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The Problem With Driver-Loaded Firmware

Hemos posted more than 7 years ago | from the crippleware-in-the-physical-world dept.

Networking 229

Kadin2048 writes "If you've gone to a big-box store and purchased a wireless card recently, you might have had some trouble getting it to work under Linux, or any non-Windows OS for that matter. One reason for this is that more and more manufacturers are producing hardware that are useless without proprietary firmware. While these new designs allow for lower parts counts and thus lower cost, it presents a serious problem for F/OSS software because it can sometimes guarantee no out-of-the-box compatibility. Jem Matzan has produced a detailed article, "The battle for wireless network drivers," on the subject, including interviews with manufacturers' representatives and OS developers, including Theo de Raadt. The bottom line? In general, Asian hardware manufacturers were far more responsive and liberal about firmware than U.S. manufacturers (Intel included). Look for more firmware issues in the future, as not only wireless hardware, but regular wired Ethernet cards, take the driver-loaded firmware approach."

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dupe dupity dupy dupy dupe (-1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422498)

This is a dupe.

Re:dupe dupity dupy dupy dupe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422608)

The Battle for Wireless Network Drivers
December 27, 2006 @01:18AM
from the mind-the-nazgul dept.
http://developers.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/1 2/27/0230246 [slashdot.org]

Vote with your wallet (1)

anss123 (985305) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422502)

You do not _have_ to purchase the cheapest NIC or the lowest-cost USB controller and with today's tendency to integrate everything into the mobo the problem might eventually solve itself.

Re:Vote with your wallet (3, Interesting)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422586)

I've asked a thousand times and never had answered very well:

List wireless cards, vendors, and prices that I can obtain today, which do work with Linux.

The compatability lists on the linux wireless sites are useless -- sure there are lots of cards that work, but many of them
have been discontinued for years, some were only available in certain locales, and some, if you found the model, have had their
chipsets changes.

I know of no resource that would allow me to successfully pursue wither of the following use cases:

1. I want to purchase an 802.11g device guaranteed by the vendor to work with some version of Linux.

2. I want to make a purchase order for a wireless device by vendor and part number, for a corpoarte deployment.

I consider my wireless cards to be rare and treasured artifacts. I didn't upgrade my notebook because I knew I was extremely
lucky to get a laptop with a built-in Prysm2. The situation *sucks* far worse than the winmodem situation ever did.

Re:Vote with your wallet (5, Informative)

c0l0 (826165) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422726)

Basically everything powered by ZyDas and RaLink-Chipsets works flawlessly with GNU/Linux and the Free/OpenBSD. You can grab those off of EBay dirt cheap in large quantities, mostly from Power Sellers/commercial shops. Big-brand vendors with "the good stuff" on their boards I've personally seen yet were GigaByte (for MiniPCI), ASUS (PCI), and a crapload of others with ZyDas and Prism (for USB - including, for instance, NetGear).
There's also an emerging (well, maybe they exist for ages, but I've not known the company up until recently) manufacturer for networking gear called "TP-LINK" which sells virtually everything from RaLink. I happen to have a "TP-LINK TL-WN321G" (usb2 full speed) adapter which features a RaLink chip supported by the rt73-usb driver just perfectly. Cost me 9 Euro in germany.

Hth.

Atheros (1)

Shawn is an Asshole (845769) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423684)

Also, anything with an Atheros chipset also works very well with the MadWifi [madwifi.org] drivers.

Re:Vote with your wallet (1)

ssj_195 (827847) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423034)

Here are a few currently running (UK) eBay auctions that have known-working-under-Linux cards (all are ralink, and I own one of each of these devices, unless some kind of version-bump has changed the chipset!) :

USB [ebay.co.uk]

PCI [ebay.co.uk]

PCMCIA [ebay.co.uk]

All should Just Work on, say, Ubuntu Dapper onwards (they did for me, at least), but I should note that I have not tried WPA with them. Obviously, eBay auctions are not exactly appropriate for corporate acquisitions, but hopefully this will help you in your search!

Re:Vote with your wallet (1)

this great guy (922511) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423352)

Trying to get an exhaustive list of all WLAN adapters supported under Linux is the wrong way to approach the pb because there are literally hundreds of them on the market. However they are all based on only a dozen or so of common WLAN chipsets: Zydas ZD12xx, Atheros, Intel PRO/Wireless 2xxx, etc. It's easier to assemble a list of supported chipsets rather than a list of supported adapters.

Firstly, you can have a look at the drivers/net/wireless [kernel.org] directory of the kernel source code. From there look at the Kconfig file (compilation options) where every WLAN chipset natively supported by the kernel is succinctly described, and pointers to additional details about the drivers are often provided: READMEs, URLs...

Secondly, some WLAN chipsets are not natively supported by the kernel, but instead by third party drivers from independent open-source projects (most of them will be integrated into the kernel in the near future). So check out this webpage [hp.com] for example (the interesting section is "The devices, the drivers - 802.11+, 802.11a, 802.11g"), it has been written by Jean Tourrilhes who got involved as a developer with early work on the Wireless framework in Linux. He wrote this page specifically to gather info about all the existing WLAN drivers in a central place. It contains info about third party drivers as well as drivers natively supported by the kernel. The page is slightly outdated though, so check out this wikipedia article about open source wireless drivers [wikipedia.org] for a complement.

Thirdly, other WLAN chipsets are supported by proprietary drivers only, I recommend you stay away from them.

At this point, personally, I like to take decisions about hardware purchases "from the bottom up". In other words, I decide which one of the WLAN chipsets I would like my adapter to be based on (since it determines the major features of the device), and then I search for adapters using it. Usually the website of the driver maintainer, or the mailing list of the driver project, or the driver documentation are good places to look for list of adapters based on particular chipsets.

Re:Vote with your wallet (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423594)

The problem with this approach is that if you go to most retailers' websites you can not find what chipsets their cards use. I have gone to Amazon.com looking for Ralink and I get only one or two hits, none of which are usb wireless or pcmcia wireless cards. So, yeah, it would be nice to know which brands have which chipsets. It really is confusing.

Re:Vote with your wallet (1)

blackest_k (761565) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423848)

Edimax uses ralink and are a reasonable price.

Free firmware a solution? (1, Redundant)

MoHaG (1002926) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422506)

Wouldn't the creation of free firmware be a better (and maybe more generic?) solution? Isn't it a case of relatively few WiFi chipsets being used with multiple drivers where each vendor uses it's own firmware?

This will not offer a solution if all/most firmware is written by the chipset manufacturers though....

