5 User Tips for Configuring Your Hardware in Linux

I have heard lots of complaints about configuring hardware in Linux distributions. This argument has had lots of merit in the past, but with each new distribution or release, managing hardware has become much easier. With Ubuntu, the most popular Linux distribution to date, the developers have spent an incredible amount of time adding drivers and apps to help you configure your computer. I offer these tips for configuring your hardware as examples of how easy it can be. Please remember that each computer build and its configuration may be different, so these are general guidelines. Usually there are forums dedicated to each distribution where users and developers can interact and solve specific issues.

Research Your Hardware. Just like with Windows, if you use Windows you need hardware that is supported by Windows. Wireless cards are the same for Linux. In most cases, it is black or white. Linux supports it, or it doesn't. You can find most hardware information HERE. For laptop support, sites include:
Linuxcertified.com
Linux-Laptop.com
Emperorlinux.com

Configuring Your Wireless Card. Unfortunately, using a Linux distribution that does not have wireless drivers or apps already built in can be a bit daunting. Ubuntu and similar distros based on Debian have done a fair job of adding many drivers for wireless cards. These distros support variety of cards and many will simply work once the distro is installed. A bit of quick research might help to see if the card is supported out of the box.

One of the best articles I have found for configuring your wireless card (outside of the distribution specific forum) can be found HERE. Unless you have an older PCMCIA card, chances are that the card will be supported.

Configuring Your Graphics Card: Whether you use Nvidia or ATI for your graphics card needs, there are guides to help you. Nvidia driver installation guidelines can be found HERE. You can also visit the Nvidia home page HERE. ATI driver installation can be found HERE. The author has personally had more success with Nvidia drivers, but each user may have different results.

Configuring higher resolutions and refresh rates is not a daunting task. Ubuntu has released a simple guide to do this. You simply have to add a few lines to your xorg.conf file. To do this, use this guide. You'll need to look up the specs of your specific card and monitor in order to add the right settings. A simple search of your product on the web should do this. If you get on "Out of Range" message, you can use the key combination Ctl-Alt +/- (plus or minus on the number pad) to revert back to a lower resolution. Again, support forums help out immensely.

Upgrade and Update: Just as with Windows, Linux upgrades and updates its kernel and software often. In the older days, updating may have been difficult, but today's distros make it simple to do. If you can check a box and click Install, that is about it. Ubuntu uses Synaptic (a GUI based utility of Apt). Each distribution uses some form of package manager to update. It is strongly recommended that the user downloads and updates their Linux distribution with the appropriate package manager. Synaptic does a particularly good job of solving any dependency issues with programs, packages, and similar files. Advanced users can compile packages from other sources, but the risk of broken packages is greater.

Use Ubuntu (or one of its derivatives). Ubuntu is the fastest growing and currently most popular Linux distribution. Te main reason for using this particular distro is that there is lots of support from users, as well as websites that offer lots of helpful advice. One of the best I've found is HERE. In addition, users have found the distro to be easy to use, highly configurable, and loaded with simple, easy to use utilities. This makes the overall Linux experience enjoyable and worthwhile for the user.

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if people could only install Ubuntu 8.04 on a Virtual PC machine without any errors or need to read 2 hours of crap on the support pages, probably more people would shift to it instead of running Windows.
And Im an IT pro, just dont have any intention of spending hours trying to fix something that should have been working in the first place.

"IT Pro"? Nice title! :P

Maybe more of a "Windows Jockey"? Or perhaps you were using Microsoft's VirtualPC, which has known issues hosting Linux? (I am sure unintentional on Microsoft's part, aren't you?)

Linux on most boxes will work just fine. Even my wife requested Linux on her new Laptop because she liked how well it worked.

But go ahead and clutch your MSCE certs and what-not and be your Pro self.

(nmesisca said @ #7)
if people could only install Ubuntu 8.04 on a Virtual PC machine without any errors or need to read 2 hours of crap on the support pages, probably more people would shift to it instead of running Windows.
And Im an IT pro, just dont have any intention of spending hours trying to fix something that should have been working in the first place.

Are you talking about installing it on VMWare and trying to get the vmware-tools package properly built and configured? If this is the case, I wouldn't blame linux for it. VMWare should write and test their codes with different versions of gcc. every new distro will have newer gcc with bleeding edge updates. vmware needs to review their code to make it work with newer gcc versions.

I don't mind linux, but when I tried it on my PC, the thing I instantly noticed was that even with the nvidia drivers, graphics performance on my 8800 GT wasn't near what it was on Windows, which always caused me to switch back. Now that I have a mac, I think Mac OS X is the obvious choice for an OS.

