Linux

Ubuntu's wireless woes


Over and over again, I see Linux users, particularly those new to open source, get bogged down with trying to set up wireless. Since wireless access is pretty important to most users these days, this perpetual difficulty seems to dampen the enthusiasm of many potential Linux converts. Just doing a quick search on TechRepublic for "Ubuntu wireless" quickly turns up multiple discussions/questions that generally follow the pattern, "Arrrggghh! I can't get wireless on this crazy thing!" So the title of this CNET blog caught my eye: Ubuntu Linux: Built-in apps get an "A", wireless support an "F". Both Jack and Vincent have written their own how-tos on the subject, with ndiswrapper figuring prominently in the mix.

Whether you blame the network card vendors, the developers, open source, or Microsoft, it seems to me that the fact that it seems so universally challenging is a big stumbling block for Linux, in general. Most users don't want to buy anything extra, research Ubuntu forums, or dual-boot their computers, just so they can get to a wireless network. It continues to reinforce the idea for the general consuming public -- personal or business -- that Linux isn't worth the trouble. It just seems like I've seen the "it's great except for wireless support" repeated so many times, that it has to be off-putting to many people, who might otherwise take a whack at going open source.

I guess what I'm getting at is that it's not just a tactical problem, but perhaps more importantly, a strategic one for the Linux community as a whole, especially since many bloggers and reviewers like so many other aspects of the various distros and apps. Ubuntu gets pretty good press, otherwise. Am I making too much of this single issue (because I see it all the time), or do you think that stuff like this is a significant stumbling block for Linux growth? Can you think of a strategy to counteract the perception that Linux is just too complicated for average users?

About

Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...

31 comments
rcugini
rcugini

Use a wireless Ethernet gaming bridge. WET54G is a good example. Usually, Linux will see the Ethernet. Driverless wireless is the solution. Never attempt to use a USB for a wireless signal. USB can, however, power an Ethernet bridge.

john3347
john3347

Wireless is not the most major problem that Ubuntu (and other Linux versions) have that is preventing them from taking over the world. For lack of better descriptions, I will divide the world into the technically advantaged and the technically challenged. Ubuntu, Open Office, and most open source software is geared to cater to the technically advantaged and to EXCLUDE the technically challenged. Problem is that something between 75% and 99% of computer users in this world are in the technically challenged category. When the technically advantaged open source authors get a grip on the concept of "intuitive" and "plug and play", which the technically challenged require, Microsoft will become "just another player" in the computer world and the open source community will be KING!! Now, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. This technically challenged computer user is standing in line, chomping at the bits, for a full system that someone like me can make effective use of.

mickey
mickey

I agree to your devision of Advanced vs. Technically Challenged though the percentages are constantly changing. However, your faulting Linux for Plug and Play issue is a bit off. Though MS was among those that spear headed the PnP 2.1 standard, the Linux community fully adopted it before MS and MAC(MS was last to fully adopt it). While MS 98 was king Linux had adopted it, not until XP SP1 was it fully adopted. As to the "intuitive" statement, MS, MAC and Linux all use the Common User Interface (CUI), as a result if you know your way around one you have 90 - 95% of the other already, so that doesn't really hold true. In a study done, a group of people that had NO prior experience on any computer were given only the info that a CD could boot the installer. They were tested on installing an OS, ability to find the right program for a task and basic setups. In order of easiest learning Installing ---- Linux, MAC, XP, Vista GettingAround - MAC, Linux, XP, Vista Setups -------- Linux, XP, MAC, Vista The evidence shows that when one is a computer newbe, Linux is the fastest learn. Most of those coming from a different OS need to first "un-learn" the prior OS and have an open mind to learing the new OS instead of expecting the exact same desktop. When it comes to the hardware configurations, IP, video resolution, volume, etc... those that have trouble with Linux will also have the same issues with MS and MAC. Not because they are hard to setup but because of the way they think. As to the hardware drivers, Linux supports more hardware drivers than MS or MAC. As a network engineer of 30+ years, every time there was change it was virtually always the same group that needed help and always the same that did not. Almost always those that don't need help prove to be those open to learning new things. I have found that most of the "technically challenged" are not that they can't learn but that they don't want to bother. They often just want someone else to do it. This is not a fault of Linux but the indivitual. They are better identified as "Techno Phobes". As OS's are concerned Linux is an excelent OS to use. My favorites are RedHat and Ubuntu. Just remember the diferent distros are optimized differently. Redhat seems best in a server though its workstation is very good. For the newbe Ubuntu seems the easiest to start with though many will move on to another distro once they are familier with Linux. All in All Linux gets two thumbs up in my world! !