Re:Free firmware a solution? (2, Interesting)

kune (63504) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423042)

This sounds well in theory, but in practice it will not work. There is a lot of very specific information required to implement firmware, which is not even available from the open-source-friendly vendors. If you think, this shouldn't stop smart people, then try it on your own.

I write together with others the ZD1211 WLAN driver for the Linux kernel and though we have a lot of useful information from the vendor, we have huge trouble to match the performance of the Windows driver. If you think that is our fault, try to do better. Keep in mind that the developers of the Windows driver, have access to the hardware engineers, know all the registers on the chips and have access to test labs and equipment. All the information we have about the hardware registers is the open-source driver of the vendor, but you have to reverse engineer the semantics of the vendor driver.

From my perspective the PC becomes more and more a closed platform, which makes it more and more difficult to compete with Windows. The reverse-engineering effort required becomes larger and larger, which should be spend on performance optimizations or feature requests. I personally believe that closed source drivers should be banned from the Linux kernels, because they support this trend to the closed PC platform.

Re:Free firmware a solution? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423604)

> From my perspective the PC becomes more and more a closed platform, which makes it more and more difficult to compete with Windows.

Totally agreed. It's not just this topic - it's a bunch of things all moving in a proprietary direction. It's video codecs, it's wireless cards, it's mp3 player software moving away from UMS, it's digital cameras going to proprietary solutions. Some are further along the track than others, but the direction is clear.

If the EU *really* wants to fix this, never mind whether Windows includes a media player. I don't give a rat's ass whether it does or not. But they should address this large scale move to proprietary protocols. In the past, when the internet was still new and whiz-bang, back in the 1970s and early 80's, the *goal* of everything was interoperability and open standards. That's why you could send email from an 11/780 to a PDP-11.

Now, the goal seems to be closed standards to wall off any non-windows machine. Eventually, your PC won't even be "trusted" to obtain a network connection from your ISP unless you're running the officially blessed version of Windows.

It will happen. Just watch.

> I personally believe that closed source drivers should be banned from the Linux kernels, because they support this trend to the closed PC platform.

Not sure I agree with you there. I think desktop Linux is too tiny for that "support" to matter in any detectable way. All it'll accomplish is making it harder for normal users to use their HW.

Re:Free firmware a solution? (1)

kripkenstein (913150) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423868)

From my perspective the PC becomes more and more a closed platform, which makes it more and more difficult to compete with Windows. The reverse-engineering effort required becomes larger and larger

Sadly, yes. Speaking about the desktop, fact is, 99% of hardware is already made particularly to run Windows; the fact that the Linux community got nearly all of it to run - well, that just means we were lucky I guess. Microsoft seems bent on continuing the trend of closing the hardware more and more, knowing full well that this is a sore spot for open-source. If they are successful at this - and I see no reason why they won't - then eventually we will have 'Windows hardware' and 'other hardware' - the latter being Linux-compatible, but more expensive and less-capable. (The former will, of course, only run if a special 'Trusted Computing'-style binary driver, signed by Microsoft, is present - or something along those lines.)

At least on the server side, Linux (and Unix) have respectable market share; a vendor who doesn't make hardware that can run Linux will be losing out. So there are no immediate worries there. But on the desktop we may soon be heading for 'game over'.

firmware (4, Insightful)

chinaguy (1022547) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422510)

I have always wondered if part of the reason this sort of thing is so popular might be because it curries favor with MS. I'm certain MS is NOT displeased with this sort of thing. Can we say "winmodem"?

Re:firmware (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422696)

I have always wondered if part of the reason this sort of thing is so popular might be because it curries favor with MS.

It is always because:

That's where the market is.

And it helps to keep their costs down and margins up because they can then reduce the amount of hardware and firmware that they need. Why not eliminate a chip, firmare or whatever and pile on some extra processing to the OS - like Winmodems, and charge a little less, if that, and make more money?

Re:firmware (1)

John Zebedee (659358) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423546)

Well, by that argument, why not release the chip spec to the FOSS community and close the firmware office? Save a bundle on personnel costs, gain access to the *entire* computing market instead of locking into the (shrinking) Windows segment, score points with the geeks who recommend corporate purchases . . .

Re:firmware (1)

Fweeky (41046) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423734)

FCC regulations would appear to prohibit that kind of thing -- if it was easy to poke at the transmitter directly you might tell it to do something illegal. Even if you can technically allow for fairly open firmware with few distribution restrictions, you can imagine it raising the hackles of any corporate lawyer.

Re:firmware (1)

Truekaiser (724672) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423126)

no it doesn't favor them. it is just plain cheaper to implement as little as possible in hardware.

This sounds familiar... (1)

brouski (827510) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422522)

It's the Return of the WinModem!

Exactly my thoughts! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423038)

That was such a PITA do deal with and these morons want it back... and it will always come back over and over because some corporations are left unsupervised.

It seems we need standards for everything. And we need to work closer to hardware makers to ensure easy Linux compatibility, by helping them make their products, not just waiting on their good will to their release specs (which NDAs can anyway forbid them to do).

To that end, we probably should find a way to easily identify those hardware makers -- maybe with a sticker, just like M$ does. I myself find it difficult to buy Linux-compatible hardware... I know all good sites: linuxcompatible, linuxprinting etc. But it's very hard getting web access in the middle of a store to check a product's compatibility.

We should also discuss codec compatibility, which was the subject of last week's ESR article. Although I find him a very sophisticate and deep-thinking writer with a number of succesful essays, I cannot say I agree with everything he proposes. But we really need to make Linux compatible with commercial activity, lest we keep seeing "winmodems" pop out everywhere.

Also, have in mind the following, which is very interesting (since they don't take their own medicine): proprietary folks always chant the low TCO rhetoric, by which you spend more on their products to save on other expenses. But they will gladly and joyfully incur on higher costs to get the control such products without firmware can provide them. That is, they will always want OS-based drivers. This is bad for h/w manufacturers but these can't really have a saying in the decision about having cross-platform working hardware.

I ask them for web access (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423406)

I have had fairly good luck in computer stores gaining temporary web access on one of their machines to check on hardware, I just ask them if they have a box I can use and that I am interested in purchasing this whatever, but need to find out and make sure first. In fact, thinking about it, I haven't been turned down yet. Granted, it's not something they get asked a lot, but to make a sale, especially if they are those floor sales people who need their little commissions, they usually got some machine some place, even back in an office, they'll let you use. It helps if you keep a list of which websites to check first though so you aren't sitting there surfing/searching from scratch. Sometimes they even have a demo machine right out in the aisle running on the web, use that one. This has been both at the big box chain stores and the mom and pop whitebox stores.

With that said, ya, maybe the slashdot editors or OSTG can open a page/site where all they have is open source hardware reviews and lists. *hint* *hint*

Not exactly (2, Interesting)

QuasiEvil (74356) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423144)

Different creatures, these and winmodems. These are drivers that load firmware to chips on the cards that actually *do* something. A winmodem was really just a lousy sound card integrated with a DAA and thus could be plugged into a phone line. Nearly *all* of the signal processing was done by the host processor. No firmware was downloaded to winmodems, because nothing (or very little) was being done on the card itself.

With these, the cards actually still do processing for themselves, but the manufacturer decided to spare themselves the cost of the EEPROM/flash to store the firmware image, so they make the host download it to them.

Either solution is craptastic if you ask me, but winmodems were a different critter. At least with a winmodem, it would be possible to write your own drivers (in theory), since all you need is a good solid background in signal processing theory, some reasonably cool telco test gear, and all of the modem modulation specs. The hardware was relatively simple to figure out. With these, the hardware is a black box, likely riddled with bugs and gotchas, that would be almost impossible to reverse engineer without spending a good deal of time/money (possibly down to reverse-engineering the silicon itself).

Pet Peeve -usb flashdrives with crap software (1)

gadlaw (562280) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422540)

Oh yeah, I remember the good old days when I could pick up a USB drive and be able to plug it in and simply move files back and forth as it was intended. Simple. Bought a USB drive from Best Buy and it was garbage. It wanted to - for my convenience - load crap software on my computer and generally was a pain in the ass trying to use it for what I wanted. Next USB flash drive I bought I had to sit there for twenty minutes to find one, more expensive, that would allow me to use it without having all that crap software/spyware on it. Definitely not an improvement.

Re:Pet Peeve -usb flashdrives with crap software (1)

colfer (619105) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422842)

Not only that, it installs without your permission, on a standard windows setup. I had no idea USB drives can autorun like CD's. Anyway, here's the info on the horrible thing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U3 [wikipedia.org] and how to fix it: http://www.google.com/search?q=uninstall+u3 [google.com] and then I hear this is the good stuff: http://portableapps.com/ [portableapps.com]

Re:Pet Peeve -usb flashdrives with crap software (1)

EXMSFT (935404) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423200)

They generally can't. U3 drives use a hacked approach to lie to the OS - they say that they are a CD-ROM drive in order to have the OS autorun as it would using a CD.

Re:Pet Peeve -usb flashdrives with crap software (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422864)

Did you try to reformat the flash drive?

Re:Pet Peeve -usb flashdrives with crap software (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423328)

A reformat won't help. I just got one for christmas that kept telling my laptop it was a cd even after I used gparted on it to wipe everything. I had to borrow a windows machine to run the uninstall program.

No wonder it doesn't work for OSS? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422554)

Why should they produce for an OS that has very miniscule marketshare?

Re:No wonder it doesn't work for OSS? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422868)

Why should they produce for an OS that has very minuscule marketshare?
Why on earth are you asking here? Why don't you redirect your enquiry to Ralink or Atmel or another company that are doing the exact thing you're questioning the wisdom of?

Also, people seem to be forgetting that the "miniscule marketshare" of Linux equates to millions of users, so you question should really be: "Why should they expend a minimal amount of time and effort in order to attract the custom of millions of potential customers and the subsequent recommendations from those that the less tech-savvy hold in high esteem?", which should be pretty much a no-brainer :) And before everyone jumps on me and says "Oh no but if they open their specs their competitors will be able to magically clone every piece of silicon for 0.001c and the company will go bust etc": Intel, Ralink and Atmel have already done precisely that, and I don't see how it has harmed their fortunes any - in fact, I've bought 3 pieces of Ralink gear (PCMCIA for my mum's laptop; PCI card for my desktop; and a USB pen for use in conjunction with Knoppix for travelling to other's machines) solely on the strength of their Linux compatibility, and I would urge all (potential-)convertees who are currently using ndis-wrapper style hacks around proprietary hardware to do the same.

Just look at RealTek.... (2, Insightful)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423066)

The odds are extremely good that you have a RealTek NIC on your machine if it's an integrated part.

There's several reasons for this.

It's cheap.
It works VERY well, though not the best that money can buy.
It's completely open in it's documentation and relatively easy to design with.

Those three things make me think of using their part first- especially the open information part.
It's no different for any other engineer. I can assure you, they're about to get a batch of people
on the scene that are customers that will insist on this stuff being the case. Customers that are
are going to be big enough to not ignore and won't take "NO" for an answer as they'll find someone
else if they get it.

Re:Just look at RealTek.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423800)

It works VERY well, though not the best that money can buy.
Are you sure? Here's the comments from FreeBSD's Realtek driver -
/*
* The RealTek 8139 PCI NIC redefines the meaning of 'low end.' This is
* probably the worst PCI ethernet controller ever made, with the possible
* exception of the FEAST chip made by SMC. The 8139 supports bus-master
* DMA, but it has a terrible interface that nullifies any performance
* gains that bus-master DMA usually offers.
...

Why not (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422562)

Why can't we have firmware loaded drivers instead?

Re:Why not (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423112)

You must be from soviet russia

Best Buy loves Linux (3, Informative)

slummy (887268) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422566)

I recently purchased a Dynex DX-WGDTC PCI card from Best Buy for 35 bucks, the chipset had some sort of aluminum heat sink over it. I took a gamble and bought it anyway with a feeling that it was manufactured by D-Link. Turns out I was right, it has an Atheros 5212 chipset and I was ecstatic. The madwifi [madwifi.org] drivers work spectacular with this card. A patched madwifi-ng driver will allow you to crack WEP using ARP injection *wink* I recommend you go out and buy one immediately.

Re:Best Buy loves Linux (1)

atriusofbricia (686672) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422648)

I recently purchased a Dynex DX-WGDTC PCI card from Best Buy for 35 bucks, the chipset had some sort of aluminum heat sink over it. I took a gamble and bought it anyway with a feeling that it was manufactured by D-Link. Turns out I was right, it has an Atheros 5212 chipset and I was ecstatic. The madwifi [madwifi.org] drivers work spectacular with this card. A patched madwifi-ng driver will allow you to crack WEP using ARP injection *wink*I recommend you go out and buy one immediately.
Best Buy does not love Linux. They hate it. It cuts into their profit margins by reducing the need for their number one money maker, Geek Squad visits to the home for virus and spyware removal. Go to your nearest Best Buy and ask them about Linux. You might even be lucky and find that your Best Buy is one of the few that hasn't pulled Linux off the shelves. You were lucky with that card. As far as BB is concerned, there is only one true OS. Microsoft Windows.

Re:Best Buy loves Linux (1)

slummy (887268) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422758)

I guess you didn't detect the sarcasm in that subject. I'm aware of their devotion to Microsoft, and I'm sure everyone else is. Not really sure you needed to flame about it. The comment was geared towards letting people know there is a GNU/Linux compatible card available at Best Buy.

Re:Best Buy loves Linux (1)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423098)

I'd had my suspicions, but budget precluded me trying one as an experiment. Thank you for
that useful public service announcement couched in sarcasm... :-)

Re:Best Buy loves Linux (1)

IMightB (533307) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423876)

FYI I love your sig, I've been thinking for years I should get a T-Shirt with something to that affect printed on it.

Re:Best Buy loves Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423494)

> Go to your nearest Best Buy and ask them about Linux.

Just to see what would happen, I once asked a Best Buy droid which of their desktop computers would be capable of running Linux.

His answer, "None of them."

Uhh... whatever, dude.

Thank you! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423294)

I'm on my way to BestBuy now!

Homebrew Wifi Router, here I come.

you think that's bad... (1)

macadamia_harold (947445) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422592)

Look for more firmware issues in the future, as not only wireless hardware, but regular wired Ethernet cards, take the driver-loaded firmware approach.

If you think problems with those are bad, you should see the "license" problems with a lot of bluetooth devices. [geekzone.co.nz]

Is it a hardware hacker's paradise? (2, Insightful)

autophile (640621) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422594)

Correct me if I'm wrong -- the problem is that the firmware doesn't come preloaded on the hardware. So basically you have a hardware platform with no driving software -- essentially one big, blank programmable ASIC with specialty hardware depending on what the card is.

One of the major complaints seems to be that the loadable firmware is not redistributable, and anyway it's full of bugs and other crazy stuff. It occurs to me that maybe these cards are like CPU platforms -- lots of hardware, no driving software. For one particular piece of hardware -- Intel CPU's -- some bright guy named Linus wrote some "firmware" to make that platform run.

So couldn't some bright people get together, use the programmable hardware as a starting point, and develop their own firmware? I guess you wouldn't have to develop firmware for every blank hardware platform that was manufactured. Just the ones with the neatest hardware features.

--Rob

Re:Is it a hardware hacker's paradise? (4, Informative)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422742)



Correct me if I'm wrong -- the problem is that the firmware doesn't come preloaded on the hardware. So basically you have a hardware platform with no driving software -- essentially one big, blank programmable ASIC with specialty hardware depending on what the card is.

One of the major complaints seems to be that the loadable firmware is not redistributable, and anyway it's full of bugs and other crazy stuff. It occurs to me that maybe these cards are like CPU platforms -- lots of hardware, no driving software. For one particular piece of hardware -- Intel CPU's -- some bright guy named Linus wrote some "firmware" to make that platform run.

So couldn't some bright people get together, use the programmable hardware as a starting point, and develop their own firmware? I guess you wouldn't have to develop firmware for every blank hardware platform that was manufactured. Just the ones with the neatest hardware features.

--Rob


Well, it's certainly a nice idea, and in an ideal world, it would be a good plan. Unfortunately, Linus couldn't have written Linux in a vacuum. He had access to an architecture reference manual or similar information about PC's and IA32. He had access to a compiler which would allow him to program in a standard language, which would automatically generate the machine code for IA32. He had access to book on how to write operating systems, and he had access to Minix to get some ideas of how it could be done.

And it still took a few years before it was really a decent operating system.

Now, imagine if he had access to only DOS. He didn't have any documentation about the hardware, he didn't have a compiler for it. He just had a copy of DOS. It was all he knew about PC's. It was his only example of how to do an OS. It probably would have taken more than just a few years to turn Linux into a decent OS.

That's basically all you have when you want to write a firmware. No functional specs. No hardware documentation. Is it possible to make a working irmware for a wireless card? Sure, I don't see why it wouldn't be possible. But, when you have a variety of manufacturers making a variety of cards, and you want to support them all before they stop being relevant to the market, and it takes probably several years of tinkering for any given card, then "hackers GO!" isn't really a viable hardware support plan.

The US FCC seems to be in no hurry to do anything that would support community efforts to write firmware, given their apparent hostility toward HAMs, and I expect it will be a good many years before the FCC is completely realigned. It isn't really a hot button issue, so I wouldn't even expect a hardcore Democrat president to bother with it just for the sake of being different from Bush. If it won't happen in this or the next administration, then it will be a minimum of six to ten years before we can even dream about regulations causing us to just be handed hardware documentation. Consequently, folks like Theo have made firmware a personal issue. I applaud them, and really hope that he is able to make some headway with this.

Re:Is it a hardware hacker's paradise? (1)

MysteriousPreacher (702266) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422968)

That's a very good explanation of the situation. Nicely written.

Re:Is it a hardware hacker's paradise? (1)

Nasarius (593729) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423222)

It isn't really a hot button issue
That's a good thing. It means that a strong information campaign might change some minds. I think we'd have a chance with any of the current Democratic frontrunners (Clinton, Obama, Edwards), though my money is still on Edwards, who seems to "get it" in a way the other two don't.

Unfortunately, the continued survival of FOSS relies on our political action. You've seen it with software patents and DRM, and now we have hardware to deal with. They're trying to beat us with the law, so we have to change the law.

Re:Is it a hardware hacker's paradise? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422746)

So couldn't some bright people get together, use the programmable hardware as a starting point, and develop their own firmware?

Hah. There was a story here a while back about OLPC and its proprietary wireless firmware, and I got into an argument over some nutcase who was whining that Theo de Raadt was making a lot of hot air over nothing, since the binary firmware blob was going to be redistributable. Theo was ranting about the lack of hardware documentation that would have made it possible to do exactly this, all that was available was the communications API that let you talk to the proprietary firmware and tell it what to do.

Re:Is it a hardware hacker's paradise? (1)

sorrill (968643) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422806)

The huge difference is that PC is an standard while every nic may have big changes in it's architecture and it might not be backward compatible.

So every time a new nic model is sold the firmware must be rewritten, maybe from scratch.

Re:Is it a hardware hacker's paradise? (1)

KingOfBLASH (620432) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422854)

The problem with that is you're adding more elements that you need Linux hackers to work on. This will divert talent from improving the core OS, or interesting tools...

Re:Is it a hardware hacker's paradise? (1)

BronsCon (927697) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423082)

Why not just use the firmware included with the Windows drivers? Typically, the firmware will be licensed to that hardware, not to your OS, so there's nothing stopping us from writing a driver that asks you to insert the driver disc so that it can extract the firmware image for its own use (as licensed, on the intended hardware).

No reverse engineering (beyond locating the firmware in the windows executable, but most likely, it's a .bin or other seperate file on the disc) would be required. Completely legal.

Further, we, the Linux community, could benefit more from this by being entirely able to skip the first (buggy) firmware release for any given hardware. Think -- the firmware is driver-loaded -- it would stand to reason (sorry, anti-MS trolls and cinspiracy theorists, it has to be pointed out) that the reason for doing this is ease of firmware upgrade. What's easier than making updated firmware available online? Wait until the first round of bugs are removed from the "release" firmware and download it from the manufacturer's website.

Sure, it's different than what linux driver devs are used to. Who's to say that's not a good thing, though?

Re:Is it a hardware hacker's paradise? (2, Informative)

setagllib (753300) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423228)

There's no good way to look at it. The "problem" that you missed is not that the hardware requires firmware (which is perfectly fine), but that the firmware is extremely restricted and virtually impossible to replace. Theo wants at least the freedom to distribute the firmware blobs with free operating systems without additional restrictions on the users, and even that is being denied by many vendors, continuing to require accepting a license on a web page and forbidding redistributing the blob you receive. The common situation is that to use your wireless card, you need to go to the vendor website and accept a license agreement to download it (very, very few distributions accept restrictions to bundle even the "more" liberal firmware like Intel PRO Wireless blobs, and those that do are frequently beaten up for doing so). You can't do this without your wireless card working, so you try to find the driver CD (if there is one at all) and then tear off the firmware which is not guaranteed to match the kernel driver's expected interface anyway. If the dark lords have mercy on you, you may proceed to accept the license and install the newer, less broken firmware. Maybe.

Not surprising (1)

iamdrscience (541136) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422600)

This is the same thing that happened years ago with modems. For desktop computers it's not that big of a problem because it's still cheap and easy to get cards that work, although kind of a bummer if you can't use something you've already bought. The times when it's a real problem though is with a laptop, if you've bought a laptop and the onboard networking or wireless is like this you're usually just fucked if you want to run linux, you'll have to buy another external interface for USB or Cardbus or whatever -- a real pain with a laptop.

FHF (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422626)

Simple. Start a Free Hardware Foundation.

Now don't say it's not possible, since there's really difference in producing SW or HW for free from the economical point of view.
If you think there is, you are wrong.

Let's look at this another way ... (5, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422666)

In general, Asian hardware manufacturers were far more responsive and liberal about firmware than U.S. manufacturers (Intel included). Look for more firmware issues in the future, as not only wireless hardware, but regular wired Ethernet cards, take the driver-loaded firmware approach.

Let's take this from a slightly different perspective:

In general American hardware manufacturers were far more pigheaded and close-mouthed about firmware than Asian manufacturers (Intel especially.) Look for more firmware issues in the future, as Asian corporations continue to take over the remnants of the U.S. manufacturing sector, with U.S. companies stubbornly trying to hang on to their "intellectual property".

Maybe if these idiots stopped listening their legal teams (and Microsoft!) so much, started worrying less about developers using their oh-so-precious "intellectual property" to make their own products useful to even more customers we wouldn't be in this fix. American tech companies are shooting themselves in the foot, having forgotten that continuous innovation and fresh ideas, not hordes of attorneys, are what drive a tech sector to competitiveness. Meanwhile, China is walking off with the the entire candy store.

There are only two ways to beat your competition in the modern world: out-lawyer them or out-think them. We used to be in the latter camp (Yankee ingenuity, and all that) but not any more.

Rather depressing, really.

Re:Let's look at this another way ... (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423638)


Maybe if these idiots stopped listening their legal teams (and Microsoft!) so much, started worrying less about developers using their oh-so-precious "intellectual property" to make their own products useful to even more customers we wouldn't be in this fix.

Well, there's certainly an aspect of companies trying to protect their IP. But the other problem is that companies are often outsourcing the writing of their firmware, (like the Atmel guy mentioned). With the normal product-development methods of closed source software this isn't a problem.

In general I agree with you that the old methods of protecting IP, outsourcing firmware development without specific requirements to allow it to be re-distributed and provide documentation is a poor business practice. But companies are slow to change. The largest ones only do so when it becomes clear that they're losing money because of the old practices, and then they scramble like hell for years to change.

The same thing happened with American car companies during the 80s and 90s. The sad result is that American companies are STILL suffering from a bad reputation they aquired from the poor quality of cars in the 80s and 90s compared to Japanese cars.

This is a non issue (mostly) (1)

Rix (54095) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422668)

The only real issue here is vendors who try to restrict distribution of the firmware with open drivers. Otherwise, this is how it has always been, except instead of firmware being loaded from a flash chip, it's loaded from the disk drive by the driver. This is by far the more sensible way to handle it, and removes a redundant component from hardware.

THERE IS NO PROBLEM! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422700)

http://madwifi.org/wiki/Compatibility [madwifi.org]

See? Lots of supported WiFi cards.

WiFi cards not listed in this list are broken and need to be replaced.

Re:THERE IS NO PROBLEM! (2, Insightful)

c0l0 (826165) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422798)

Madwifi drivers are not free, as they require a binary-only, proprietary Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL, not to be confused with freedesktop.org HAL/hald) running, which is in fact even worse than platform-agnostic firmware which is just shoved over the bus to the device and running on an ASIC there. The HAL needs to be present and compiled for every Platform you're going to run the Atheros-powered card on.

The OpenBSD-folks have developed a free as in speech replacement for the binary-only HAL provided by Atheros, but madwifi did not care to adopt it at all - which leaves their true intentions somewhat dubious to me (and a few concerned others).

Bottom line is: I would not buy Atheros-based cards, and rather go for RaLink or ZyDas. Though watch out, as the latter company recently has been bought by Atheros, therefore suggesting that either their future devices will come with equally dumb restrictions/dependencies applied on their drivers, or their excellent product line vanish completely.

