Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Two things I'm glad Linux has improved

Posted: May 17, 2007 10:05;
Last Modified: Jun 08, 2007 10:06

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Note: This a return to the subject of a previous posting.

About six months ago, I wrote describing the problems with networking in Ubuntu. In particular, although I have been a Linux user for many years, I have always found wireless networking and windows-linux networking very difficult to do.

Not impossible, but much harder to set up in most cases than necessary.

Since then, at least in Ubuntu, my preferred distribution, things have got considerably better—before slipping back a bit.

Wireless networking

Soon after I wrote my entry on networking, I discovered Automatix. This is a very active new group who have found a real Linux niche—distributing the essential codecs and software that users need on their computers but that cannot be distributed with free GPL-type distributions. Examples include win32codecs necessary for multimedia, some extra true-type fonts, but also software like Sun Java or Crossover Office. As this last example suggests, Automatix are also clearly getting into the business of distributing commercial software for which licences must be bought—an excellent development and one that will considerably improve the computer experience of most Linux users.

In terms of wireless networking, the big advantage for me was that Automatix distributed Network Manager, a superb networking utility that goes most of the way to answering all the problems I have have with my wireless installation. It incorporates functionality that in Linux used to be spread across a number of different programmes—network scanning like iwscan or wifiradar, wpa-access like wpa_supplicant, and a useful graphical interface (actually, Network Manager doesn’t replace these programs, it integrates them). Immediately upon installing Network Manager in my Ubuntu Edgy notebook, I was able to discover and join wireless networks like a Windows user—or actually better, since Network Manager seemed to allow me to connect to networks that the Windows side of my computer could not using the same card and drivers. Finally, wireless was working the way it should!

Things took a step back when I upgraded my Edgy system to Feisty. Suddenly Network Manager wasn’t working well at all with wpa_supplicant and I was now able to log into WEP or open networks. A temporary solution I found on a forum required periodic (actually very frequent) stopping and starting of networking on the computer. This bought me access, but it was hardly a viable solution.

Since yesterday, I have been able to recover the old functionality. The problem is actually quite complex and involves issues with a number of components℄@ndiswrapper@, wpa_supplicant, and Network manager itself. But the solution, fortunately, is extremely simple: upgrade Network Manager from the 0.64 version shipped with Feisty to 0.65 (which came out after Feisty was locked down).

Even better, you don’t need to deal with the dependencies yourself. A contributor to Ubuntu Forms has made a deb package up that you can just download and install: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?p=2663064.

Windows-Linux LAN networking

Here, in the true tradition of “It just works” computing, they have done something in Ubuntu since Dapper that takes care of it. I’ve no idea what happened, but suddenly LAN networking with windows machines is a snap right out of the box.

Conclusion

Before my issues with Feisty and Network Manager, I’d have said Ubuntu at any rate has pretty much address the issues I have had in recommending Linux to non-Geek friends, i.e. the kind of people who see computers as a combination type-writer and jukebox. While the solution to my wireless problem was very easy to fix in comparison to previous year’s experience, googleing a solution is still one step more than most people have to do with a OEM installed operating system. But things are very close now and two developments suggest to me that it is a question of months until Ubuntu specifically and any of the user friendly free distros more generally, will be at the stage where they are a viable mass alternative to commercial systems. The first is the development and improvement of a service like Automatix; the creation of a niche for a group that helps users automatically customise their systems is truly a great development, and one that in my mind considerably improves on anything in the Mac/Win world. The second is the fact that Ubuntu is itself becoming an OEM operating system, now that Dell has announced it will be selling Ubuntu pre-installed on select computers. In fact, the two developments may even be related: this Spring, Dell’s page about Michael Dell’s personal computing and software choices revealed that his primary computer was a Dell notebook running Ubuntu Feisty with Automatix2 installed (note: there seems to be no way to permalink to this page, so it may change over time).

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Comment [3]

  1. Mike (Wed Aug 15, 2007 (12:40:21)) [PermLink]:

    It’s very beautifully.

  2. Mahmudul Hasan (Mon Jul 7, 2008 (12:01:52)) [PermLink]:

    You use an Ubuntu NoteBook !!!! Can I know the model & brand of your laptop ?

  3. dan (Tue Jul 8, 2008 (17:46:29)) [PermLink]:

    Ubuntu wasn’t an OEM installation: I added it to a notebook that came with Windows XP Pro on it (I understand Dell now sell some computers with Ubuntu as OEM, but mine isn’t one of them). Anyway, my notebook is an old Acer Aspire 1410 (same setup roughly as the Aspire 1360, BTW). It’s pretty old now, probably four or more years?

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