Out of the Box!

Yesterday, Wil Wheaton blogged about using Linux to access a USB scanner that wouldn't work for him under OSX. I'm not a zealot, and I truly appreciate folks being honest and sensible regarding what operating system they use. Wil uses OSX on his Apple computer, and it does what he needs. I can appreciate that. Yet, he still loves Linux, and doesn't hesitate to show off its shiny bits. (I feel the same way about Ferraris. I may not use one on a daily basis, but I sure do love 'em!)

His blog post really got me thinking about the dichotomy in regards to hardware support under Linux. There are two distinct categories: Things that work out of the box, with little or no configuration, and things that don't work at all or require extensive geekery to use. Thankfully, the first category is getting much bigger than the second.


Wil hit the nail on the head with this one. He booted a Live CD, and had full support for the scanner he plugged in. Chances are, any other operating system would require installing drivers. The thing about that is, once you start adding more and more 3rd party code, things can get messy, as Mr. Wheaton found out with his iMac running OSX.


Most cameras work with most computers driver-free. This is also true in Linux. I'm sure there are some cameras that aren't recognized, but with cameras -- generally you can take out the media card and plug it into a standard USB media reader.


Webcams are a sticky wicket. On most laptops with built-in webcams, Linux recognizes them without any problem. Oddly, many USB webcams are not so awesome. Buying a webcam for a desktop machine can be extremely frustrating. I'll take this opportunity to point out it's not because Linux is lacking -- it's because vendors are short sighted (or paranoid, or close minded, or ignorant, or one of any number of afflictions). My point? Be careful if you buy USB webcams, I have a drawer full of non compatible ones...

Music Players

Love 'em or hate 'em, iPods are still the most common music/media players. Thankfully a lack of cooperation from Apple hasn't hindered the Linux community. Almost every iPod branded device can be synced with Linux. Granted, new iterations from Cupertino take a bit to get distro support, but in general it's possible before too long.

The other end of the spectra is the huge number of devices that only support Microsoft Windows. Often (but not always), those devices can be synced using the MTP protocol under Linux. The best idea when buying a portable device is still to check for compatibility. While I don't have quite a drawer full of incompatible MP3 players, I do have a handful.


I'm not sure what happened in recent years, but printer support in Linux has greatly improved. I'm sure there are countless cheap inkjet printers that won't work under your favorite distro -- but really, don't buy those anyway. Even if you're not a Linux user!

I think part of the improvement for Linux support is thanks to Apple. Since OSX uses CUPS for their print system, vendors are making their printers more and more CUPS friendly. That is very good news for those of us with more Linuxy interests in mind. Checking for compatibility is always a good idea, but things are looking up.

So now it's up to you. Do you have a particular device that drives you nuts compatibility-wise? Do you miss installing drivers? Are you jealous Wil got to sit in Sheldon's spot?

Thanks to Wil Wheaton for permission to use his awesome-as-all-get-out photo!


Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.


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Anonymous's picture

It was already mentioned in the article, but webcam support is just non-existent (ootb). It gotten to the point I dual boot into XP in order to have a skype conference! (I think I am the first to dual boot not for gaming reasons).

Have anyone found a supported webcam? I am currently using Ubuntu on an older Sony VAIO, the webcam is a usb one (currently the basic Logitech quickcam messenger), and I am willing to buy one if I knew it was supported.

I have to say, though, that in general Ubuntu 9.10 and the 10.04beta recognize hardware better than windows, when the support is there. In my case it is all chipsets and on-board audio, video and networking, printer and scanner.


Webcam Programming Course

robomoon's picture

Some months ago Genius VideoCam Messenger worked with Skype installed to Crunchbang Linux that was based on Ubuntu 9.04. More than a year ago, Logitech quickcam messenger also worked well with a patch on Xubuntu 7.10 as described on some Kuhrti Brothers webpages. But a classic webcam like quickcam messenger also requires classic education to get the Masteral degree in programming. So a graduate can write a source code for the current webcam driver, even without patches.


danitool's picture

Bluray doesn't work under linux. It is not a linux fault. But no problem, this is a good reason to download hd ripped (mkv) contents from internet cloud.

regards :)

HDMI Audio, WiFi, Video

Anonymous's picture

I'm specifically using an Asus G72GX-RBBX05 (Best Buy model), which is an awesome laptop all around. I bought it to use primarily as a gaming station (w/the NVIDIA GTX 260 inside) and a decent clock speed. It came with Win7, which I left for gaming support, and dual boot to linux (Fedora 12) for everything (and I mean everything) else. Of course, all of the Windows 7 drivers work flawlessly (as they'd have to). Unfortunately, linux support isn't all there yet (this laptop is fairly new and still in the stores).