Re:THERE IS NO PROBLEM! (2, Informative)

kruhft (323362) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422996)

Bottom line is: I would not buy Atheros-based cards, and rather go for RaLink or ZyDas.
Atheros Communications to Acquire ZyDAS Technology Corporation [atheros.com] - Date: April 24, 2006

Looks like RaLink [ralinktech.com] might be the only player on the block soon enough...

The good list (4, Insightful)

jrobinson5 (974354) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422706)

According to the article, there are three companies that have actually worked with the free software community on drivers. Here is the list:

Ralink Technology [ralinktech.com]

Atmel Corporation [atmel.com]

Realtek [realtek.com.tw] Linux drivers here [sourceforge.net]

Vote with your money, folks. If you would like to see companies cooperate with the free software community, reward the companies that do so by buying their products.

If you know of a particular piece of WiFi hardware that works particularly well in Linux or BSD, please follow up here so we all know what to buy. (See also this list [seattlewireless.net] .)

Re:The good list (1)

AnyThingButWindows (939158) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423004)

This is one thing I never do, is praise big companies. BUT, because of your listing of Realtek, and their site, I must praise Realtek in this instance. Ive bought several products with Realtek chipsets. Their continued support for Linux, and OS X, is why I keep coming back to them. Their NICs although cheap, are awesome for compatibility. I have a very cheap $8 10/100 NIC running in my 'hackintosh' because the original was zapped during a lightning storm. All but one of my servers run Realtek NICs in them, all of my servers run Slackware on Linux 2.6. I buy Realtek NICs by volume, and will continue to do so now with a grin on my face.

THANKS REALTEK!

MOD PARENT DOWN, PLAGIARIZED COMMENT! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423388)

Original comment from five days ago [slashdot.org]

Parent is stealing comments to salvage his poor karma. Notice his extensive "Score: 0" comment history [slashdot.org] .

Re:The good list (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423392)

Vote with your money, folks.

The problem is that Windows users also vote with their money and there are a lot more of them than us.

Re:The good list (3, Insightful)

miskatonic alumnus (668722) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423682)

The goal isn't to put the bad company out of business, but to keep the good company in business.

Re:The good list (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423618)

How about supporting US Robotics, which actually includes linux drivers in the box?

More votes for the wealthy is not a good goal. (2, Informative)

jbn-o (555068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423794)

Vote with your money, folks.

I'm all for letting cooperative organizations know why I'm purchasing their equipment and not their uncooperative competitors (and notifying their uncooperative competitors to the contrary), but I don't expect it to mean that I'm in any way "voting" or leveraging some kind of democratic control over what is essentially a private tyranny.

However, if you read Theo de Raadt's informative talk slides [openbsd.org] , you'd see another reason why "voting" with your money isn't what it is made out to be [openbsd.org] (slides 24 and 25—"The OEM problem"). Maybe if customers in the US were organized to a scale never before seen and all demanding chips with complete and unrestricted documentation, we'd have more control as a group. This is worth pursuing, and if you are calling for this I would gladly join such an effort.

I say this is another reason because the general problem with the concept of voting by spending money means that rich people have more "votes" than poor people, so this saying tries to cast a egalitarian pall on an inequity. de Raadt addresses how much consumer power you have with regard to computer hardware by pointing out how OEMs leverage competition to insulate themselves from customer's wishes for chips we can operate without proprietary software. I mentioned this before [slashdot.org] but I didn't think it would come up as a repeat so soon.

Re:The good list (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423814)


If you know of a particular piece of WiFi hardware that works particularly well in Linux or BSD, please follow up here so we all know what to buy.

I've got a laptop with the Intel 3945 chipset in it. And while the article mentions problems with Intel and re-distribution of firmware, this is by far the best Wi-Fi card I've used under linux. My success with this card also might be related to running Ubuntu on it, but whatever the case I can report no problems with this card. It was detected on install, the drivers are included in the Ubuntu kernel, and runs like a champ.

big problem for EVERYBODY (1)

r00t (33219) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422708)

Firmware is often large. Think "megabyte".

For an OS to drive the hardware, it has to include the firmware. That's no serious problem for driving a few devices after you've installed the OS.

Problem is, the OS doesn't just support YOUR devices. It has to support ALL devices, with ALL hardware revisions and board layouts. So, how many devices could exist...?

Now you're talking about real disk space. This could get into the gigabytes.

What about at install time? It's all going to have to fit.

Re:big problem for EVERYBODY (1)

sorrill (968643) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422852)

No. Space is never a big problem.

Nowadays you can not buy a hard disk with less than 100 Gb space. You can not fill this with firmware drivers, at least not in a couple of years. Then you will be buying HD with 500 Gb minimum.

Neither is the installation time, a 4 Ghz PC with SATA2 will not be bothered by 1 Gb of firmware drivers installation.

Ok, you might want to do an installation on a 1 Ghz PC with 40 Gb of space, this is because you are a geek and the market is not interested in you.

Re:big problem for EVERYBODY (1)

faragon (789704) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423512)

It is a problem for the embedded market (!)

Re:big problem for EVERYBODY (1)

sorrill (968643) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423720)

How many drivers will you need on an embeded machine ?

Again, no real problem to worry about from manufacturer's point of view.

Re:big problem for EVERYBODY (2, Interesting)

faragon (789704) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423846)

Embedded systems have both space and boot time constraints, the more bloat you have to load after a reset (e.g. due to Watch-Dog reset) the worse boot times.

Which card? (5, Insightful)

astrashe (7452) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422728)

These articles are always frustrating to me, because I can read about chipsets that work, but not about which cards support them. It's hard to go to newegg and buy a card, because many of the cards that have the good chipsets come in different versions with bad chipsets.

My ancient orinoco silver pcmcia card stopped working with ubuntu as of edgy. I don't know why. It works with other distros. But it's not 802.11g, and it doesn't do WPA, and although it's not important to me, it's not great for scanning.

So I want to buy a card. I'd order one today, but I don't know what to get.

I know our buying power as a community is small, but I'd think that some no-name card manufacturer would find it worthwhile to make a card that has a picture of a penguin on it, and that is fully supported by free software. I'd pay a little more for a card that I know will just work, and that will continue to work.

Re:Which card? (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422788)

actually, if you look at the wireless card's boxes at a Best Buy or OfficeDepot or Target, you will see the word "Linux" on some of them. works for me

Re:Which card? (1)

bfields (66644) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423162)

actually, if you look at the wireless card's boxes at a Best Buy or OfficeDepot or Target, you will see the word "Linux" on some of them.

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether that just means that they released a binary blob for one particular kernel version and tested it once on some version of Fedora.

