the device driver as open-source.

    I don't know about redistribution rights; you can always ask.

    If an open-source developer wants to see the source for the adapter microcode, ask about that one too.

    • FWIW, I had bad luck with an IBM branded disk controller. I got an IBM box with an IBM ServeRAID 7e SCSI... which turns out is really Adaptec HostRAID (fake raid)... which doesn't seem to work quite right if the driver and kernel are different patch versions.... which means every kernel update needs a new driver from IBM / Adaptec, which doesn't happen because they only support the quarterly update releases, and then take a while to test fully before releasing... which means my system goes unpatched wheneve
  • considering the last laptop I tried to help set up did not have a valid driver in existence for its built in wireless receiver, I feel sorry for anyone trying to get an even less common one. Driver writing is just a whole bucket of fun too with most companies' cards, lol.
  • Intel GPL'd its integrated graphics drivers recently; wouldn't you think it would release the code or specifications for the wireless chips used in its "Centrino" stuff too?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by NekoXP (67564)
      No.

      Two reasons basically - Intel (and coincidentally Broadcom and Marvell) do make the more functional and high performing network chips in the industry, and they are really not that stoked about releasing driver and firmware source code which exposes the inner workings of these chipsets and IP cores.

      It must be said that there is no choice on running an Intel graphics adapter if that is what is built into your device and there is no further expansion. A laptop for instance. This makes it "important" to Inte
      • by AYeomans (322504)
        But when the laptop moves to another country, it needs to use a different set of frequencies. So the user ought to demand access to the software programming so they can set the country they currently are in.

        And this is not just nice-to-have. While 802.11b/g at least has 11 channels in common through most of the world, 802.11a uses completely different channel frequencies in US and Europe (and elsewhere, I think). So if you can't set the country, your device won't work.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mrchaotica (681592) *

        However on a PC which has an integrated ethernet like Marvell Yukon or so, there is plenty of choice; plug in an ethernet expansion card or wireless adapter that DOES work, and you can still do what you wanted to do, even if you spent $4.50 extra on the motherboard for the privilege of said chipset in the first place.

        I don't know about you, but I sure don't want a stupid dongle or PC-Card sticking out the side of my laptop, if I've got an otherwise-perfectly-good internal wireless chip!

        • by NekoXP (67564)
          Then choose a different laptop!

          The great thing about Linux and these compatibility lists is you can find out ahead of time and pick the one that works for you.
          • That's easier said then done, sometimes -- for example, find me a reasonable alternative (in terms of size and weight) to the Thinkpad X60 tablet [with an Intel ipw3945] I ordered the other day. I can guarantee you such a thing does not exist.

  • by d_jedi (773213)
    Sign it, get the necessary information to write the driver, and be done with it. Where's the problem here?
  • The good list (Score:5, Informative)

    by steveha (103154) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @02:35AM (#17374372) Homepage
    According to the article, there are three companies that have actually worked with the free software community on drivers. Here is the list:

    Ralink Technology [ralinktech.com]

    Atmel Corporation [atmel.com]

    Realtek [realtek.com.tw] Linux drivers here [sourceforge.net]

    Vote with your money, folks. If you would like to see companies cooperate with the free software community, reward the companies that do so by buying their products.

    If you know of a particular piece of WiFi hardware that works particularly well in Linux or BSD, please follow up here so we all know what to buy. (See also this list [seattlewireless.net].)

    steveha
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      ``Vote with your money, folks. If you would like to see companies cooperate with the free software community, reward the companies that do so by buying their products.''

      Problem is, I don't get to decide what wireless chipsets get integrated in products. I sort of have a choice when it comes to USB adapters, but whole laptops?
      • Problem is, I don't get to decide what wireless chipsets get integrated in products. I sort of have a choice when it comes to USB adapters, but whole laptops?

        Granted laptops tend to be decided on by the make or model, but you can custom order laptops, unless you bought a Dell, in which case you can't be sure of what's inside until you open it up. A Thinkpad ordered with an Atheros instead of the usual Intel seems to be a popular enough choice these days.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Arker (91948)
        You can still decide not to buy the laptop that won't work, in favour of the one that will.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rsidd (6328)

        Problem is, I don't get to decide what wireless chipsets get integrated in products. I sort of have a choice when it comes to USB adapters, but whole laptops?

        Precisely. Even with the PCMCIA adapters I bought recently, there is no possible way to tell the chipset from the packaging. You can't even look up the product number -- they use the same darn number like WG-511 and the same packaging but change the chipset inside. As luck would have it, one had a Ralink and works with linux; the other had Marve

    • by Lumpy (12016)
      I would love to. but Dell, HP and OTher laptop makers will not let me SPECIFY the chipsets in the wireless card in my laptop.

      They all go with the lowest cost gutter crap.... Broadcom.

      Last round of laptops we had to buy all new wifi cards. we went with atheros as they at least work 100% under linux and windows. so I buy laptops, broadcom sells a bunch of wifif cards, I remove them and install the new cards.

      I was not allowed to vote with my $$$ or feet. I was forced to buy the crap and then fix the crap ju
    • Certainly, Ralink, Realtek, Atmel (to some degree) and ZyDAS (no longer a company of its own) are the good guys among wireless chip manufacturers.

      In order to be able to vote with one's wallet (or credit card), one needs to get to know who are the good guys among device manufacturers as well (namely which chips are inside the various wireless devices).

      Here are some links to support these decisions:

      Devices using Ralink chipsets
      http://ralink.rapla.net/ [rapla.net]

      Devices using Realtek chipsets
      http://realtek.rapla.net/ [rapla.net]

      Devi
    • Well-known vendors NOT on the list frequently buy chipsets from these vendors. . . I have a D-Link G122B2 USB wireless adaptor that works with the Ralink 2570 driver, SLED10 and Freespire with no setup. I think the G122C3 uses another Ralink driver, and the A model doesn't use a Ralink chip set.

      This makes checking for Linux compatibility a lot more interesting.
  • I'm still waiting for Linksys to post an updated driver (without the buffer-overflow vulnerability) for a PC-card WiFi adapter I inherited (wouldn't have bought it myself, I'm pretty particular about Linux compatibility).

    In the meantime I tried to use the open-source Linux driver [berlios.de] from Berlios but it's not quite there yet, at least for the BCM4318. Can't complain, tho, wouldn't want to be in their shoes considering that Broadcom is totally uncooperative, from what I've heard.
    • by Aim Here (765712)
      I don't have a bcm4318, but you do know that the bcm43xx driver has been merged into the stock linux kernel? Maybe you can upgrade the kernel rather than just the card.

      I don't know if the in-kernel driver is any newer/better than the version on the berlios site these days, but it's certainly working for me...
      • by rikkards (98006)

        I don't have a bcm4318, but you do know that the bcm43xx driver has been merged into the stock linux kernel? Maybe you can upgrade the kernel rather than just the card.

        I don't know if the in-kernel driver is any newer/better than the version on the berlios site these days, but it's certainly working for me...

        I tried it on my Gentoo box but I kept getting errors when trying to get an IP address that I went back to ndiswrapper. One of these days when I get around to it, I may try again.

  • by ms1234 (211056)
    Intel has drivers (IPW2200, others also) and firmware for Fedora and they work out of the box (has at least for me) but I know that there has been some problems for people getting them installed correctly.
  • by nukem996 (624036) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @04:28AM (#17374770)
    I remember reading awhile back that the reason that Intel had to have closed source firmware for their wireless drivers was because they said the FCC mandated that there was no way anyone could get the power output of their wireless cards. Does anyone know if this is true? If it does shouldn't we be pestering the FCC and not the companies since all they are dong is following the FCC's rules?
    • I don't know whether this is true or not, about the FCC, but if it were - how could some vendors give OSS drivers, and some not?
      • by Gnavpot (708731)

        I don't know whether this is true or not, about the FCC, but if it were - how could some vendors give OSS drivers, and some not?

        They way I heard it, it was not the power output, but the frequency. Some wireless cards are apparently able to transmit on a wide range of frequencies, of which only some are allowed. If you have an open source driver for these cards, you can modify it so they use non-allowed frequencies.

        So one possible answer to your question could be that not all cards have hardware support fo

        • by doj8 (542402) <{doj-sd} {at} {newww.com}> on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @10:17AM (#17376598) Homepage
          > Another possible answer could be that not all vendors agree
          > on the interpretation of the requirements.

          Likely this is true.

