Developers, Remember about the Penguin People!

The event that inspired me to forge this entry was my recent struggle with a newly purchased laptop. I decided to buy a new computer, because the old one had a dedicated nVidia graphics card, which together with its memory, could not be utilized to full capacity without the risk of overheating instantly. On this occasion I would like to congratulate Samsung on mounting such an inadequate cooling system. Well done!

Back to the matter, though. Having learnt from past experience, I took great caution in choosing my future computer. Dedicated graphics cards were to be avoided, naturally, and the laptop had to be as generic as possible to facilitate proper installation of Linux operating systems. This turned out to be a very tedious task as most electronics retailers fail to provide all the necessary information. There is a clear-cut difference between Intel HD Graphics 4400 and Intel HD Graphics 3000. You cannot throw them into one basket labeled ‘Integrated Intel Graphics’! The crimes committed by laptop companies are even more profound. For the love of God, I could not readily identify all of the hardware components from a given model’s manual. Sometimes even the amount of memory was a mystery! Again, this sort of information should be easily accessible. I, and many other people, truly do care whether my wireless adapter is a Realtek or a cheap no-name knock-off. Indeed, great shame!

And unfortunately, the wireless adapter was the matter of debate in my case. The Asus VivoBook I purchased, shipped with a Mediatek 7630e wireless card. This specific wireless card is a known troublemaker across all platforms. It truly baffles me that Asus decided to substitute a well-tested Realtek wireless adapter for one from a company unheard of.

This led me to a more thorough search of USB wireless adapters, for which the specific chip-set has been identified. As of now I am a proud owner of a TP-LINK 725N USB ‘dongle’ (Realtek 8188eu), which functions flawlessly even on minimalist Linux distributions, such as Arch Linux.  

This in turn leads me to the very point of my musings – Linux hardware compatibility.

People usually praise Windows for its hardware compatibility (‘it just works!’) from a largely  misunderstood perspective of a pre-installed operating system. The fact that Windows ships with almost all computers means that the vendor made triple sure that all the hardware components had been thoroughly tested beforehand. In other words, all of the drivers (together with bonus bloatware) and firmware were installed to make the user’s life easier. Now, things aren’t as comfortable when you have to perform a fresh install. Most of the drivers are missing and sometimes even establishing an Internet connection is impossible…

This would be unthinkable in Linux Land. Every Linux distribution guarantees that at least a wired connection can be immediately initiated (through the DHCP daemon), to download missing stuff. In addition, the Linux kernel comes with modules to support the majority of hardware – DVD-ROMs, wireless and ethernet adapters, sound cards, etc. True, overall hardware compatibility is possibly better on Windows, because companies prioritize Windows in driver development. However, Linux clearly excels in ‘out of the box’ hardware compatibility.

Thereby, I strongly believe that Linux is not getting as much attention as it deserves. For instance, the TP-LINK 725N USB ‘dongle’ advertised Win7, Wn8 and Win8.1 compatibility only. Other USB ‘dongles’ mentioned Linux, but listed outdated kernels (up to 2.8, while currently 3.19 is in development). This is a joke. Hardware vendors should start paying more attention to Linux as it is a growing force on the market. Smartphones run Android, which is based on Linux. Corporate servers utilize Linux for improved security. Even Valve decided that it is worth investing time into Linux (see: SteamOS). I hope hardware developers will soon follow.

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