Monday, May 28, 2007

When Ubuntu sucks.

It can suck bad...

Rather an open statement in that title. My meaning is basically that there are still areas of this Linux distribution that will give everyday users major headaches. Before someone tilts and attacks me for saying something sucks in Linux let me state clearly right now I have used and continue to use Slackware Linux and more recently BlueWhite64 Linux and I have never run an MS OS on my main workstation for more than a few days and even then because back then it took that long to download the install files, and never will. In fact, every machine on my local networks runs Linux and I am a vocal advocate in favour of it.

That said. One area where Linux in general can suck less is wireless. Sure once everything is working as it should then as usual it is rock solid but when it does not work it can be a struggle to get it working.

A case in point was my recent foray into installing Xubuntu (and for the record Kubuntu, Edubuntu and plain Ubuntu all exhibited the same symptoms) for my wife. For many reasons I understood she has struggled to get to grips with Slackware so after looking at many a-distribution we both settled on Ubuntu. She likes XFCE4 so for obvious reasons Xubuntu got the nod. This gave us too many other issues so we moved to permanently to Ubuntu.

While the install phase of all the various Ubuntu flavours is painless, getting her wireless working was not under any of them. But, at first, no matter what we tried her wireless refused point blank to initialise even though the OS itself said it was found and even though this particular card had worked, and was working, fine under Slackware. It is the usual chicken and egg thing. No internet connection because the device will not start but one needs the internet to either locate a newer driver or to seek help in getting it working. We are lucky here in that we have other machines for these purposes but many do not and are in point of fact single machine users.

In these modern times wireless is everywhere and in a large number of machines, laptops in particular, it is often the only connection available. So, when Ubuntu found the wireless but insisted it was a wired connection we had a fight on our hands.

After much messing about with /etc/network/interfaces we could not get Ubuntu to alter its perception that the wireless connection was a wired one and gave up on a known working PCI wireless card, inserted another one, which used the exact same driver, but again the not working persisted. After much editing of various files finally the wireless connection was coaxed into action.

Before we coaxed the wireless connection into action we added several files to /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist that were the root cause f it not working and others added to /etc/modules and to ensure the wireless card came up at boot we added the network details to /etc/network/interfaces. Once all that was done a quick run of /etc/init.d/dbus restart and /etc/init.d/networking restart finally kicked the wireless card into life with all the correct details for our wireless network.

All that above should not have been necessary and would most certainly trip up any new users to our beloved OS. It seemed to me that the reason the card refused to work was that the auto-detection process loaded the wrong driver files. Much hair tugging later these drivers were removed and added to the blacklist and the right driver to load added to /etc/modules.

Sometimes auto-detection can cause more hassle than it is worth and it is that that sucks not the distribution itself though I suppose because the OS uses auto-detection it can be said to the cause of the problem.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No, the reason it didn't work is because by default Ubuntu only installs open-source software on the computer. For the most part, this does not include wireless network card drivers (for whatever reason). Google the term "binary blobs" for more information about this issue. Basically what you have to do to get your wifi card to work is give Ubuntu the "ok" to install proprietary software.

It actually asks you if you want to do this, up in the corner near the "75 thousand updates available" message. But this message soon disappears and if you don't see it you could spend 3 days (like I did) trying to figure it out.

I respect the idea of trying to use as "pure" a system as possible, but they should make it easier to remedy this problem.

And while I don't think Ubuntu sucks... I do think most Ubuntu users are worse than your average penguinhead. They have an annoying combination of Linux arrogance and plain stupidity that I find irritating to no end.