HDMI Audio: From everything I've seen online, this is a no-go almost all of the time, unless you're lucky. I'd call this the #1 thing linux is lacking in, especially as HDMI is becoming more and more common. Win 7 supports this and it works without any issues. I mention this because that proves that the hardware physically supports HDMI audio (the video card would need an audio in to route the signal out the HDMI port with the video). I've typically seen 'aplay -l' used to display the hardware/etc. No matter what I've tried, I don't even get the HDMI port to show up. I have managed to get HDMI video working, as a side-note. The system appears to be using the Intel ICH10 hardware for the audio system, which is fairly new. I've just been waiting for this component to be supported, as I'd assume it's only a matter of time with what is probably a fairly standard chipset. Unfortunately, that may be years away...

WiFi, works marginally. The 802.11n connection is fast and works a lot better than the Linksys WPC54G I had in a previous laptop (that would constantly throttle back to 1Mbps and barely work). Unfortunately, the system drops connection to the WAP occasionally as the kernel module starts to spew errors. NetworkManager then becomes useless and won't list a single AP in the area. Fortunately, I found a manual workaround that would re-initialize the device, but this really isn't acceptable. Again, no problems in Win7, so I know it's not the hardware or lack of signal integrity. Hopefully this driver will be fixed someday. I'd post the chipset and driver info, but I don't remember it off-hand and am not at the laptop.

Video: I've never, ever, had a good time with video in linux. I'm talking about using linux over 12 years with different cards. The X configuration file is just horrible to deal with (IMHO). If I'm not using X and it's a simple server, video support is definitely there with almost every chipset I've thrown at it. Of course, that's 2D and text mode only, which is great for servers. Under X, I've never had good luck with the nvidia binary drivers, and ATI is just forget about it. The nouveau drivers work great for 2D, but start to fail (chop) when it comes to full screen Flash videos, etc (Adobe Flash in general sucks in linux, so don't blame the driver but more flash bloatware killing the system). Either way, that doesn't help for the 3D linux games I do have (such as Quake 3 -- yes, I bought the id/loki linux version way back when). The nvidia binary drivers have never been very good either (from my experience). With my asus g72gx laptop, the nvidia binary driver plays quake 3 flawlessly, for about 20 minutes before it crashes the entire system. I suppose this driver works fine in X for 2D, as I don't have issues there.

It may sound as if I hate linux, but I don't. I use it all day, every day. I haven't used Windows in over 2 years for anything more than "boot, start game, shutdown when done." If the game designers and hardware manufacturers would support linux, I'd have no need for Windows...but until then, I've got to have this dual boot setup. I enjoy linux because I'm a Engineer and developer. I have yet to find a better development environment, love the flexibility, and am quite happy with gEDA, etc.

The single largest thing holding linux back is lack of vendor support. It sucks to buy new hardware knowing that it won't work properly for at least 2 or 3 more years while reverse engineering occurs. Until the open source community finds a way to solve this problem (lacking vendor support), linux won't truly take off for most end users.

don't think you hate Linux...

Anonymous's picture

...just think you have the wrong distro for the job. If you want things to work Out Of The Box (esp WiFi cards and nVidia stuff) PCLinuxOS has been supporting that tech since the days of 'Big Daddy' long ago. Good Luck to you.

Video and Audio

waparmley's picture

We bought a new Vista desktop computer last fall because we badly needed one. My plan was to upgrade it to Windows 7 once that was released, and to dual boot Ubuntu. I specified an NVIDIA video card because I understood that they generally had good Linux support. Turned out that the card was so new that a Linux driver was not available, but NVIDIA released a driver soon after, so all was well in that regard. The thing I didn't research was the audio card, since my experience with several laptops was that Linux audio support seemed to be pretty good. Turned out that my Creative Xfi Xtreme is not supported at all, at least by ALSA. Some research on the Ubuntu Forums followed by more poking around and experimenting resulted in getting the card working using OSS. System sounds still don't work, nor does Flash audio, but I can live with that. MythTV audio as well as other audio and video playback work just fine.

So, it seems that where vendors support Linux things work well, and where they don't, the flexibility of Linux and the support of the community can still triumph.

(I should also add that I was pleased to find that my Hauppauge HVR-1800 TV tuner card is fully supported by MythTV.)

Audio Cards!

Shawn Powers's picture

That's one area I forgot about. Yeah, you're not the first person I know that was burned by the X-Fi Xtreme. :(

Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.


Peter's picture

I get a cold shiver down my spine every time I hear the word X-Fi. Spend hours upon hours and many sleepless nights trying to get something out X-fi cards and at the end got nothing other then bad headache.

Separate audio cards are just

Treah's picture

Separate audio cards are just a waste of money now days anyway. I have yet to see a add on card that can outperform a on-board audio card these days. Especially since most on-board has eax and 3.1 these days.