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

This is not really the discussion for that topic though as this discussion relates specifically to Ubuntu and wireless networking.

mickey
mickey

From the get go, i have had too many issues with laptops and the built-in wireless in both Microsoft and Linux. My favorite is still UBUNTU. IE; DELL Inspiron 6000 for example using the Broadcom chipset in both OSs internet access is problematic unless you disable the wired ethernet the wireless gives problems. At the same time if I need a wired connection I find the need to turn off the wireless to make the wired interface work right. In both OSs, if I turn off the built-in wireless to use the wired, and insert a cardbus wireless they work together well. (with a differant chipset) This I traced this to the specs of the Broadcom chipset itself. A switch exists in the chipset that does not automaticly switch between the 2 interfaces and both OSs don't have native support to multiplex between them. While this is plainly the fault of the chipset design, you can't deny DELL's part in designing to this chipset when problem is built in to the chips. In spite of it all I still give UBUNTU top marks as one of the easiest Linuxes to setup and use.

alvarocervantes
alvarocervantes

Since I started using IBM thinkpads, years ago, I neve had a single problem with wireless or any other hardware. Seems to me that this ocmpany deserves my money for fully supporting Linux. HP laptops and Others use hardware from companies don't wanting to coperate with Linux and provably are in bed with M$ to preserve the monopoly. I would like to see a list of Linux friendly hardware companies so every Linux follower will support and buy from them. Arriba Linux, ACC from Oregon

ezeze5000
ezeze5000

I installed UBUNTU on an Acer Aspire 3680. The wireless and wired network cards work just fine. Sound card works (only with head set) but I haven't been able to get the speakers to work yet, I'm still working on it. The Vista hard drive was too small so I pulled it and installed a larger one to load UBUNTU on. I also give UBUNTU top marks.

ezeze5000
ezeze5000

I solved the problem by up dating to Hardy Heron. This fixed all the little problems with this hardware.

russgalleywood
russgalleywood

It's got a lot better with Wireless! I have never had to use NDISwrapper either. Still a bit funny with some Broadcom chipsets but seems to work fine with most others. Ubuntu makes a big jump forward with every release in my opinion and it's the first where I felt fairly comfortable suggesting Linux to Windows Users.

blissb
blissb

It seems that there is a wide variety of experience here. For me, using kubuntu with a couple of different wireless cards/dongles, the experience has been somewhat frustrating, but not overwhelmingly so. With a generic pcmcia wireless g card, that has a broadcom chipset, Kubuntu tried valiantly to install the native driver -- which just doesn't work. So, I had to go to a different machine, download the ndiswrapper software, install it on the laptop, install the driver that came with the card, blacklist the broadcom driver, and add ndiswrapper to the modules file... easy enough for somebody with experience, but way too much work for average users. I'm jealous of those who have had simpler experiences... but I'm frustrated that the installation, or network configuration doesn't have a simple option to "use ndiswrapper" -- and include the software on the installation CD... OK my ranting is done... I love Kubuntu -- everything else just works.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I had better luck than you though. During the Mandriva network card setup, it asks if ndiswrapper should be used or "a Windows driver". Then I put the dialogue box at the driver on my Windows partition and off it goes. In some cases I have had to copy the driver (thing is just an INI file anyway) too the Mandriva partition. I have had to setup ndiswrapper and the wpa lib by hand previous too that though; boy has networking wifi setup ever improved over the last few years. Just think where it'd be if hardware makers stopped playing games with the interface specs.

Jaqui
Jaqui

odd, with both PCLinuxOS and Mandriva 2007, if they didn't have a chipset rom that was exactly what they defaulted to. I have a wireless nic, pcmcia cardbus interface on it, with the ralink chiset. [serialmonkey code for drivers] The only two steps I've needed for wireless support with most distros is to copy the roms from a thumbdrive to /lib/firmware then configure the interface.

