Linux is great – if your hardware is supported

ubuntu.pngLinux has come a long way since the days when you needed to be an astrophysicist just to install it. Nowadays its so easy to install, I reckon even my mum could do it especially since Ubuntu even installs from a self-extracting EXE file. Just download it, double click and Ubuntu installs automatically – partition and all. With this in mind, I recently decided to try breathing new life into an old ailing Acer Aspire 1410 laptop by installing Ubuntu using the above method. Everything went absolutely fine – until it came to hardware support.

The installation process is amazingly quick and easy. I’d estimate from start to finish it took less than 15 minutes. To be precise, it was exactly one half of the Pop Idol final which I was kind of watching at the time – and I have to say the installation process was far more entertaining and much less painful.

The first thing that struck me was how slick and lightning quick Ubuntu is. And just because it’s free, it’s no ugly duckling either. Using Ubuntu is now as intuitive as using Windows. Sure, things are in slightly different places, menus are slightly different but it’s easy enough for anyone to work out. The problem however, comes when it doesn’t work with your hardware.

Unfortunately, my 5 year-old Acer Aspire isn’t one of the models that Ubuntu supports. This doesn’t mean I can’t use the Ubuntu, it just means that I have to install drivers for each component separately – and that’s where the fun stops.

My main concern was wireless support. If I couldn’t connect the laptop to the internet by WiFi using Ubuntu then it wasn’t much use to me. Unfortunately however, installing drivers in Ubuntu isn’t just a matter of double clicking an EXE file you’ve downloaded like in Windows. It involves opening the Ubuntu Terminal and engaging in commands and programming that most general users will find far too complex.

Despite a couple of useful tutorials,  including a video about how to use a tool known as “ndiswrapper” I could only get so far. I mean, even for the sound to work, I’m somehow expected to understand this!

The Aspire 141x has an AC’97 controller. Works fine by mean of ALSA snd_intel8x0 module. Here comes my sound-related /etc/modprobe.conf data:

#
# tarjeta de sonido
alias snd-card-0 snd-intel8x0
alias sound-slot-0 snd-intel8x0
options snd-card-0 index=0

#
# Emulacion OSS
alias sound-service-0-0 snd-mixer-oss
alias sound-service-0-1 snd-seq-oss
alias sound-service-0-3 snd-pcm-oss
alias sound-service-0-8 snd-seq-oss
alias sound-service-0-12 snd-pcm-oss

But… wait… I cannot hear any sound!!!. Aghhhh, this is the FC4 modem driver, snd_intel8x0m, that conflicts with sound card and gets it unusable….
No problemo:

  • Disable Intel AC’97 modem in .config kernel options
  • Add snd_intel8x0m to /etc/hotplug/blacklist
  • Or rename snd_intel8x0m.ko to snd_intel8x0m.ko.old in /lib/modules/xxxx dir

By the time my now frazzled brain had even attempted to comprehend this, Pop Idol had long finished and my girlfriend was on the verge of leaving me.

So please Linux community, Ubuntu is fantastic and you’ve done an amazing job so far. I know those evil manufacturers don’t make things easy for you when it comes to hardware support for Linux but is there any way you could make installing drivers easier?

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