"Works With Linux!" (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 04 Jan 2005

"Works With Linux!"

Why is it that devices which claims Linux support almost never work with Linux?

When my mom signed up for broadband, we needed an ethernet card and router/firewall for her machine. The router/firewall was no problem (a nice Linksys with a 4-port switch included) but ethernet cards are trickier. First, it turns out that lots of stores no longer sell them, because they're trying to push wireless on everybody. ("Hey, I have a great idea! Let's take Windows users who don't even know how to run Windows Update, and set them up with an 802.11b network that opens their connection to the whole neighborhood, plus anyone driving by, unless they take extra security precautions!") Second, ethernet cards are in that class of hardware that manufacturers tend to change every month or so, without changing the model number or adding any identifying information to the box so you know it's not the one that worked last time.

The sale card at Fry's was an AirLink 101, and it claimed Linux support right on the box. The obvious choice, right? We knew better, but we tried it anyway.

Turns out that the driver on the floppy included in the box is for a RealTek 8139 chip: a file called 8139too.c, which has already been incorporated into the Linux kernel. Sounds great, no? Except that it turns out that the card in the box is actually an 8039, not an 8139, according to lspci, and it doesn't work with 8139too.c. Nor does it work with the ne2k driver, which supports the RealTek 8029 chip. No driver we could find could make head nor tail out of the AirLink chip.

Amusingly, the Windows driver on the floppy didn't work either: it, too, was for a RealTek 8139 and hadn't been updated to match the chip that was actually being shipped on the card. So the AirLink is a complete bust, and will be returned.

Fortunately, the other likely option at Fry's, a Linksys LNE100TX, is still the same chip (DEC Tulip) that they've used in the past, and it works just fine with Linux.

It's sad how often a claim of Linux support on the box translates to "This is a crappy product which probably won't work right with any operating system, since we change it every couple of months. But three revs back someone tried it on a linux machine and it worked, so we printed up all our packaging to say so even though we didn't bother to retest it after we completely redesigned the board."

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[ 09:57 Jan 04, 2005    More linux | permalink to this entry ]