saraboat
saraboat

Greetings, I've installed Ubuntu, Pclos, Open Suse, Fedora 8 and Linux Mint on a Toshiba Satellite A-75 and also an IBM Thinkpad T-42. I've had no problems with Wireless, all distributions found, configured and connected to the Web automatically. It took 2 weeks from install to having all applications I used with XP up and running fine but I'm slow. This includes all media, ipods, printers, etc. This ease of installation isn't the same for everybody though. The worldwide forums are full of experienced users that are happy to offer assistance. I'll never go back to Windows.Try it, you'll like it! Cliff

groenem
groenem

I'm using Kubuntu Linux and I love Linux myself, but I struggle to get my friends to like it. They only have to ask 1 question - how do I connect to the internet with my dial-up modem or my HSDPA-modem for my cellphone, or even using my cellphone with the standard 3G modem? With ADSL there is no problem - Linux works like a dream. My brother is very interested in using Linux, but he has a laptop and he uses his cellphone with a HSDPA-cellmodem on his Windows XP OS. Even before I had ADSL and only dial-up modem, it was a nightmare to get it to work, so I just left it. So the bottom of the story - unless you have ADSL, you will have a long road in front of you to get your internet working via the other means.

r.myers
r.myers

I have installed 8.04, but it was not great for internet access. In fact, I am still trying to get my Gigabit onboard to work with my AT&T gateway.2wire.net. I changed the AT&T Gateway to conform with Linksys type networking to avoid problem with 2nd desktop and Wii. I just do not get how to change it in termanl even with the books I have. Thanks.

j-mart
j-mart

With dial up the most important consideration is choice of hardware. It is always easy if you select a hardware modem built to standards eg. US Robotics. The best modems I have found are external. Dynalink and US robotics modems go real good. Kpp makes set up a breeze. Cable internet is also very easy to set up. Have never used ADSL or wireless so no idea about these options

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Back when I first tried Sympatico, they used a basic ADSL modem link. I get a box, they put a box on the other end of the wires and my box hands me an IP through it's local network port. They later switched to a setup requiring login client software. The software they provided was bloated and madness to setup even on a Windows machine. Eventually, I found a nice light ppoe client (think it was ppoe authentication anyhow) but cancelled the connection and moved to a different ISP later. (one who's "security update" didn't involve bloated software or hasle on the client end). If he has a modem that offers both network and usb (or some non network cable connection), I'd recommend using the network port (current Bell Sympatico modems for example). If he doesn't have the choice of a network port then it sounds like he needs a ppoe client or similar. He may be screwed if it's some proprietary ISP only client authenticator. Like you said; check the hardware ahead of time. And I ad; check your service providers setup offering ahead of time also. As for the old school phone line modems US Robotics is a great brand (how many out there could tell baud rate by connection sound?). If it's internal, be sure it has jumpers on the board. If it's external your even better off because the com port should be hard set by jumpers. Kppp and the like worked perfectly back in the day unless you gut suckered into a winmodem or other jumperless (Plug and Prey) brand.

marin.botev
marin.botev

I agree the wireless support is quite poor with Linux and unfortunately with Ubuntu. There might be working solution, but you need time to research and keep trying until get one of your wireless configurations working properly. The moment some of the wireless parameters change (protocol, encryption) your wireless won't be working anymore. I guess that is the "strength-and-weakness" of all Open Source - too many options as result of extremely decentralized development leading to limitless information/software sources...

bruce
bruce

Personally, I've never had any WiFi problems with Ubuntu, but... Published on CNet today: "Linux users answer the call: Ubuntu wireless-adapter glitch resolved" See http://www.cnet.com/8301-13880_1-9848471-68.html

demosthanese
demosthanese

I love the open source community. Wish i had more than the tiny amount or programming skill that i do so i could contribute, but i dont. So thanks to all you people who put in their personal time to this stuff!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

If you can get used to a projects bug report system (bugzilla often) then you can contribute with bug reports and suggestions.

DaveLG526
DaveLG526

I have a Belkin wireless PCI card that works fine with Ubuntu 7.10 bit will not work with Vista. A D Link USB wireless G dongle works with Vista and Ubuntu. From two years ago WiFi Ubuntu support is 1000 % improved. I am more dissatisfied with Ubuntu not including "standard" programs that most previous Windows users will find essential: 1. RealPlayer ( Many, many links on how to add RealPlayer are filled with old and inaccurate procedures. 2. Java Run Time 3. Adobe Acrobat ( I know there are alternatives). 4. Flash How about a one click install for these?

jlwallen
jlwallen

i remember when i first put ubuntu on my ibook i had to use hwcutter BEFORE i put ubuntu on so i could get the necessary files so ubuntu could use the airport card. once i did that though it was effortless. i never had a problem (until the laptop graphics chip died - the old ibook G3 graphics issue that Apple never really owned up to.)

demosthanese
demosthanese

I know this is a bit off topic, but i managed to make a hackintosh out of my toshiba and still cant get my intel wireless card to work. Im wondering, since OSX is a *nix kernel, why cant i get it to work using linux based drivers?

filker0
filker0

"since OSX is a *nix kernel, why cant i get it to work using linux based drivers?" OSX is a *nix kernel, true, but Linux is not. The driver model is different, so Linux drivers will not work on OSX. OSX drivers will also not work on Linux. It may be possible to "port" a driver from one to the other at the source level, but having written drivers for SysV, bsd, and Linux, I can confidently say it's non-trivial.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Linux and the BSD kernel can be recompiled with only the hardware components needed. There are a few hard core guys around TR that build there own kernel so they can cut out all the modules (drivers) for hardware they don't have. I suspect Apple did the same and compiled the kernel with only the hardware support relevant to Apple machines.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

There is some irony in reading this on a notebook booted of a Mandriva liveCD over a wireless network. - Insert CD - Press power button - Wait for desktop to load - Open network icon in bottom right section of task bar - Select wifi network from list of available networks - Press Connect button (same as in Windows) I would like to see them add a function to enter a ssid though. Currently you can only select from detected networks through the GUI. That'd be the only outstanding thing to include besides the usual wider availability of driver specs. I think strategicly, there is no convinsing wifi makers to release driver specs and drop the "patented binary" line but that means motivating them financially. That can only happen by having more customers buying the hardware that provides driver specs. In that regard, Ubuntu has being making great strides. Mandriva is also fantastic if not better suited than Ubuntu. PCLinuxOS takes the apt-get base and packages it with the drake tools. In terms of simplicity for the end user, it's evolving all the time and far more usable than the marketing hype would have us believe. For the home user, it still seems to be the need for preinstalls, hardware manufacturer support for new hardware and more "photo ops". For the business user, it's the business functions provided by the software that will allow the change. IT departments are the ones that build the workstation images so configuration isn't a concern. It's all about the user applications; OOo is getting there and is fine for home users but the 70 meg XLS files I work with all day that regularily crash Excel's memory handling still can't be replicated in OOo. (granted, it's partly me knowing VB a whole lot better to write formula behind cells rather than the OOo cell formula code but I'm working on that.)

roaming
roaming

It's funny but I had the opposite problem where Windows was very flaky and Linux was as stable as can be. Mind you I made sure that both of my laptops when I bought them had native support in Linux. They both use Intel wireless. The new one is a HP and also has Intel video. The Ubuntu CD in live mode ran everything including the external volume control and the screen brightness control had 20 levels of brightness instead of the 10 levels in Windows.

zefficace
zefficace

First, let me say that my office still uses windows, and I'm more or less satisfied. I have had problems with WIFI under windows, since the chip of one laptop didn't like the chip in the router... had to upgrade the router's firmware, and so on. So sh!t happened under windows too. (the same chip worked fine under linux!) Being a novice under linux (6 months use), I was confronted with an Atheros AR5007EG chip, still not supported under linux (no mad-wifi). Most would have given up, but I'm stubborn... and it works (ndiswrapper or mad-wifi patched) As for a linux wifi strategy, I only see harassment of the chip makers as a more or les quick solution. Otherwise, making an opensource driver for a proprietary chip must be a very long process... like trying to hook up a blackbox without knowing the "insides". Therefore, if linux were more mainstream, there would be more (proprietary) drivers, but linux wont be mainstream until it will be more wifi friendly... OH! wait... I see the problem... is it the chicken or the egg. Don't get me wrong I love linux, and it's not that hard, but people are lazy (hence the DVD reference).

brian.mills
brian.mills

I recently had a friend's laptop at my house to do some major work on it (as in a complete Windows reinstall), and that friend was considering switching to Linux, so I booted up the Ubuntu CD on it. The only trouble I had with connecting Ubuntu to my wireless network was remembering the key for the WPA2 encryption. When that same laptop was booted into Windows (XP Media Center Edition) I couldn't connect at all with the built-in Windows tools, but I could with the tools supplied by the manufacturer. Only problem with that was that only the administrator account could save settings and not have to retype the key each time it connected. I'm not sure of the exact chipset of the wireless card, but the laptop was a 17" Averatec with an AMD processor. I can't recall if my laptop could connect to my wireless booted into Ubuntu, so I'll need to double-check that before I do more than just boot the CD on there. Linux won't do me much good if I can't use my wireless anymore. I guess there still are a lot of manufacturers with poor Linux support, but my experience with wireless on Linux has been totally positive. Let's hope it stays that way.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Linksys 54gs nic gave me grief though I've not tried it since switching too a T60 and whatever wifi they package inside.