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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Another Linux Myth Killed In Broad Daylight

I really wish I could pop the old Lobby4Linux website up sometimes. It exists in a small square, wholly represented by the iconset I choose to decorate my desktop with. About 4 gigs in weight, it represents how this whole thing got started. The Joomla website Tracy Kuhlman built, the Wordpress blog that was my first... Maybe one day when we have a bit more money, I will find someone to host it just for poops and giggles.

Why bring that up?

Because in that blog...the Original Blog of helios....Remember this...?

I ranted on the shape of Linux wireless. It was mid 2006 and my daughter, then living in Germany, was having fits with a Broadcom chip. We struggled for 5 days to get that wireless to work. We failed.

Imagine that. The blog I mention purged the five days of frustration I felt at the time.

Well, something magical happened between the .26 and .27 kernel releases.

Wireless in Linux went from "wireless sucks" to "Wireless just works". That, along with the majority of webcams and voip software, there was an amazing leap in improvement during that period.

Well, that's not news...most everyone reading this knows it why bring it up?

Oh...just to gloat a bit....

Just a bit.

Today I was putzing around the shop, getting some "almost ready for prime time" machines finished up for our kids. Since I am not going to be lifting much of anything except my beverage of choice for the next three weeks, I thought I would get them out of the way.

One of the nicer machines came with a fully-licensed and legal copy of XP on it. As I prepared to wipe it, I thought better...why not make it a dual boot machine.? There are times, especially when I give these machines to the disabled, that they need a Windows app or two along the way.

I got the jumper settings right for the second hard drive and then did the same for the second dvd burning rom I had installed. I fired it up and waited for everything to settle (oh memories of the bad old days) and then popped the control panel open to configure wireless.

My workshop is about 300 feet from the house and the wireless source so I have a system of cantennas and dongles I have Mcgiver'ed together to get signal. It works pretty good given the distance between me and the router. Using a Belkin USB dongle I rigged to extend outside the door, I installed the driver (almost forgot I had to do that) and tried to connect.

Nope...said there wasn't a network in sight.

I went over to both my production machine and my laptop and verified that they were connected and were able to draw data...

I was in 5X5.

I stepped outside, messed with the USB dongle to make sure it was seated in the cradle properly and went back in to check it. Nope...

Deader'n a stump.

I practiced the true definition of insanity several times before I decided to slide in a live CD and see if I couldn't diagnose the problem. Good ol' "iwconfig" will tell you volumes combined with some stratigic pinging.

While the Mepis CD loaded, I made sure the mid-line connections were good and that I had a solid connection at the USB port behind the machine. It couldn't have been any tighter if I seated it with a three pound hammer.

Now Mepis doesn't present Network Manager on first boot. Warren has devised a pretty cool Network connection utility in Mepis so I followed the bread crumbs to the menu link and opened it. I configured the settings with a couple clicks and then started Network Manager.

We were in like Flynn...pulling a fluctuating 61-73 percent signal strength for the next three hours.

I couldn't buy a wireless signal from the Windows machine.

So, while this isn't a newsworthy blog, it should act at least like a historical marker...a bloody sword laying on the road of time.

"Linux is too hard to learn"

"I can't play any games on Linux"

"I have to use the command line too much"

"Linux won't run on my hardware"

"Wireless doesn't work in Linux.

Oh, and just as an unwarranted dig? You have to use antivirus software, I don' with it.

May they all rest in peace...and by the way...don't put away that dark suit you wear to funerals.

Several more Linux myths have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The TOYA Boys will grieve plenty in the following months.

All-Righty Then...


Unknown said...

1. Wifi: A friend of mine was running Vista when her wireless just stopped working altogether.

I told her I could fix this by installing linux (ubuntu 8.04 at the time) but to my horror it did not detect her wireless connection at all. Luckily a quick google away and I found madwifi, installed it, and she was up and running on wireless! Just last week I upgraded her to Ubuntu 9.04 (Super OS actually) and the wifi was picked up automatically with no additional drivers needed, and I was thrilled by this!

She also asked to dual boot windows, so I install XP on her machine instead of Vista. It took lots of googling to find guides for installing XP on her machine, as it was made for vista and I had to mix and match drivers. I must've installed 8 wifi drivers and not a one worked with her system. I looked at her and said "this is why I prefer linux, I don't have to go all over the place looking for drivers, it just works!"

2. Webcams: I'm a little disappointed with my webcam status right now. It worked fine in ubuntu 8.04 but there has been a regression in the kernel since 8.10 which means my webcam is not detected. I don't need it for much these days, but its still disappointing to see such regressions happen.

Anonymous said...

"...a bloody sword laying on the road of time."

Freaking priceless.

Anonymous said...

This only comforts me in my position that as time goes we get more and more spoiled. With most of the stuff working out of the box, we forgot how much time we used to waste hunting down the right drivers not so long ago. It is good to have that sort of reminder now and then.

From personal experience - Linux made me forget what a SLOW system really is --- until a friend asked me to fix his Vista laptop and suggested we go get a coffee "while the desktop is booting".

Anonymous said...

All in all there's not much talk about hardware incompatiblities these days.

Even the astroturfers and trolls have resigned on that topic.

We use HDSPA/3g and I did som installs with 9.04 (beta or rc - can't remember).

Tested with:
- Sony Ericsson P1i phone via USB
- Novatel Merlin XU 870 ExpressCard34
- Huawei 220 USB dongle

All of them were plug'n play with no hazzle whatsoever.

The Huawei 220 had to be used on 2 MacBooks and 1 PC with XP + 1 PC with Vista.

The modem required downloads/install for all of them. Linux was the only plug'n play.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Linux has advanced more in the last 2 years alone, than Windows has from Win95-Vista. Its about time people started realizing that.

Anonymous said...

We use HDSPA/3g and I did som installs with 9.04

That remains a sticking point for me personally. My AT&T Ultra Express card will not connect. There is a website called PHARspace that has a jumble on information on how to get it to work. It is frustrating because my friends are all Verizon customers and theirs works right out of the box with Linux. I have to compile kernels and the such.

Other than that, you are right. We've come a very long way in a short amount of time. It's been dizzying in some ways.

Andy B said...

Wifi does just work in Linux more often than not, which is great. However it doesn't always work well.

Trying Mint from a CD on a laptop my wife has been given with Vista on, gives terrible wireless performance. Vista can use the full 20Mb/s internet connection via wireless, whereas Mint Linux only uses 1Mb/s. One time it was up at around 7-8Mb/s just after booting the Mint CD, but this dropped back down after a minute.

Looks like I might be leaving Vista on it after all which is a shame. I spent about three hours reading and trying things, but nothing worked - probably spend another 2 hours or so on it, but there's a lot of other stuff I can be doing with my time.

Anonymous said...

@ AndyB

And I have found the situation you describe most often the other way around. When I can get a signal from both, it is the Linux box that gives me the most powerful. However, I have ran into your same situation. I think it is less distro specific than it is the fact that the drivers were initially written for Windows...hence they are going to deliver better performance all around.

The facts the author brings up are valid and it's probably time we spend a bit of time thanking those that have worked so hard to make our lives easy. If this blogpost has done anything, it's made me start looking for email addresses so I can thank some people,

Rich_C said...

I can vouch from personal experience on a dual boot machine that Mepis is better at detecting wireless networks than Vista. On one occasion, Mepis found 2, Vista found 0...

Here's my thoughts on the state of Wireless linux:

Anonymous said...


i fully agree with what you said.
i am now using my notebook with jaunty, and i am alternating between ethernet, wireless and UMTS broadband.

i only rarely shutdown the system, rather i put it to sleep. it wakes up while you open the lid.

Everything worked without installing a single driver myself. thats not true for windows, it needs UMTS drivers.

it never crashes! its like a mac :)

By now, Linux got a maturity that scares me :)

Anonymous said...

the drivers were initially written for Windows...hence they are going to deliver better performance all around.