I am not a Microsoft fan, and have been shot down in flames for criticizing MS's over reliance on the registry :nuts: , which gradually gets bogged down with orphaned and obsolete keys . I first installed Linux in the early 1990's when it was pretty new . It was surprisingly finished even after those first few short years of development. When I read this story I find it rather sad is how little has progressed (being honest) .

Sadly it has always been said that Linux is: "just about there", another year goes by and the promises are still "just around the corner" :eek: . From my experience Linux has been perfectly usable for 13 years, unfortunately it keeps changing, continually replacing configuration utilities, which rise and fall, like "whore draws".

Microsoft seems to have finally made this same mistake with Vista . Linux has always been too fragmented, this is what has kept it from being serious competition with MS . One day a distro may become dominant, the others will be forced to follow down the same path . Perhaps then Linux will challenge MS crown. With Vista, Microsoft has done it's best to self destruct!

(boho said @ #5)
... When I read this story I find it rather sad is how little has progressed (being honest) .
...
Linux in 1991, as version 0.01, was a barely usable command prompt. Microsoft released Windows 1.0 in 1985, and Windows 3.0 in 1990, for comparison.

In 1994, the Linux kernel finally reaches 1.0. SuSE and RedHat make their first releases this year.

1995, Microsoft releases Windows 95 with the modern "start button and taskbar" paradigm that exists to this day.

1996, the KDE project is announced. They don't deliver a 1.0 product until much later, in 1998.
1997, the start of GNOME is announced, which releases 1.0 in 1999.

Seems to me that "Linux" as a whole user experience has progressed quite quickly! Microsoft was using a Windows GUI 6 years before Linux was even announced. And look where Linux is at now.

(markjensen said @ #5.1)
Linux in 1991, as version 0.01, was a barely usable command prompt. Microsoft released Windows 1.0 in 1985, and Windows 3.0 in 1990, for comparison.

In 1994, the Linux kernel finally reaches 1.0. SuSE and RedHat make their first releases this year.

1995, Microsoft releases Windows 95 with the modern "start button and taskbar" paradigm that exists to this day.

1996, the KDE project is announced. They don't deliver a 1.0 product until much later, in 1998.
1997, the start of GNOME is announced, which releases 1.0 in 1999.

Seems to me that "Linux" as a whole user experience has progressed quite quickly! Microsoft was using a Windows GUI 6 years before Linux was even announced. And look where Linux is at now.

It definitely has progressed very quickly. I remember my first linux distribution was fedora core 1 (i was just 17). When I first installed it on my laptop my sound didn't work, my wireless drivers werent supported (never even heard of ndiswrapper), and the software repositories were very small. Now when I install nearly any modern distribution my hardware is autodetected, my wireless works out of the box (along with sound), and I instantly have access to thousands of open source software titles. In my opinion the last 5 years has seen a real growth in interoperability, stability, and usability in linux. I imagine this will only increase over time.

I've had much more success with OpenSUSE and Fedora than I ever have with Ubuntu. I understand they want to make the Linux desktop more "user-friendly" with Ubuntu, but on most forums Ubuntu IS Linux. It worries me that possibly the most over simplified distro is becoming the face of Linux.
Why is Windows criticized for "dumbing down" the user experience, but Ubuntu is praised?

(gark said @ #4)
...
Why is Windows criticized for "dumbing down" the user experience, but Ubuntu is praised?
Because what you get for Windows is pretty much what Microsoft wants to give you. Same for Apple (actually, even more so with Apple, in my opinion).

With Ubuntu, I can install it. Remove Gnome, and install fluxbox. Choose Thunar for my file manager and mplayer for media. And make it with exactly the individual packages I like, just like any "advanced" distro. Ubuntu doesn't "dumb things down"; it provides a simpler (more guided?) start point.

What you do with Ubuntu (or any other distro) is up to the user, as always.

(markjensen said @ #4.1)
Because what you get for Windows is pretty much what Microsoft wants to give you. Same for Apple (actually, even more so with Apple, in my opinion).

With Ubuntu, I can install it. Remove Gnome, and install fluxbox. Choose Thunar for my file manager and mplayer for media. And make it with exactly the individual packages I like, just like any "advanced" distro. Ubuntu doesn't "dumb things down"; it provides a simpler (more guided?) start point.

