Wednesday, March 07, 2007

More Linux Wireless Stuff

Techno Babble Warning! If you don't care about all my Linux and tech adventures, skip this post and go down to the previous one. Doggie pictures there.

Linux and wireless technology is like tumbling on Balance Beam in Women's Gymnastics. About 40% of the wireless cards -USB sticks, PCI and miniPCI cards, and PCMCIA cards- work in various distributions of Linux. It can be frustrating for a newbie Linux user. Even if you're experienced, it's still frustrating. It's not that some of the wireless cards won't work in Linux, rather the companies won't release the coding for cards. They have deals with Windows with either won't let them give out the code, or they don't want to risk losing their deals with Windows. Microsoft has been guilty in the past of using their position to say, "We won't like it if you cooperate with anyone else." When you have 95% market share, that's a very strong statement.

At the moment, I think Novell's SuSE Linux works with the most wireless cards. I could be wrong about that, but that's what I've heard. Ubuntu is gaining ground each upgrade (Ubuntu does a new upgrade every six months, not five years like Microsoft). By next year, I speculate they'll have 80%-90% of the wireless codes in the system.

Yesterday, I helped Nancy's mother, Nordena Wayman, set up a Central Florida FreeGeek computer in home. This was Nordena's first computer. Ever. I'd actually brought the computer over last week, and tried to get Internet working, but to no avail. I was being a wee bit naughty. To save her some money, I tried to 'borrow' a neighbors open wireless signal. Last week, I had no success. The signal was just too weak. But, I don't like techno-defeat, so I tried again. This time, I brought a longer USB cord. Thought getting the Belkin USB stick higher up would work. Still no-go. Then, I noticed the room had metal blinds. I put the USB stick on the outside of the blinds and WA-LA! Super signal! The blinds actually seemed to act like a satellite dish, focusing the signal even stronger. Her Internet lite up just fine.

In order to get Nordena online, I let her use my Belkin USB 54G Network adapter. Now, I was without one myself, so I had no wireless on my laptop. Not a real problem, as I rarely use wireless since the battery doesn't last very long. But, I still wanted wireless.

I had five other wireless gadgets - 2 USB sticks, 2 miniPCI cards, and a desktop PCI card- all collected from my pre-Linux tech adventures. I'd tried the USB sticks before, with no success. I've read some tutorials on how to get them working, but it involved blacklisting other working codes. I just wasn't ready to do that. I hadn't tried the miniPCI cards.

The first miniPCI came with the computer, but it was 802.11b (11Mb/s). Fast enough for most broadband, but the range isn't quite as good. The other miniPCI was a Linksys one I'd taken from a router that got zapped during a storm. The card worked wonderfully in Windows, and gave me 802.11g speed (54Mb/s). Most broadband rarely reaches 8 Mb/s , but the g seems to increase the range of the signal. I wanted the range, just in case.

Lastnight, I plugged the little bugger in:
I didn't work right away, but I didn't really expect it too. Hoped it would, but didn't expect. I tried to set it up myself, and almost broke any Internet connection I had. For awhile, I couldn't even get my wired connection to work. I almost had to reinstall Ubuntu and start over. While I'm always looking for tech adventure, I wanted to be good enough to fix it myself. I'm not sure what I did, but I eventually got the wired connection working again. It was 1:30am, and I needed to let my brain ponder this in the background. I went to bed.

I was still determined to get one of the four wireless possibilities I had to work. I surfed the Ubuntu Wiki and forums, and found this post in the wiki, and this one in the forum on getting both the miniPCI and the PCMCIA cards working. I turned off the computer, stuck the miniPCI card in, booted up, and followed the instructions from the post in the forum. Unplugged my cable, and rebooted the computer. After a few moments, the wireless card was working. I'm using it for this post. Not only is it working, it seems to be faster than the cable.

I even tried the battery life with it; about 20 minutes. I have to turn the screen brightness down, and throttle the CPU down to 1 GHz. I might try throttling down even lower. I did the first part of this post all on battery. I think it would probably last about 90 minutes or more with a new battery.

The only thing I haven't figured out is how to turn the little energy sucker off. I can disconnect it, but I can't get it to 'power down'. I'll surf for that one later. Maybe next week.

My next project: Nordena's going to help me learn how to teach newbie computer users. She's my project for now.

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