Having been involved in the prism chipset driver project I can assure you that this is always the case.

PV said...

I really want to see more of these myth-killings.

a Linux Mint user since 1 May 2009

kozmcrae said...

When I first "met" you Ken, you were standing by a busy road trying to give away free Linux disks. You managed to give away a few but your troubles netted you $7 and change or something like that. That was decades ago in Linux years. It almost seems that long in Blog years too.

Anonymous said...

I dont know how this magic box of mine does it, but running under Windows, I too messed about with Wireless systems before it worked.

What I also noted was that Windows would get around 60kb a second.....and Linux would get around 500kb a second :P

Same distance, same hardware, diffrent software.

Brilliant! :D

cryptozoologist said...

you forgot the myth about how hard it is to install linux. it has been several years now that starting with a bare system and some install disks that ubuntu, mandriva, fedora, and more than a few others (slack and gentoo, i'm not talking to you here!)are actually easier than windows to install.

Unknown said...

@ kozmcrae

Actually, it was 142.00 and change, 4 packs of cigarettes and 4 free meal coupons to Applebies and Chili's.

I made it a sub-theme of the article to often mention the frustration that no one was reading my sign. My sign said that I was giving away Linux disks. It would be generous to say that 10 percent of the people I interacted with that day actually read my sign...they just thrust money at me and rolled their windows up when I took it...

At the end of the day, I got in my truck and as I was driving through the very interesction I had been "working" I noted that across from where I had been was another homeless person soliciting donations. I drove over to him, handed him the greasy brown sack I had put the money and stuff in and drove off.

The Irony?

I didn't read HIS sign.


Anonymous said...

Mepis is a fine distro. A bit "boring" but rock solid and more dependable than any of the "buntu's I've used. I use it on all my comes the but.

Warren did not do anyone any favors by burying his network connection utility as deeply as he did. Even as a seasoned user, I was surprised I had to dig as deeply as I did to find it. That needs to be symlinked on the desktop upon install. There's really no excuse for it not to be. What I see here is a developer who figures it makes sense to him so it needs to make sense to everyone.

That is a dangerous flaw in thinking when you are serving the public.

Jon Smirl said...

Use powerline networking to get Internet to the garage. $200 and a couple of plug-in devices and it should work assuming the garage is on the same electricity meter.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the suggestion. We looked at that as our first option but unfortunately the shop has it's own power meter...unfortunately not an option.


Jon Smirl said...

If garage is on same utility pole transformer as house powerline net may cross the meters, but it is not guaranteed. If you have some devices give them a try. Powerline will not work at all if they are on two different transformers.

Do you have coax between house and the garage? Get some Motorola NIM-100s from ebay and run MOCA.

The is also HomePNA if you have a phone line in place.

Unknown said...

Ufortunately, this is a standalone buildiing with it's own power transformer and actually it's own address. The only options I have are to have service installed into the building or do as I am doing and use wireless. Wireless actually works surprisingly well for me here. The only issue I have is that the time warner service goes bust and I have to manually reset the router, which is 200 feet away and a real pita. There is no coax between the house and the is simply a directional antenna I built to concentrate the signal.

Nevyn said...

I had one of these moments a few months ago. I had ordered a couple of ex-lease machines - almost identical in hardware except one had a gig of ram while the other had a half. Not really relevant to this post - basically I installed Windows on the machine with the full gig.

Anyway, I installed Linux and was pretty happy. Not much to do once I had installed.

Windows however, installed it, and then realised that I was going to have to get drivers. So I had to browse to various sites for each and every driver for just the onboard stuff. Luckily I had the Linux machine as the Windows machine needed network drivers. On my slow connection it took me the better part of an evening to download and install all the drivers... manually.

It turns out, Linux is easier to install. Who would've through ;)

Jeremiah said...

