Sunday, April 01, 2007

Linux plunge not working out so well

So I don't think Linux is ready for laptops. Well, my laptop anyway.

The first problem I encountered was with screen resolution. I didn't have an option for the "native" 1280x800 widescreen resolution of my Dell 700m. After digging through the Ubuntu support forums, I discovered that I had to install a small utility called 915resolution. It was a minor pain to track this down, as there were several contradictory sets of instructions found with Google, but running this command:
sudo apt-get install 915resolution
and restarting seemed to fix things.

My next problem was with WiFi. Ubuntu's network management applet didn't show any available wireless networks, despite the fact that I know there are dozens nearby my home. Reboot into Windows, do some more browsing, and discover some diagnostic tests to run. Boot back into Ubunutu. It appears that command-line tools can see wireless networks nearby, but Ubuntu's GUI is broken and doesn't list them. I could deal with having to run a few commands to connect, but...

It also seems that Ubuntu does not support Wifi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) wireless access points out of the box. This is a much bigger deal, as my home network is all WPA2 WiFi, and I will not "downgrade" to any version of WEP, as it is woefully insecure.

So I boot back into Windows, and do a few more hours of research. There are WPA tools for Debian-derived Linux systems, and some folks have gotten them to work. But I was really unwilling to go down this route, as the documented procedures were pages long, and involved running a command line utility to generate a password hash for each new network I wanted to use. Not exactly useful for someone who needs to do work on the go.

Finally, I looked into getting support for my Sprint Mobile Broadband Card, which provides about 1 Mbps download speed just about anywhere. This little device is my lifeline for work. From what I read on the net (again scattered over dozens of contradictory sites), there is almost no driver support at all for these mobile Wireless cards in Linux. To get something working, I would have to modify some available driver for another device and compile it into my kernel.

So I gave up. I have a family, and a job, and I just wanted to get some work done. Right now, at least, Ubuntu doesn't have enough mobile device support for my needs.

And I know all the Linux fanboys out there will call me an 1d10t n00b, and blame the hardware manufacturers for not releasing good open-source drivers. But you know what? I don't care. Ubuntu failed me. Going mobile with Windows XP is light-years easier by comparison, and I'm not going to switch to something that requires so much manual configuration each time I want to work on the road.

Maybe I'll try a MacBook instead.


zuttobenkyou said...

I've had similar experiences with Ubuntu 7.04 and WiFi on my Dell Latitude D505.

I'm currently waiting for version 8 to come out for Ubuntu this spring. It will hopefully fix some problems relating to multi-monitor support (last time I checked, Ubuntu's support for 2 LCD monitors was pretty much nonexistant).

RPM said...

zuttobenkyou, I have recently upgraded to a Dell D420, but it has the same graphics chipset, and same WiFI chipset, so I think I too will wait for Ubuntu 8. I will also try a Fedora bootable CD to see if it sees all the netowrk drivers. The lack of reasonable support for the mobile broadband cards is still a killer for me. Yes, I know this is "the vendor's fault", but as far as I can tell no U.S. mobile carrier has Linux support for their broadband cards.