Whereas what I want to know is: is the driver completely free software, is it included in the mainline kernel, and if it's gotta have proprietary firmware, is that at least freely redistributable? Because if all that's true then chances are it'll work on any sufficiently recent distro, for the rest of the life of the hardware.

Yep (2, Insightful)

bogie (31020) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423356)

Hardware makers have done a huge disservice to their customers by not producing stable chipsets. They'll have several revisions of say the "Linksys USB11" and each one using a different chipset. You go to Amazon and buy it and yet have no idea which version you'll be getting. To be fair there have been some new standards like WPA etc that possibly would have required a new chipset, but the vendors just went way overboard in their lack of regard for stability in their product lines.

I must have half a dozen wirless nics from PC Cards, to PCI cards, to USB versions and I think one of them is detected automatically without major problems in linux. And of course the one that is detected won't do WPA in linux so it is 100% worthless. Good thing I don't use Linux as my main desktop OS anymore. While things have gotten better, support for hardware on linux still sucks just as bad now as it did many years ago.

Re:Which card? (1)

Barrakketh (302427) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423622)

The most recent Linksys WMP54G (v4.1) uses Ralink's RT61 chipset. I picked mine up from Newegg about five months ago, though I imagine that any retailer that sees a lot of business shouldn't have any of the older models laying about.

A word of warning though: If you're using Edgy you're going to need to download the source for the drivers and build it yourself. The card works fine in Dapper with relatively little work (copy the firmware and configuration file to /etc/Wireless/RT61STA/ and modify the config file), but in Edgy they switched to the rt2x00 drivers which don't function at all for this chipset.

The problem with not using the search facility (2, Insightful)

Tim C (15259) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422730)

Is that it leads to dupes [slashdot.org] .

Re:The problem with not using the search facility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422792)

Your dupe report is a dupe. Follow your own advice.

Remember? (1)

Raven42rac (448205) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422734)

Remember winmodems? LOL. There's really no excuse for this.

not a new problem (2, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422754)

This is just another issue with standards, and lack of consumer demand to conform to standards. Today it is wireless cards, yesterday it was printers and cameras.

Building a standards compliant intelligent machine is often more expensive than building an ad hoc machine, if for no other reason than the cheapest parts can always be used, and there is no need to support all users. The flip side is that a specific driver must be created for each device.

I had an incident that nicely illustrated this point. I bought a very cheap digital camera a few couple years ago. Now, any standard camera with a USB port should work with my Mac with no additional drivers. Perhaps not all the bells and whistles, but the PTP should work. As it turned out, this camera was not standards based, and, even worse, had undergone a revision so, even thought the model number was the same, it did not work with the drivers I did have. There only way to determine that this camera was not in fact the same camera was to open the hermetically sealed bomb proof packaging, open the camera, and use a magnifying glass to inspect the product code.

Which just shows that if one wants the cheapest products, then MS Windows is the way to go. Manufacturers can design to the platform, write a few drivers, and sell to the masses. So the point of *nix, and perhaps the Mac,is not to provide the cheapest product, but instead long term stability. I have every reason to believe that Canon camera will work with my computer for a long time, because I am not going to lose connectivity when the next OS upgrade comes around. The standards will still be supported. I have SCSI devices from the OS 9 days that still work perfectly with OS X. I have no idea if those same devices, which required a special driver for MS Window, have continued support for current MS products.

So really all that can be said is don't buy the cheap products. If one has a choice between the standard printer and generic printer, pay the extra money for the generic printer. Support the standards that will allow *nix to prosper.

To specifically address the wireless thing, the standard is certainly in flux, and no one can be expected to support a standard that does not necessarily exist. That said, it should still be possible to assemble a standard compliant box that is not targeted towards the MS Windows OS, perhaps at additional costs.

This isn't news (1)

dbretton (242493) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422756)

How is this really news? This problem has been known about for years... Winmodems, anyone?

WinModem (1)

ACNiel (604673) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422776)

I don't know if this article is a dupe, but the problem is.

If you don't remember the WinModem problem, this might seem absurd. This has been a problem for a long time. It never really went away. People just started using networks connected to telephone supplied DSL modems, cable modems, or cheap external USB modems, and forgot about the problem.

Ethernet Wireless Client (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422802)

Well, this is a probably a NO-NO, but Ruckus Wireless makes an external Ethernet wireless client, model 2501, that was designed to provide wireless HDTV for up to four television sets simultaneously in a noisy environment. It uses an six element 360 degree phased antenna array with the ability to automatically switch among 63 zones. I believe they licensed their patent to Netgear, but their own model is higher quality.

It can only be purchased, to my knowledge, from phone companies offering IPTV. However, one independent phone company that also owns a computer store sells them for $99 each. A newer model is coming out that is sightly more powerful and more expensive, $129 each. Anyway, because it is external and connects via an ethernet port, it will work with any OS including all versions of Linux.

Here is the NO-NO part. If you can't find one on your own, send an email to tony@turbonet.com. He isn't in sales, he's their network admin, but he can help you get in touch with the right people.

Re:Ethernet Wireless Client (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423152)

They're called wireless bridges, and there are plenty on the market, no need to email random people looking for one unless you want that one specifically . http://www.wi-fiplanet.com/tutorials/article.php/1 563991 [wi-fiplanet.com]

Incidentally, Fry's near me has a Netgear display showing off their "zoned" multi-antenna gear, didn't look at the gear itself, just gawked at das blinkenlights on the display.

If done correctly, this could be a Good Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17422858)

This could potentially be a way for HW companies to document their interface specifications for open source drivers. This would require:

  • All IP-encumbered proprietary magic would need to be buried within the firmware blob.
  • The OS driver would communicate with the HW/firmware via a "mid-level" interface -- something slightly above the "bare metal, directly twiddle the hardware register bits" level.
  • The OS driver would then be an "impedence matcher" between the OS driver model and the HW interface.
  • The firmware blob would need to be freely redistributable.
  • The HW company would need to publicly document the process for writing the blob to the device, and document the "mid-level" interface used by the OS driver to talk to the HW/firmware.

To be clear, I'm talking about opaque firmware blobs that get downloaded to the device, and then run entirely on the device. I'm not talking about the sleezy OS-level blobs used by some HW companies (NVidia, etc).

Some people may complain about the appearance of running non-free software (the firmware blob) on their computer. FWIW, there are many other non-free firemware blobs already running on your computer -- most are buried in disc controllers, keyboard/mouse controllers.

