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Old 01-16-2014, 08:19 AM   #1
taikedz
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Question Drivers in Linux: ndiswrapper and the demise of XP


With the impending demise of Windows XP (and yes, it has recently been announced that XP will continue to receive updates until July 2015), the prime time for migrating casual Windows users to Linux is nigh.

However, one crucial aspect remains: driver support.

Some will be swift to point out that in-kernel driver support has come leaps and bounds lately, and most things just work "out of the box." Unfortunately, that is not sufficient in the Real World.

There are still instances when you don't have kernel support for your device and you have to go fish for one - and the experience is hit and miss. If you have hardware from a major manufacturer, you may strike lucky and be able to get a Linux driver for it.

Then, if that fails, you need to find a Windows driver for it. Here's the catch:
  • ndiswrapper was specifically made to cater to wireless cards, but is used for just about any driver including printers, mice, etc
  • ndiswrapper does not support anything other than Windows XP drivers. That's what it was designed to handle.

Without getting into an FSF Freedoms debate, and focusing purely on end-user experience:

What options do we now have for the migrators (and those of us who help Linux immigrants) to allow them to continue to have their choice of hardware, major or minor manufacturer, despite some lack of native driver availability?
 
Old 01-16-2014, 11:41 AM   #2
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Greetings
I don't see the problem, or at least a serious one. I haven't used ndiswrapper for more than 5 years. I'm used to researching ahead of time what hardware is supported before I buy and most often I write a note along with my Warranty Registration saying that I bought it exactly because of alternative OpSys support, now Linux support, formerly, OS/2 support. Maybe it is because I have been using alternatives so long that I accept this issue and step around it easily.

Linux began as a system by hackers for hackers, hobbyists if you will, a "mechanics car" with all the nuts and bolts in relatively easy reach. Just as most automobile drivers are not mechanics, the most popular cars and operating systems are not built like this. Mostly what you need to know is how to "start the engine and press the pedals". That is who Windows is for and frankly I don't want Linux to become an "also ran", a free (but not quite as good) Windows. I wouldn't care one whit if I didn't fear that someday only rpms and debs are offered and tar.xz becomes a relic of the past.
 
Old 01-16-2014, 11:54 AM   #3
taikedz
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Hi enorbet - admittedly, I rarely ever need to either (I think I once used it for a printer driver some time ago, before realizing that it was in the repos).

But I'm more concerned about esoteric mice, experimental hardware and other little-known devices, from the perspective of moving other users, now and in the future, to Linux. It's hard to "sell" the idea of Linux to someone who test runs say Fedora with their SuperPeripheral3000, finds it doesn't work, and it turns out the manufacturer only ships Windows 7/8 drivers...

From an IT consultant point of view, what I am seeing is the disappearance of a safety net in reassuring users "it can be made to work, no matter what it is."

[EDIT - I only saw part of your post initially, my bad. I see you're not concerned then with the use cases I am thinking of... ah well :-) ]

Last edited by taikedz; 01-16-2014 at 11:57 AM.
 
Old 01-16-2014, 12:01 PM   #4
cascade9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by taikedz View Post
But I'm more concerned about esoteric mice, experimental hardware and other little-known devices, from the perspective of moving other users, now and in the future, to Linux. It's hard to "sell" the idea of Linux to someone who test runs say Fedora with their SuperPeripheral3000, finds it doesn't work, and it turns out the manufacturer only ships Windows 7/8 drivers...
If you are talking about XP migration, its more likely that the manufacturer only made XP drivers. Or NT4/2K drivers that worked with XP.

Fair enough that you want to support as much as possible.....but is it reasonable, or even worth it?

We cant hang onto old stuff forever. Old obscure stuff is always going to be harder to support, no matter the OS. There comes a point where you have to tell people, 'sorry, I know that you loved that meecespeeces mouse a lot, but its 12 years old and the manuacturer closed in 2005, we cant get it going with any current OS...'

Quote:
Originally Posted by taikedz View Post
From an IT consultant point of view, what I am seeing is the disappearance of a safety net in reassuring users "it can be made to work, no matter what it is."
Those days were over when we lost ISA slots.
 
Old 01-16-2014, 12:09 PM   #5
taikedz
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cascade9 View Post
If you are talking about XP migration, its more likely that the manufacturer only made XP drivers. Or NT4/2K drivers that worked with XP.
I'm also thinking of those migrating away from Win7 and Win8. If the use case was indeed only away from Win XP, then there'd be no issues - since the P drivers exist ;-)

Quote:
Originally Posted by cascade9 View Post
Fair enough that you want to support as much as possible.....but is it reasonable, or even worth it?

We cant hang onto old stuff forever. Old obscure stuff is always going to be harder to support, no matter the OS.
Ay I agree, but if it's new hardware and the manufacturer doesn't play ball with Open and the user still wants it... duffed. Of course, I am hoping that most modern manufacturers know better but, well, you know...
 
Old 01-18-2014, 09:06 AM   #6
onebuck
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Hi,

The problem here is that the masses do drive the existence of support. If everyone makes a purchase of hardware that utilize XYZ then manufactures will continue to support XYZ since ZYX has minimal customer support which reflects $$$$ to gain for a particular manufacture. Just another money game!

Just because the masses drive the market doesn't mean that the system supported is better. Again, just a numbers game. You can shout from the mountain tops and still no support from manufactures until the numbers show that supporting something will show gain to the board of the manufactures. In some industries the board does not support 'Good' will since it is not always a smart business decision. Customer support numbers will drive the industry.
 
Old 01-18-2014, 12:13 PM   #7
enorbet
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Greetings
I would like to add to this bit about numbers game, with supporting the supporters in mind. Many companies are, and may well have to be, extremely conservative, playing just barely above the "only worry about fires tall enough to burn your ass" line. Others invest more in their futures.

An example of this is nVidia. I'm not singling them out for any other reason than the fact that they stand almost entirely alone in this early adoption. By contrast, Ati waited 15 years to support Linux. OTOH, nVidia has spent the time and effort to support almost every alternative operating system that has come out since the 1990's. Many of those have closed shop. In order for them, and by example anyone else, to show that this was worthwhile, naturally they need to see that a certain proportion of sales can be chalked up to such effort.

Just as smart people say to be sure to download things like Adobe Flash right from the manufacturer so they get an accurate picture of demand, it is wise to somehow let manufacturers know you bought their product specifically because they support Linux.

I am absolutely delighted that Chrome OS is Linux based and that Steam not only supports Linux but has it's own distro as well. Chrome did it because it works and most users will never see what's underneath. Steam, OTOH, is taking a risk, betting that there are enough people who want to migrate to Linux if only they didn't have to use Wine or reboot into a system they had to end up paying for anyway. Hopefully that risk will pay off and Steam will know it and gather much jealous lust for a market they basically created out of all but thin air.

I can't imagine there can be a similar situation in Workstations as Windows/MS-Office enjoys a real monopoly there and I'm guessing it would take at least 10 years to even make a dent in that, especially with schools requiring it from the lowest grade levels upward.

That said, the heavy lifting will probably always be done by Unix and it's derivatives. As much as MS lusts after that market, the fact remains that when serious money or lives are on the line, one doesn't depend on a bicycle with wings strapped on to get you to the bank or the hospital on time.

Last edited by enorbet; 01-18-2014 at 12:17 PM.
 
Old 01-18-2014, 02:08 PM   #8
gradinaruvasile
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Quote:
Originally Posted by taikedz View Post
With the impending demise of Windows XP (and yes, it has recently been announced that XP will continue to receive updates until July 2015),
Umm. Dont give false hopes. Updates for XP itself will NOT be extended - it will end on april 8 2014. Support for various M$ security products such as MSE will be extended until 2015 AFAIK.

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/w...d-support-help

Quote:
Originally Posted by taikedz View Post
Without getting into an FSF Freedoms debate, and focusing purely on end-user experience:
What options do we now have for the migrators (and those of us who help Linux immigrants) to allow them to continue to have their choice of hardware, major or minor manufacturer, despite some lack of native driver availability?
Pretty much none. If noone makes Linux drivers and there is no compatibility layer available, how can it be? Thats the reality of it.

PS. Migrating someone to Linux ONLY because YOU think its better than some other OS, doesnt mean it will be better for that someone. Linux isnt a panacea.

Last edited by gradinaruvasile; 01-18-2014 at 02:10 PM.
 
Old 01-18-2014, 03:36 PM   #9
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I would say if somebody uses hardware (or software for that matter) that doesn't support Linux then, unfortunately, they have to choose between that hardware and Linux. I don't see a problem with that.
People will face tough choices running Linux and even if Linux does begin to approach the market share of something like OSX that will likely be the case for a decade or so at least.
For now at least using Linux means having to google every piece of hardware you buy to check support to be suer it will work. If you're not willing to do that then I'd wait and hope that Linux gains traction.
 