          In the case of IBM (now Lenovo), their laptops will not boot with a non-IBM-certified wireless mini-PCI card in the system. Their interpretation of the FCC regulations is that the complete laptop, with wireless card, is FCC-certified. Installing a different wireless card, even though it is a standard component, even from IBM itself, and has been FCC-certified by itself, in IBM's opinion, makes the entire laptop no longer certified. Therefore, they must prevent the now non-certified laptop from working so as to meet FCC compliance.

          It is a singular interpretation of the rules, as far as I know. There is a simple third-party fix to poke a byte to disable the check, so it can be worked around, but is still aggravating.

          While a bit off-topic to wireless drivers, this example shows that the rules are subject to such extreme interpretation. I can easily see the legal department of Intel, et al, deciding some rule would break FCC compliance and thus preventing open sourcing the driver or even making the specifications available.
    • by Arker (91948)
      No, this is not true. The FCC regulations in question apply to the operators of the devices, not the manufacturers. Look at all the wireless devices that *do* have free drivers - they aren't illegal. If you edit the driver code to do something illegal with them, of course, you could get in trouble for that.
    • Currently the FCC does not rule the world. Their regulations do not apply in Europe, and presumably OSS developers in Europe could get the data if that was the issue.

      The traditional explanation is one or both of

      Their hardware is as shoddy as hell and they dont want anyone to know

      Their own drivers are bug infested and they dont want anyone to know

      I have been using Realtek on FreeBSD and its dead cheap and completely problem free. I recommend Realtek to anyone!

      Disclaimer: I am a radio engineer and h

    • This is nothing more than a cop-out. They could lock these in the firmware and not expose that functionality in the driver. Instead, they put it all in the driver and use that as an excuse to not open-source the driver.

      However, at least with the Intel drivers, the OpenBSD guys have shown that the driver can *very* easily be tricked into breaking the FCC "rules". So what's the point in having it closed again?

      Put items that should not be changeable in the firmware. Put items that should be changeable in t
  • Suggested Solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pembo13 (770295) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @04:34AM (#17374796) Homepage
    Openly promote hardware companies that have fully functioning PCI, PCMCIA, and USB wifi cards in Linux. I will gladly spend my money with them regardless of wether I'm purchasing the hardware for myself or a friend, or for a Windows machine or a Linux machine. In the same way that HP printers almost always "just work" and Creative sounds almost always "just work", and I seek those brands out... I am willing to, and would do the same for other types of hardware. Of course for now, my purchasing quantities are quite small. But who's to say that they won't grow at some later point.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by the Hewster (734122)
      Creative sound cards don't "just work". Their latest X-Fi cards are unsupported and will probably not have open drivers (or even closed ones) for a long while
      • by pembo13 (770295)
        And this I have recently learned. As such, I am looking for a new manufacturer for an upcoming project which requires a good sound card. Any suggestions?
  • by Freggy (825249) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @05:43AM (#17375018)
    Still I have the impression that lack of manufacturer willingness to publish documentation, is abused all too often to explain that there are no drivers for Linux, while the reality shows some other interesting facts. Here are some of my experiences I had with wireless in Linux:
    • First I bought a card based on fullmac prism54 chipset. It was known as one of the best supported chipsets in Linux, at the time the only 802.11g driver included in Linux kernel IIRC. It worked fine for basic operation yes, but it did not seem to support WPA. Prism54 development seems to be halted completely already for some time. People are developing the islsm driver which would also support freemac cards, but this is far from usable at the moment.
    • Intel Centrino ipw2200: had this in my laptop. Just installing firmware (which was as easy as adding PLF repository to my Mandriva system and running urpmi ipw2200-firmware) and it worked perfectly, WPA included!
    • Ralink rt2500 based PC card: I bought this again because I knew the manufacturer published documentation. Well, actually there are two drivers. The legacy driver, which should be somewhat stable, but which you cannot use when using multi-processor (dual core, etc), and the new driver which is beta and still unstable. Well, I tried both, but did not succeed in getting my wireless network to work.
    • Broadcom 43xx based PC card: was known at the time as one of the worst chipsets for Linux, because Broadcom was unwilling to publish documentation. Still bought it, because a new reverse engineering project started at that time. Today with kernel 2.6.19, this driver is included in Linux. And it works very good, WPA included. Yes, I had to install firmware by hand by means of bcm-fwcutter.
    So I'm arriving at the bizarre conclusion that for me, the best working wireless chipsets, are these from the category of manufacturers that are not very willing to work together with community. Still, there's a free driver, with only the firmware being proprietary and not freely distributable. Other drivers which should be in the recommended category, failed for me. Some reflections:
    • Good Linux support depends of much more than just the manufacturer publishing documentation. There should be an active community of developers: if that is lacking, even with good documentation, support will remain problematic.
    • Even without documentation it is possible to create good drivers by means of reverse engineering. If a card is popular enough and the right people at the right time start reverse engineering, then this could be a big success.
    • The presence of a proprietary, non-free driver could harm development of a free driver. For example take a look at the nvidia driver. Since a year, there's a reverse-engineering project to create a free dri-driver for nvidia, but it's not advancing at all. I guess lack of developer interest, because there's already the proprietary driver. Also look at ipw2945 driver: OpenBSD proved it can work without the the Intel binary-only daemon, but for Linux, nobody cared to reverse engineer it.
    • I bought one of those MSI-branded RT2500-based miniPCI cards for my Dell C640. It works quite well with Centos -- but only after compiling the driver myself, and I haven't been able to get it to work with a newer kernel quite yet. Otherwise, for stock Centos, this card worked great for me. I do wish I could figure out how to get the bluetooth working on it, but for $30 I was happy enough to drop the PCMCIA card.