4 identical computers.
3 got Linux, 1 got XP.
All the Linux ones "just worked".
The XP box gave me no end of problems, until I had trawled through the case to find out what the parts were inside and downloaded the drivers for them; on the Linux box as the XP one would not recognise the network or the internet.

rich3800 said...

I'm using my Cradlepoint MBR1000 broadband router to bring wi-fi wherever I go. If a cell phone can make a call there, I can have wi-fi there.

carlleigh said...

"Andy B said... "

Don't know if you are a Windows Fan Boy or not but you followed the pattern.

Up to a couple dozen characters would have left me feeling a little better about you! Not simply thinking another Microsoft Fan Boy how clueless can you get!

For Example, I have an Asus EeePc 1000h. (Counting spaces that 15 characters.) Wireless doesn't work 100 percent depending on the Linux version. I'm using Easy Peasy and it is working flawlessly.

Andy B said...


You just made me laugh - took me completely by surprise! Nope, not a windows fan at all. Have been trying Linux for over a decade and currently dual boot Ubuntu & XP on my PC. I've tried lots of distros over the last 15 years or so, including Gentoo and LFS, but these days I'm too busy with work & family to spend hours fiddling with computers.

At the end of the day, my wife knows very little about computers and I'd love to put Mint on this laptop for her, but I'm not going to do that if it cripples the wifi speed.

I'm a pragmatic man - I use whatever is best & easiest, but if it's a toss up I prefer to not use windows.

Chelle Minkin - Seattle said...

Hey Andy, Couple of things you said jump out at me and I wanted to maybe shine some light on why your post created the reaction it did.

"Wifi does just work in Linux more often than not, which is great. However it doesn't always work well."

As the author points out, Windows started the fight by refusing to see a connection a Linux distro did see. Just to test his findings, I took my laptop outside. My neighborhood is rich in open wifi connections. I won't list them all here, there are too many but in a nutshell, my PCLinuxOS laptop picked up all 7. The XP side of the dual boot only picked up 3.

That's pretty telling.

"Have been trying Linux for over a decade"

Then you really wouldn't consider yourself a member of the Linux Community, would you? Not to make this Pick On Andy day here but that statement says a lot as well. What it says to me is that every now and then you pop your head in, see how close Linux has come to emulating Windows, then leave when you find it not to your standards. Most of the people that post on this blog have cut the MS strings completely. If it wasn't for helios, I would never have had the courage to do it but you know what? Every now and then I sit down at a Windows Computer to see if they have come close to being Linux. They tried with Vista but fouled that up pretty good. As a consumer, you are more than welcome to "try" any product you wish. I think what Carleigh picked up on was the fact that you "try" Linux from time to time. People here contribute to the development of it in one form or another.

"I'm a pragmatic man - I use whatever is best & easiest, but if it's a toss up I prefer to not use windows."

All it took was for me to actually sit down and read the Microsoft XP and Vista EULA. That beat the "pragmatism" right out of me. "Whatever is best and easiest"? If a person can still use Windows after reading what they demand of you in order to use their product, then they are a perfect MS customer. They are willing to give up computing freedom for "easy". For those people, I would suggest they "try" Linux just a bit harder.


Unknown said...

That's so true. Windows has horrible driver support. And it always has had horrible driver support.

Linux just works.

Andy B said...


Couldn't remember the info yesterday at work - looked last night and the laptop is a Toshiba Equium A200 that we were given by a friend because it has a broken power connector. I'll be fixing that, and it's really nice because we can't afford to buy one. The wireless is rtl8187 usb (yuck) which seems to be notorious. If you fancy helping me out with it (not something I was fishing for on the Helios blog) then feel free to email me: andyblower1 at


Is there really something wrong with me offering a contradictory data point on Linux Wifi in a quick comment on a blog I follow?

Sorry if I came across as disgruntled, but I was a bit because I'd literally spent an entire night of valuable free time trying to sort the problem. However, I was also very impressed that it worked so easily, even if not at full speed. Not having had a laptop for 9 years (had one with my last job) I've really not seen the wifi progression, but I recall how it used to be.