Madwifi Proprietary HAL ar5k (1)

daqhath (1004548) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422972)

Despite what the fine article seems to lead the reader to understand, the ar5k open "HAL" is not functionally equivalent to the Atheros/Sam Leffler HAL. The proprietary HAL has support for multiple VAP structures (IE, you can have the same card be an AP, and a station, and a monitor all at the same time.) The proprietary HAL also supports more chipsets and more of the cool features like XR, and quarter and half bandwidth channels. There are some internal political reasons that Madwifi uses the Atheros HAL, and I don't expect or desire it to change soon.

Maybe it's not just the wifi card makers. (2, Informative)

gslavik (1015381) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422986)

I bought a Compaq Presario V2000Z laptop. As I found out the hard way, this laptop has a whitelist of wifi cards that it will boot up with in the BIOS. Before I found out about the lock, I spent 20USD on a Ralink based card. But before I actually bought the card, I asked an HP tech if there is such a lock, I received a negative answer. Sometimes, you can't vote with your money, even if you want to.

I have read that it is possible to edit the BIOS (decompress, edit the proper bytes in proper places, compress back and flash), the problem arises with flashing, it just doesn't want to do it. A work around I found is if I keep the system in the grub menu and switch out the card, I can still use the card in Linux, the problem is that this is a workaround and not a real solution.

Does this remind anyone... (1)

Ziwcam (766621) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423094)

Of the old winmodem days? Those quirky modems which required Win 95 in order to work? They never worked quite well for me, and always caused problems for other people I knew, too.

Why don't we learn from our mistakes? Other than cost, what's the benefit of this? None that I can think of.

I was that scum (3, Interesting)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423168)

I have personally designed hardware that has driver-loaded firmware, and I'd do it again. It is a wonderful solution to the issue of upgradability, not to mention bug-fix-ability.

Not only that, I have written OS/2 and FreeBSD drivers for it outside of work hours (but with permission).

There is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON why a FOSS driver cannot install the firmware. This is NOT the problem. There MAY be a problem with distribution rights, or with documenting how to load the firmware, but these are NOT what TFA described.

While one might like to have the spec for writing one's own GPL firmware, and I dont see prob;lems with that, I do see a problem with expecting $100,000 worth of firmware development for free, when the hardware can be replicat4ed for a $10, and the combination normally sells for $100. Ie there are products on the market where the majority of the value is in the firmware. and Yes, it does sometimes take more than three man-years of $100/day consultants to write firmware for a product with a predicted lifetime of 8-months. (Graphics card, anyone?)

Re:I was that scum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423576)

> There is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON why a FOSS driver cannot install the firmware. This is NOT the problem. There MAY be a problem with distribution rights, or with documenting how to load the firmware, but these are NOT what TFA described.

If you'd actually read TFA you would have seen that distribution rights and documentation were prominently mentioned.

Re:I was that scum (1)

Brandybuck (704397) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423830)

This is NOT the problem.

Thank you. RMS and Theo have whipped people up into such a frenzy, that they now think closed source firmware is evil. The real problem is with the drivers. As long as I've got enough specs to load the firmware and write a driver, I'm hunky dory. But once you start putting hardware functionality in the software driver, you're crossing the line.

Looking for a wireless card right about now... (2, Interesting)

MMC Monster (602931) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423206)

I'm actually in the market for a wireless card for a desktop PC running Ubuntu Edgy right about now, actually.

Any clear winners? Does it matter which router I will be using? For that matter, I need to get a router as well.

(I figure I might as well ask here, since the topic is here. I would otherwise have just gone to the Ubuntu forum.)

Re:Looking for a wireless card right about now... (3, Informative)

WilliamTS99 (942590) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423400)

Yes, there are some clear winners, the forums are great, and the compatibility list is: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/WifiDocs/Wireles sCardsSupported [ubuntu.com] As far as the router, I tend to stick with anything that is supported by DD-WRT http://www.dd-wrt.com/ [dd-wrt.com] The best is to find the wireless cards that work perfectly with network-manager right out of the box on the recent version(s) of Ubuntu.

AutoMount on Amiga used to do this (1)

Samurai Crow (937687) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423232)

The Amiga used to use drivers on the ROMs of a Zorro II/III cards all of the time. It was proprietary card slot design so since it would only work on AmigaOS 2+ it wasn't a problem. Treating Windows the same way with a PCI slot should be a problem since PCI slots aren't Windows or even an x86-specific specification. (Does anybody remember the PowerPC Common Hardware Reference Platform specification? PCI was in there.)

vm systems anyone? (1, Offtopic)

hedrick (701605) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423286)

Virtual machines are becoming more and more common. One approach is to think of Windows as part of your machine's firmware, and run your real operating system in a VM.

toxic solution (1)

poptones (653660) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423662)

that is exactly what MS wants - make sure NO computer can run without having some windows installed.

Would your real name happen to be Ballmer?

Meade DSI CCD (1)

doobie (2546) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423612)

I have a Meade DSI astronomical CCD. I bought it in 2005, it a USB device with an uploaded firmware. I was simple to figure out how to upload the firmware to use the camera from Linux, but the CMYK de-bayer matrix is causing me grief. I can decode an "image" but it isn't pretty.

Firmware != Drivers (4, Informative)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423672)

Quick clarification, seeing some of the posts here about "winmodems" and junkware-infested drivers:

Drivers run on your computer and let it talk to the device.

Firmware is "software" that runs on the device - typically code for on-board microcontrollers, Field Programmamble Gate Arrays (FPGA) and other "soft hardware".

There is nothing wrong with the idea of using driver-loaded firmware - it simplifies the device (no need for on-board flash memory) and makes it easier to fix "hardware" issues with an updated driver (with less risk of "bricking" a device by muffing a firmware update). Linux can actually cope with it quite happily - A lot of digital TV cards rely on driver-loaded firmware and its all fine and dandy provided that either (a) the manufacturer offers a download of the firmware or (b) it can be extracted from the windows driver CD or (c) some evil pirate has selfishly conspired to increase the manufacturer's customer base by posting an iffy copy.

There is an interesting question as to the status of such a "firmware blob" vis. the GPL (especialy the anti-TiVOization clauses of V3). Is it part of the software (thus tainting the free-ness of any drivers that require it) or part of the hardware (FPGA "software" is more like a circuit diagram than a program - and the "source code" might be useless without proprietary software from the FPGA manufacturer - and tweaking it might void the FCC/CE certification of the device)?

you say winmodem (1)

towsonu2003 (928663) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423804)

I say winwifi and winether

enjoy

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