January 13th, 2007

I got no strings to hold me down—the wireless works!

well_lahdidah's dad bought us a laptop for xmas, which was completely unexpected and overly generous. It's a Dell Inspiron E1405. Her dad encouraged her to use Open Office, but I decided we'd do one better: I'd set it up as a dual-boot system with Suse Linux 10.1 and Windows XP.

I picked Suse because I'd read some reviews that praised its ease-of-use, and its ability to repartition the hard drive without damaging the existing Windows installation. I thought something easy to use would be good for well_lahdidah's transition to Linux (and, frankly, I've rather had enough battles configuring Linux for one lifetime). I also had a bad experience with Partition Magic some years back that caused me to lose a lot of data, so I was looking to avoid partitioning woes. I even shelled out $50 to purchase a copy—even though you can download it for free—since I figured the manual might come in handy, and I thought some of the money might go back into development.

The actual installation screens didn't match the installation screens presented in the book, so naturally I managed to annihilate the Windows installation and had to reinstall. (So much for that $50.)

The rest of the Linux install was easy. I've never really used Linux for the GUI—although I installed KDE on a testing server a few years ago I never really used it. This time I decided to try GNOME, which was David Brandt's favorite. It looks a lot like Windows now. And if you're running Firefox, it's so familiar that might never notice the difference.

Except for one thing: the wireless card. The wireless card wasn't even detected at first. I searched around and found a project called NdisWrapper that allows you to use Windows drivers in Linux. I searched around some more and found an open source project to make a Linux driver for the IPW3945 wireless card. I'd estimate that I spent at least 8 hours over the course of the past 3 weeks fiddling around with those trying to get them to work. In that time, I was even able to update both the NdisWrapper and IPW3945 software because newer versions had been released.

Tonight, I finally got it to work. I'm not entirely sure how, and I'm not entirely sure that it will still work once I restart the machine. But right now, I'm savoring typing this from the couch. It's a moment of triumph.

For anyone considering Linux: I've been using Linux since 1998, starting with RedHat 5.1. It's come a long way, but unless you want to tinker for days to get your operating system to recognize a more-or-less basic and essential piece of hardware, you might want to stick with Windows or MacOS. On the other hand, within the few weeks I was frustrated by the problem, volunteer developers wrote new code that helped make it work—for free. That's a pretty big plus.

I am finally string-free, but well_lahdidah is currently tangled up in her first knitting project from Getting Started Knitting. Kitten is trying to help her, though.