      Then again, I haven't been able to figure out encryption, and all that fancy stuff yet. Works
    • by runderwo (609077)

      For example take a look at the nvidia driver. Since a year, there's a reverse-engineering project to create a free dri-driver for nvidia, but it's not advancing at all. I guess lack of developer interest, because there's already the proprietary driver.

      Sorry, but you're nuts if you think this isn't progress [freedesktop.org]! They have even been merged into Mesa/DRM!
  • I've picked up one of these cards for wardriving (I'm a complete noobie unfortunately)
    These chaps have been pretty helpful and the drives (iirc) work out of the box for my rt2500 minipci under ubuntu 6.10
    http://rt2x00.serialmonkey.com/wiki/index.php?titl e=Main_Page [serialmonkey.com]

    I had an intel ipw220 but frankly as a noobie, with or without howto's it was nothing short of a fucking nightmare to get working with WPA under ubuntu from 5.04 to about 6.0 if I recall (and it's still not simple, out of the box yet)

    I als
    • by Wyzard (110714)

      Older versions of the ipw2200 driver had a bug that broke WPA support when using NetworkManager [gnome.org], even though it worked fine if you were to use wpasupplicant directly. That bug has now been fixed, though, so give it a try with the current version of Ubuntu.

  • We recently discussed this issue at the International Plan 9 Workshop [escet.urjc.es]. Lack of driver documentation and time/people to write drivers is what will probably eventually kill using Plan 9 on real hardware.

    There was a time when documenting your hardware was required for anyone to buy it.

    Even a source code leve driver is not enough when you're not Linux/BSD.

    Imagine writing a driver when you only have a driver for another OS as your documentation!

    It's just someone else's view of the documentation they saw / revers
  • by Wackston (80353) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @06:34AM (#17375180)
    I've been there on the other side of a situation like this at a large European based semiconductor manufacturer.

    Basically, the real 'motivation' for not supporting this kind of stuff is usually corporate inertia and bureaucracy. 99% of the time there is no IP really to protect. However, 'the system' slaps an NDA on everything by default and although field application engineers and tech. marketing are be assigned to the visible customers theres no-one officially tasked with supporting sales-via-FOSS. Result: even if there's goodwill (which is surprisingly often) nothing happens.

    It is absolutely normal for the Intel's of this world to simultaenously pay people to evangelise and support FOSS whilst at the same time product-divisions stone-wall. There are simply other (internal) agendas at work than getting the product out. In short-hand: not related to this years' job objectives? No action! No bonus or visibility? Spare-time effort only.

    I think it is noticeable that the businesses that responded effectively in the case of the Wireless drivers were the smaller, hungrier, more genuinely market/customer driven operations.
    Fortunately, in the longer-term the Marvell's of this world do tend to rip the lazy corps. a new one even in more conventional customer relationships. The underlying culture of an organisation (genuinely customer driven or just talk) *will* show through. Alas it's a slow process...

    Andrew

    • by mpe (36238)
      Basically, the real 'motivation' for not supporting this kind of stuff is usually corporate inertia and bureaucracy. 99% of the time there is no IP really to protect. However, 'the system' slaps an NDA on everything by default and although field application engineers and tech. marketing are be assigned to the visible customers theres no-one officially tasked with supporting sales-via-FOSS. Result: even if there's goodwill (which is surprisingly often) nothing happens.

      It's also going to cost real money to
  • The real reason you cannot get driver information is that it isn't just one company you have to deal with. It's several, most of which have legal obligations in a deadlock situation.

    You can't get there from here.

    Patents are not the major problem, either. They have to be declared in the public space, and are therefore a licencing issue. The real problem, is that IP is such a vague and fuzzy term that using it is worthless.

    RMS has correctly identified copyright, patents, and other legal instruments of a

  • Friendly Vendors (Score:3, Informative)

    by RazzleDazzle (442937) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @07:39AM (#17375378) Journal
    Here [vendorwatch.org] are a couple [bluwiki.org] of websites with community based ratings/comments on vendor friendliness to FOSS. It might be worth it if you are a real believer of supporting FOSS to make purchases only from companies that are FOSS friendly, especially if you work for a company that is making large hardware purchases and you have any influence over what is to be purchased. And if they have or request a comment/questionaire make sure to note that vendor FOSS friendliness was a factor your decision making.
  • I haven't got much experience in the world of wireless networking, but in my brief excursions into linux and wireless nics, the Intel stuff is the only one that works outta the box. ipw2xxx drivers are included in the FC kernels at least.

    I, just yesterday, ordered a belkin wireless G nic specifically because it had a atheros chipset that is supported by madwifi for my MythTv setup at home. I am creating a dedicated htpc frontend because I'm impatient, I whipped out an old Linksys WUSB11 v2.8 USB nic that I
  • by DaMattster (977781)
    The arguments that Intel, Marvell, and Broadcomm make are very weak indeed. After all, 802.11 is a standard so the big 3 must ensure interoperatibility with other 802.11 products so the firmware really isn't really Intellectual Property per se. I cannot see how Intel, Marvell, or Broadcomm could loose by supporting the BSDs and Linux. If anything, it stands to reason that by opening their products to more platforms, they reach a broader audience thereby increasing sales potential. This is only speculati
  • I recently bought a brand-new laptop. Everything was PERFECT about it, according to the specs I was looking for, so I bought it, figuring I'd have no trouble solving any small Linux driver problems I'd inevitably run into.
    Well, to my dismay, it turns out this particular laptop contains the Broadcom 4311 chipset. Now, there IS a bcm43xx driver, but it seems that, just my luck, the 4311 is one of the more "problematic" chipsets that are supported by that driver. (And when I say supported, I mean, go clone the
  • On a related note: read Theo de Raadt's slides from his OpenCON 2006 talk "Why hardware documentation matters so much and why it is so hard to get [openbsd.org]". In this talk he answers these questions and he debunks common arguments presented by vendors who don't want to tell you how the hardware works and sycophantic users who act as intellectual bodyguards for these vendors. You'll also learn another problem with what is often described as "voting with your wallets"—informative counterarguments to what you've
  • So far this is the main reason I've not switched to Linux. I've got a Belkin wireless card, and it refuses to work with any version of Linux I've tried so far. I've managed to conenct to a network with the latest version of BackTrack, but it's so unstable I'm staying on XP until it's fixed for good, or I can get a new card.
    • So far this is the main reason I've not switched to Linux.

      If you've got the Unix bug but want good driver support, consider a Mac. I'm a die-hard linux geek, but I'm writing this on a MacBook Pro. I run Fedora Core 6 and Windows under VMWare, the first for my fix (and development), the second for a couple apps that haven't been ported yet. With the virtualization support in the latest Intel processors it's really quite usable, and wireless is never a problem.

  • It's not too often we get a well-researched article anymore. This one clearly took a good amount of legwork, and a good investment of time. For it we get some really useful data and interesting information. What's more, it has a Creative Commons license.

    Kudos to Jem Matzan.

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