3 minutes • 2009-11-01 | personal rant 

In today’s world, we’re surrounded by gadgets – from printers to digital cameras to the ability to connect our phones to our PCs. We, as consumers, have a tendency to acquire things we don’t really need or hardly ever use. I’m no exception to this rule, and I’ve accumulated quite a bit of technology over the years, much of which has been replaced by newer models or has become obsolete.

What particularly frustrates me, however, is the pace at which technology evolves in terms of peripherals, contrasted with the outdated thinking of hardware vendors who seem to believe there’s only one operating system in the world – Windows.

Yes, I’m talking about Windows, and the stubborn refusal of many vendors to provide drivers or software for their products that can be used with other operating systems.

Let me give you an example: When I purchased my Acer Ferrari 3000 laptop, it came with Windows XP Home Edition. I promptly rejected the user agreement that Microsoft thrust upon me, packed up the manual and the CD, and sent them back for a refund – which they kindly provided. I decided to install Gentoo Linux on that laptop, intending to make it my playground. The first hurdle I encountered was with the WiFi. It turns out that Broadcom, the WiFi device manufacturer, claims they can’t release the source code for their drivers because it would violate some agreement they have with a U.S. Government organization or agency. Fair enough, we don’t need the source code, but how about providing official Linux drivers supported by Broadcom? After all, if Broadcom has the resources to create Windows drivers, it’s not unreasonable to allocate some of those resources to support the Linux community. Fortunately, resourceful folks on the internet found a way to use the Windows drivers in Linux through a tool called ndiswrapper.

Recently, I went to buy a new camera, not because I needed one (as mentioned earlier), but in pursuit of higher resolution. Yet again, I found no Linux drivers. Why is that? Why are there drivers for nearly every flavor of Windows but hardly any for Linux? Admittedly, there are more Windows users worldwide than Linux or MacOS users, but the gap is closing each year. How long must we wait for vendors to start releasing Linux drivers and software for their products? It’s worth noting that, of all the cameras I saw, only one (a Philips camera) provided software and drivers for MacOS.

When it comes to drivers, we’re often left depending on the efforts of Mr. or Mrs. John Doe – an anonymous individual, perhaps a student, who has some programming knowledge and takes it upon themselves to create a solution to make their hardware work. In doing so, they help others facing the same problem.

While it’s true that compared to just a year ago, the situation of missing Linux drivers for specific hardware peripherals has improved, issues with peripherals like TV cards and card readers can still be problematic. As Oliver Diedrich states in “c’t. magazine,” there has been some progress.

I sincerely hope that this situation changes in the near future. It’s unfortunate if users choose not to use Linux simply because the hardware they own lacks support.

Now, it’s time for me to get back to work…

  • Nikolaos Dimopoulos

    Boldly goes where no other coder has gone before.... and other ramblings

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