I'm pleased that Linux finds more wifi networks than XP for you, but that's not really relevant to my comment - which was that it doesn't always work well out of the box. That's reality, or do you think I'm just making it up?

I have been trying Linux for over a decade, and as a desktop operating system it didn't really become usable (for me) until about 2-3 years ago when I started using it a lot at home. Before that, I would always run into many problems that sucked up too my time fixing stuff. I still found it interesting though and played with it back in the days when I had a bit more free time. It also was useful to learn more about Linux because we use a combination of Linux & Solaris servers at work. (I'm a software engineer)

Unfortunately we do use windows XP for all desktops, so I have to have windows installed at home for my job so I can access my windows work PC via remote desktop. Secure access is provided by some software that doesn't work in wine. (well last time I checked a couple of years ago) So not everyone has the Luxury of cutting the MS strings completely you know.

The effort I contribute to open source is mostly on apache projects connected with my job. I've never contributed to Linux, and I'm very grateful for those who have. However that doesn't mean I wont mention when something doesn't work.

You're right that I don't really consider myself part of the Linux Community, I'm a user of it nothing more. Does that mean I'm second class and should keep my comments to myself? That's the impression you're giving me. In fact if I was new to Linux I might very well come to the conclusion that Linux was an operating system used by Jerks. And that would be a shame.

Anyway, I don't want to take up any more space on the Helios blog so I'll shut up now. I really enjoy reading this blog and will continue to do so - I find the work done quite inspiring, and have a ton of respect for Ken. I doubt I'll comment again though, unless of course it's maybe just to be a yes man and nod in agreement.

Unknown said...

Andy, you are more that welcome to take up as much room on my blog as you wish. You've always offered some insight in one way or another and I encourage that always. I've repeated it many times but I will do so again.

I don't blog so you can know my opinion...I blog to elicit yours.

I personally think Chelle might have read more into your post than was there...but she is a long-time reader as well so I encourage Chelle to maybe soften her rhetoric a bit...and I may be served well by following my own advice at times.


Unknown said...

Oh, and I'll just throw this out there for anyone that might catch it. I have an old HP DV 4000 or something like that with the "J" key inoperative. Is that a difficult thing to fix? Me removing keyboards on laptops has not always ended well for the laptop.


Andy B said...

Thanks for the kind words Ken, and it's an interesting take on blogging I think, although I so rarely comment on the blogs I read (and hence don't follow the comments either) that maybe it's more common than I realise.

I think you did read quite a lot into what I posted, as Ken said, but having re-read your post again, it's clear that you started out only trying to explain how I'd come across. Unfortunately you ended up evangelising a bit based on mistaken assumptions. Guess it irritated me a bit. No hard feelings - and it is nice to the see passion in some ways.

I do, however, hope my post helps point out how your post came across to me, and how it might come across to a Linux initiate. You do have to be careful to reign in passion sometimes when communicating on the internet (via text), it's all to easy to forget how important all the non-verbal communication is to us humans.

Andy B said...

Ken, regarding your old HP DV 4000 - I did a quick bit of searching and it looks like HP have maintenance & service guides available on their website. That's great, I wish Toshiba would do that. I spent ages searching for disassembly instructions for the Equium - I had to figure out which US model (Equium was only UK/Europe) was almost identical and find someone's unofficial step by step instructions.

Anyway, look at and find your model. I looked at the dv4000XX one and Section 5.13 of details keyboard removal/replacement and it looks pretty straight forward to me. I'd offer to do it for ya if I lived a bit closer...

Hope this helps.

David Lasky said...

Since you mentioned hosting, I thought I'd give you a heads up. My church uses Dreamhost, since they host for free for charities. Since I am pretty sure you are highly qualified in this area, you may be able to get the hosting needs from them, and put the old blog in a subdomain.

Hope that may help someday. I hope your hand is consistently getting better. The work you do is appreciated by far more than just those in Texas.