Kubuntu Experiences: Cisco 350 and the grasp of Windows’ compatibility

with 6 comments

X30Yes! I finally have a laptop on which I’m typing this new blogpost! The beautifully small, although not very new, Thinkpad X30. Exactly what I was looking for and it came pre-installed with Kubuntu 6.10, which I wanted to try out for quite some time. An overview of my experiences with the Open Source operating system. And to spoil the ending: Why I had to go back to Windows XP.

The Wow Effect
When I first booted the laptop and saw Kubuntu with the KDE desktop for the first time I had a ‘Wow’ experience Vista couldn’t top. Not really because it looked so good, it actually did, but this wasn’t the effort of thousands of paid employees but of the masses. Every connection working, every click I did was made by people who wanted you to click and connect for free. The people working together to create a system that is actually free. It is the effect of the GNU manifesto, the call for the sharing of software and not keeping it under (distribution) control.

After this first experience I had to change my way of thinking in dealing with an operating system. So far my only experience are with DOS in the early days and of course Windows with a little bit of MacOS experience mixed in. After some clicking and searching the web (the internet worked ‘out of the box’) I learned how to install a programme. It felt like I had to learn how to walk again. I felt, well, stupid really. But after reading the Kubuntu documentation I learned how to use Adept to install packages and also manage repositories.

kubuntuNext up was how to play the various media filetypes. Since most are protected formats these don’t come supplied with for example AmaroK, but the Seveas package turned out to be a lifesaver. It supplies every codec I need to play various mediatypes like DVD and lots more. But since this wasn’t supplied through Adept, I had to look up how to do an install from a .tar package. It took me some time to figure out, but lets say it comes down to these simple terms: ./config, make, make install. So far so good.

Everything was working fine, I also found a very addictive game to play under Kubuntu called Battle for Wesnoth, and I really had the feeling that I was part of something special. Part of a group of users who are aware of what software in the digital age is really about: sharing.

The Grasp
But then the main problem came up. The bad guy. The pure evil. The one thing that can beat all goodwill of the open source community: Incompatibility.

Let me elaborate. At home my wireless connection worked fine with the Cisco Aironet 350 Mini Pci WIFI card that comes installed. Although it is an older model and is a 802.11b and not g, it works great. Untill I went to the University of Amsterdam, for the first time. Because to access the UvA network under Linux/Kubuntu I had to use the WPA encryption. For two days I tried to connect, upgrade, install and check again. I tried it all, HostAP, ndiswrapper, wlan-ng, WPA_Supplicant, Knetworkmanager and more. But they all failed. They were my Kubuntu Waterloo. And deep in my heart I really, really, really wanted it to work. Because I wanted to live the completely open source lifestyle.

But I needed the internet connection at the UvA. Compatibility overruled personal ethics. As I found out, the only option for my Cisco 350 to connect via WPA encryption was by getting a firmware upgrade… which is only available through… Windows. So I’m very sorry if you were reading this post hoping me to say that it is possible to get WPA on your card. I’m sorry…

The incompatibilty turned out to be the struggle that the open source community is fighting against. Every time that the corporate software distributors copyright a new portion of their software, the open source community has to find a way to make their operating system to be compatible with those standards. If the protocol does not match, there is no communication. The copyrighted compatibility is a serious issue and it caused me to leave my newfound glory and go back to that operating system everyone uses. The system that conceals the abilities of the open source community. The code curtain.

Meanwhile… back in XP
As I’m typing this my eyes can’t escape the returning presence of the XP start button. The much critized 5 letters didn’t return in Vista, but they’re not so bad. The biggest change in my use of Windows is that the extra programmes I use are almost all open source. VTC media player, GIMP, Firefox, Thunderbird, Open Office. The best thing I got out of this is user awareness. We have to be aware of the limited nature of (corporate) controlled distribution of software. It is good to see the alternatives, the margins that fight the giants. And in turn the margins influence those giants. Those see-through menu’s from Vista look awkwardly familiar, don’t they?


6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. There’s always the option to dual-boot ubuntu/Windows as well, another way free distribution fights on against corporate controlled.

    If I wasn’t a gamer I could almost get away with turning my back on Windows as well. I use apps like Firefox, Winrar, OpenOffice etc. on my Windows machines as well as my Linux ones. But in the end it comes down to those 2-3 that every Linux user needs, or those hardware manufacturers deeply in Microsoft’s corner.

    As much as I love my Xbox 360 I also realize that the XNA platform and their relationship with companies like Intel and ATI influence cross platform gaming favoring Windows based machines. I suppose you could say corporate controlled gaming as well, such as it is. 😛


    February 11, 2007 at 3:49 am

  2. Thanks for the tip and yes, I did consider the dual boot, but I’ll probably do that with the next desktopcomputer I’ll get.

    The ‘problem’ lies in corporate tie-ins, company secrets, etc. But that just feels so old fashioned to me. Just like the secret recepy for Coca Cola or something. Very industrial-age like..

    And the Xbox 360 is very nice indeed by the way 🙂 The first open source gamesystem still has to see the light of day. Could be a nice idea?


    February 11, 2007 at 11:42 am

  3. The end of the story is quite sad, because the enthusiasm of the open-source movement that drives so much good work does not really translate into lots of users. Exactly for the reasons mentioned above.
    I don’t use WPA and nothing compels me to do so. But when I was installing my Ubuntu system I noticed a lot of talk in the forums about ways to configure your card and make it work. Also, new solutions continually come out as people write scripts to solve problems. All this takes a little time. The dual-boot is probably the thing to do if you want to get inside the open-source world.

    best, Brian Holmes


    April 1, 2007 at 10:13 am

  4. @Brian: I’m actually still checking the ubuntu/kubuntu community for solutions, once you’re hooked on the community there’s no escape 🙂 I still follow the postings on the problem, but it seems a really tricky problem since the Cisco350 card needs a firmware and software update only available for Windows and the drivers are not out there (yet). I tried most of the options on the forums (Kwifimanager with some experimental drivers and the wpa_supplicant almost worked, but the connection was just too slow), but no success yet.

    The problem is also not so much in my own home (just WEP) but also with the University’s WPA incompatibility with Linux. Even if I got it working, the University doesn’t give any support for Linux (actually only for Windows… which worries me sometimes).

    Definitely setting up a double boot again if I got some time. Because the enthusiasm you mentioned is something I totally agree with, it’s amazing how much a community can do and that is such a strength. The awareness of what you’re working with (an almost revolutionary feel) is just inspiring and addictive. Perhaps its the grasp of the revolution and change vs. the grasp of the compatibility.


    April 1, 2007 at 11:01 am

  5. hi !
    hardly testing ubuntu 7.04 on my X30, and the only thing which doesn’t work at all il connecting to WPA wireless networks.
    I actually dual-boot, and it works on windows.
    Cisco’s specification for aironet 350 tells WPA is supported (in hard).
    did you finally succeeded to connect to WPA’s-wifi under linux ?


    May 10, 2007 at 11:00 pm

  6. No not yet, it really has something to do with a firmware update that is needed and also the drivers required for linux that are not supplied by Cisco (they only provide the Windows utility for the 350). All the options I tried are in the post, none succeeded.

    But with a dual boot you could try to do the firmware update under Windows (through the IBM ThinkVantage System update) and see if the Ubuntu networkmanager (make sure it has the wpa_supplicant) then works. I’d really like to hear it if you’ve had any success.


    May 11, 2007 at 11:19 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: