Honey, where did you put the wireless LAN cable? (13 Jan 2007)

So there was this old laptop, an HP Omnibook 6000, and it just sat there all the time, gathering dust - old, but not old enough for scrapping it.

And thus was born the idea of installing Linux on it, just for the heck of it. Over the years, I had already tried various Linux distributions. Some time ago, I even bought a copy of SuSE Linux. But like that laptop, those Linux installations were never really used much.

With my earlier inclination towards SuSE Linux, it's no surprise that openSUSE (version 10.1) was my first choice. I wasn't too happy with it, though. Installation was a pain, mostly because of the stubborn way in which its package manager ignored the fact that a human lifespan is limited. Even the most simple installation tasks took ages. Alright, that laptop isn't the snappiest of them all, but still - I don't think I'm asking too much if I expect that checking for and downloading a copy of, say, a CLISP package should take less than half an hour (over a 2000 kBit/s DSL connection).

Sound didn't work properly, either. I couldn't connect to my WLAN network. The system was paging all the time. And I found myself editing way too many cryptic configuration files without really knowing what I was doing. And no, I'm not even a complete UNIX newbie. In fact, HP-UX was my main development platform for about 7 or 8 years, and during that time I turned into a UNIX bigot who was so notorious for scoffing at PCs and Windows that my bosses decided to make me the project lead for our first Windows port just so that I would finally shut up big grin But I digress.

I don't mean to bash the SuSE community, not by any means, but at least the 10.1 distribution apparently was targeted at more recent and more powerful hardware than I had at my disposal. I hear that 10.2 has a new package manager which is probably snappier than what I used, so maybe I would have had more luck with that version.

Anyway, I was frustrated enough to consider other distros now. These days, of course, you can't even shop at your local grocery store without overhearing the shop assistants discussing the latest version of Ubuntu. Who am I to resist such powerful word-of-mouth marketing?

And I'm glad I didn't resist. Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy Eft) installed quickly and with only a few mouse clicks and user inputs. Interactive performance after installation was a lot better than with openSUSE, and Ubuntu's "Synaptic" package manager was fast and simple enough to use so that even I grokked it immediately.

The only part of the installation that was still giving me fits was WLAN access. The Omnibook 6000 itself doesn't have any WLAN hardware, but I still had two WLAN adapters, a Vigor 510 and a Vigor 520, both from Draytek. The Vigor 510 is a USB device, while the Vigor 520 uses the PCMCIA slot.

I spent an awful lot of time trying to install the Vigor 510. Drove me nuts. I know a lot more about Linux networking now than I ever cared for. Here are some of the documents I used for this noble endeavour:

Actually, I think I was pretty close to get it working, using the "native" Linux drivers which are part of the wlan-ng package. I'm guessing that the one thing missing was a firmware upgrade for the Vigor 510.

But I will never know for sure, because I moved on to the Vigor 520, and instead of using open drivers, I succumbed to my fate and installed ndiswrapper instead, which makes it possible to use native Windows drivers for network adapters under Linux. With that approach, I finally succeeded - and now my Vigor 520 is happily transmitting data through the ether.

Since I'm apparently not the only one who had problems setting up such a configuration, I hope I'll find some time to outline in more detail which steps I went through. In the meantime, here are some documents which I found useful on my quest:

Part of the solution also was to get the contents of /etc/network/interfaces right:

auto wlan1
iface wlan1 inet dhcp
wireless yes
wireless-mode managed
wireless-essid FRITZ!Box Trallala
wireless-key open s:1234567890123

So except for the WLAN adapters, Ubuntu installation was a breeze, mostly because it's a nice distribution, but also because the Ubuntu community has in fact produced a lot of helpful documentation and guidelines which were written for the average geek, not for the Linux rockstars. I found the whole experience encouraging enough to install Ubuntu on an old system at work so that we can use it as a fileserver - but that's another story...

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r1.9 - 21 Mar 2009 - 07:37 - ClausBrod to top

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