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Ubuntu Linux: Built-in apps get an "A", wireless support an "F"

The "Gutsy Gibbon" version of Linux, a.k.a. 7.10, has all the applications most Windows users will need, but its spotty support for wireless adapters limits your networking options.

It didn't take long after installing Canonical Ltd.'s Ubuntu 7.10 version of Linux for me to decide I liked what I saw. A quick tour of the Applications, Places, and System menus indicated that converting from Windows to Linux would be relatively seemless. The only fly in the ointment was my inability to get any of three wireless adapters to work with the OS.

World-class applications without paying a dime
I expected to find the Mozilla Firefox browser bundled with Ubuntu, and seeing links on the Applications*Office menu to OpenOffice.org's Database, Presentation, Spreadsheet, and Word Processor apps--all of which are compatible with their Microsoft Office equivalents--was no surprise. But some of Ubuntu's other built-in programs were a nice bonus: the F-Spot Photo Manager, GIMP Image Editor, OpenOffice.org Drawing app, and XSane Image Scanner give you all the graphics functions you're likely to need; and for audio and video processing, you get Movie Player, Rhythmbox Music Player, Serpentine Audio CD-Creator, Sound Juicer CD Extractor, and Sound Recorder.

[Cue late-night-TV announcer] But wait, there's more! For VoIP, use the Ekiga Softphone app; for e-mail, there's the popular Evolution open-source program; and when the IM bug bites, open the Pidgen client (previously known as Gaim), which supports just about every IM system out there. You also get about a dozen games, including Blackjack, Sudoku, and a Tetris knockoff; there's even a version of my favorite time-waster, Mahjongg.

Fly in the Ubuntu ointment: Wireless woes
"Too good to be true," I'm thinking as I work my way through Ubuntu's many options. And indeed I hit the wall when I tried to connect to my wireless network. The Linksys WPC300N PCMCIA adapter worked without a hitch when I booted the laptop in XP, but Ubuntu didn't recognize it. I searched the many Ubuntu forums for a solution and found that the Ndiswrapper utilities I needed to mimic the adapter's Windows driver weren't enabled. I tried the adapter again after enabling the wrappers, but still got nowhere. Next I downloaded and installed the Ndisgtk utility that lets you install device drivers without having to deal with the command line in Ubuntu's Terminal application.

The Synaptic Package Manager in the Ubuntu 7.10 version of Linux
Enable the Ndiswrapper utilities, and download and install Ndisgtk, to allow Windows wireless-adapter drivers to work in Ubuntu.

I copied the driver files from their CD to the Ubuntu desktop, and then pointed to the appropriate .inf file in the Wireless Network Drivers utility it added (via the System*Administration*Windows Wireless Drivers shortcut that Ndisgtk provides). I now had a "Wireless connection" option in the Network Settings window (see below), but no matter how I configured the connection, I couldn't log onto my wireless network.

The Network Settings dialog box in the Ubuntu 7.10 version of Linux
After enabling the Ndiswrapper utilities and installing the Windows drivers for the wireless adapter, Ubuntu recognized the wireless network, though it wouldn't connect to it.

After going through the same process with another PCMCIA card and a USB wireless adapter and getting the same results, I decided to do some more trolling for a solution on the Linux forums. I tried several of the suggestions offered by forum denizens, but nothing worked. That's when I decided to stick with the wired Ethernet link, which connected to the network right away.

While the wireless glitches made me glad I dual-booted Ubuntu with Windows (so I could simply load Windows when I needed to connect to a wireless network), I was disappointed that I wouldn't be able to use Ubuntu the same way I use Windows, at least not until I figure out why I couldn't get Ubuntu to establish a wireless link. I haven't given up hope of replacing Windows with Linux, but neither am I willing to spend hours searching for a solution to a problem I can avoid simply by loading Windows.

Monday: Save time and trouble by partitioning your hard drive.