In an earlier thread, I mentioned I was going to upgrade our Ubuntu versions. Well, I had been putting it off because you never know what cans of worms you are going to open when you do that.
One of the problem children in the Linux world in general has been Wi-Fi. It seems everyone makes Windows drivers for their hardware, but a lot of them don’t support Linux. Our laptop, a Compaq C714NR, has a Broadcom 4311 chipset in it, which has been a struggle. Through three or four iterations of Ubuntu, we have managed to get it working [most of the time] by using ndiswrappers and the Windows XP drivers. Well, with Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala), Broadcom has finally got with the program and provided buildable sources for Linux. But, that said, their track record for solid results has been less than stellar. I’m still working the problem, but I did get the new Broadcom drivers built and loaded. The main issue is getting rid of all the ndiswrapper stuff and a plethora of helpful scripts and settings provided by others, for various previous versions of Ubuntu.
In the middle of the WiFi issue, my machine went into a kernel panic, evidenced by a sudden blank screen a few minutes after logging in and a blinking Caps Lock light on the keyboard. Booting to recovery mode (what us old-time Unixers call Single-User Mode) allows one to fix driver issues in command-line mode. After some tweaking of the startup scripts, rebooting went to command-line mode right away. A few more adjustments, and the Gnome desktop came back next boot–for about 30 seconds, giving way to an almost-blank screen with “LVDS-8 setmode 1280×800 17” displayed in the upper left of the screen, no flashing Caps Lock… A ‘Net search produced yet another /etc/modprobe.d script to set the video mode — seems there is some instability in the video settings.
Now, you might think that Linux isn’t any better than Windows in terms of grief. But, this is more an issue of too many different configurations to test and not a lot of tight specifications to test to. Being open source, these things get discussed by a lot of smart people and fixed fairly promptly, as long as they come to the attention of someone who understands the issues–like driver developers and other systems programmers who contribute to the various distributions or to the kernel code base.
But, I digress. Meanwhile, looking through the dmesg output, it appears that the wifi is working just fine, but I still haven’t been able to wean the machine off its Ethernet cable. With a road trip coming up in a few days, it is imperative to get the wifi up and running, or look for another alternative. The latter is not a good prospect because of the huge number of add-on packages and custom software integrated into my system, it would take weeks to teach a fresh install to do all the things the current configuration could do–if we can keep it running and on-line…