Old 01-19-2014, 03:25 AM   #10
gradinaruvasile
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 273 View Post
For now at least using Linux means having to google every piece of hardware you buy to check support to be suer it will work. If you're not willing to do that then I'd wait and hope that Linux gains traction.
Excepting the obvious non-supported stuff like Nvidia Optimus, most hardware like mobos or laptops is mostly supported by Linux for the past few years (for certain newer h/w you may need newer kernels and/or firmware so "stable" distros might not work OOTB). My last 4 mobos i bought with no verification yet all worked with no issues, only in one case i had to install a newer kernel for my sound card.
Wireless is mostly supported, i personally never encountered any unsupported chips so far.
The problem is mostly with peripherals such as certain printers (that are not pcl/ps compliant such as some Ricoh models) or other dedicated hardware which may be totally unsupported under Linux.
 
Old 01-19-2014, 04:12 AM   #11
enorbet
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gradinaruvasile View Post
Excepting the obvious non-supported stuff like Nvidia Optimus, most hardware like mobos or laptops is mostly supported by Linux for the past few years (for certain newer h/w you may need newer kernels and/or firmware so "stable" distros might not work OOTB). My last 4 mobos i bought with no verification yet all worked with no issues, only in one case i had to install a newer kernel for my sound card.
Wireless is mostly supported, i personally never encountered any unsupported chips so far.
The problem is mostly with peripherals such as certain printers (that are not pcl/ps compliant such as some Ricoh models) or other dedicated hardware which may be totally unsupported under Linux.

Besides that I agree with this statement, it totally makes me wonder why UEFI has not tried to narrow the gap between firmware and drivers? It always struck me as odd that a BIOS would understand and operate my CD/DVD for example but when installing an OpSys it soon requires drivers. I find myself always thinking "OK but how did you go about loading this far if you don't understand my optical drive and it's controller?" I know the answer. It just strikes me funny and makes me feel what a shame it is that instead of narrowing this hugely important gap, likely making any OpSys so much more compatible and effortless to provide hardware support, we get pretty wallpaper and mouse compliance in Setup pages.

To further this notion I'd like to mention that I'm an old TeamOS2 dude. It strikes me as something of a spotlight on this issue that an unmodified (proprietary, in fact) kernel deployed circa 1995 with just 1 or 2 at most driver additions, will basically install and run on a mobo from 2010 or even later. All that is needed after install are drivers for Nics and Soundcards. Even the last nVidia driver that was released around 2003 ran my 8800GTS released in 2007. I have confidence that not all features are supported, but enough are that it is snappy and stable at fairly high resolutions, in fact superior in every way to the same card on a nouveau driver.

This tells me it is at least possible to vastly improve hardware compatibility. That it isn't so is a choice that I wish I knew more about. Since this thread seems less about XP and more about hardware drivers, I hope you don't mind my comments in this regard.
 
Old 01-19-2014, 04:21 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gradinaruvasile View Post
Excepting the obvious non-supported stuff like Nvidia Optimus, most hardware like mobos or laptops is mostly supported by Linux for the past few years (for certain newer h/w you may need newer kernels and/or firmware so "stable" distros might not work OOTB).
Don't get me wrong, I know most hardware is supported but as a newer user just going out and buying something expecting it to work is dangerous.
I know when I first came to install Debian on my current AM3+ motherboard it complained about missing firmware and I was told to provide it on a USB stick or floppy disk. I think the install would have worked anyhow but if I'd have been a novice it could well have put me off completely. The motherboard was at least 6 months old by that point also it wasn't cutting edge.
I've seen and heard of enough little niggles like that to make me cautious of telling anybody that Linux is likely to work with no problems.
 
Old 01-19-2014, 04:44 AM   #13
enorbet
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Did you actually mean "firmware" or "driver"? (firmware being embedded in the item, just to be clear)
 
Old 01-19-2014, 04:50 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by enorbet View Post
Did you actually mean "firmware" or "driver"? (firmware being embedded in the item, just to be clear)
I think it was firmware for the ethernet card but it was while ago so recall the details.
I seem to recall seeing something similar on my older motherboard relating to one of the SATA controllers.
 
Old 01-19-2014, 05:01 AM   #15
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Someone will surely correct me if this is just a "language thing" but normally firmware is like a BIOS. It exists usually on some sort of EEPROM or FlashRam, embedded into each hardware item like a mini BIOS that contains the instruction sets to orchestrate how the internals communicate with the externals, primarily on the motherboard, through the Motherboard's firmware, the BIOS. Thus, all "speak the same language" and at the same level.

If firmware is in fact missing, that hardware is non-operational on anything until it is restored. Drivers, OTOH, are just higher level instruction sets for how that hardware communicates through an operating systems kernel to GET TO other hardware so it CAN communicate. Preemptive Operating systems must do this, disallow access, until it has discovered that no other application or hardware wants the same resources at the same time. Whatever the message said, this was very likely "driver", not "firmware".
 
  


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