Out of the Box!

by Shawn Powers
Wil Wheaton sitting in Sheldon Cooper's "spot"

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!