What you do with Ubuntu (or any other distro) is up to the user, as always. ;)


Guess I shouldn't have thrown in the Windows comparison.
I don't argue that Ubuntu, like all other distros can be tweaked and changed to your heart's content. What I don't understand is the fawning adoration poured on every point release of 'buntu. Their hardware support is no better than any other major distributions, and worse than others in my experience.
The article is good, and even makes mention of a couple other versions. Am I the only one sick to death of hearing about how Ubuntu fixes all hardware problems, software problems, resolution issues, cures warts, cancer and the common cold?

(gark said @ #4.2)

Guess I shouldn't have thrown in the Windows comparison.
I don't argue that Ubuntu, like all other distros can be tweaked and changed to your heart's content. What I don't understand is the fawning adoration poured on every point release of 'buntu. Their hardware support is no better than any other major distributions, and worse than others in my experience.
The article is good, and even makes mention of a couple other versions. Am I the only one sick to death of hearing about how Ubuntu fixes all hardware problems, software problems, resolution issues, cures warts, cancer and the common cold?

I hear your point. Most drivers come through kernel modules anyway, and as I recall ubuntu is usually several kernel versions behind more bleeding edge distributions (like fedora). Many ubuntu users act like Canonical developers are solving these driver problems, but really it's the hard work of kernel module developers who are writing drivers for the hardware and packaging them into new kernel builds. I am however happy to see such a "fawning adoration" of any linux distribution these days.

(gark said @ #4.2)
I don't argue that Ubuntu, like all other distros can be tweaked and changed to your heart's content. What I don't understand is the fawning adoration poured on every point release of 'buntu. Their hardware support is no better than any other major distributions, and worse than others in my experience. The article is good, and even makes mention of a couple other versions. Am I the only one sick to death of hearing about how Ubuntu fixes all hardware problems, software problems, resolution issues, cures warts, cancer and the common cold?

I've had some hardware problems in Linux but for me Ubuntu has seemed to support every device I threw at it, and gracefully kept proprietary drivers and interfaces updated along with all other software seamlessly, so that's why I use it.

As for all of these Ubuntu fixes, etc, to me it seems like Ubuntu is the only distribution that looks at fixing specific end user usability problems in the first place, and yes a lot of the fixes prescribed are specific bandages, but functionality is more fleshed out and standardized in future distributions and a tool is created, or a program is modified, and the changes aren't specific to the distribution but the project is updated or a new one is created that can be freely integrated into other distributions.

SuSE has YaST, and it's built to work specifically with the way SuSE configures things and its directory structure, and works with certain tools that are specific to that distribution. You can't really edit things yourself or switch around programs that YaST uses to accomplish things and it's a solution that is designed to work a certain way. That is why other distributions don't really benefit from YaST becoming more robust and fixing things for end users.

Fedora also has certain utilities designed to work with specific redhat services and tools. Other distributions could fork off of that, but again it can't be easily adopted into the standard application set. Debian which is a simple basic collection of GNU & GPL applications as-is, and Ubuntu builds off of that and merges its fixes and changes straight back into the programs. The tools created for Ubuntu can stand alone and work with free desktop standards and licenses all of its works under the GPL and LGPL. It seems like Ubuntu is contributing to OSS in an agnostic way and is targetting the end user, where other distros are mainly built for commercial deployment and whose modifications are not easily shared into the rest of the OSS ecosystem. However, SuSE and Redhat contribute heavily into the kernel, driver, security, and application side of Linux, just not stuff that benefits the end user directly and responds to their needs as quickly.

All distros have their place in the end, but as a desktop user I prefer Ubuntu. I still appreciate the others and support their use though.

Configuring hardware is mostly a non-issue in Linux, but installing proprietary drivers is usually annoying. This is why I use Ubuntu, because it automatically does this for me for my graphics card (this will soon change with the open ATI drivers). My wireless doesn't require a proprietary driver.

It is a good idea to look up what hardware you will use when building a PC before you buy it though. Most of the time there's just one particular piece of hardware that happens to be popular but you should avoid it because it is Windows only and most of the work is done in software in the driver instead of on the hardware itself. That hardware is best to be avoided anyway because when a new version of Windows comes along, there's no guarantee you'll be able to use the driver and it might not be because of a new driver model, but because of new software restrictions, or if the driver looks for certain things specific to that version of Windows and won't wok with any others because it never took them into account.

For changing resolutions and adding new ones, KDE allows you to choose your monitor. I have no idea why Gnome doesn't have some sort of configuration applet to let you do this. Even if you use Gnome, you can download KDE Control Center and use that to run the monitor configuration applet. You can test resolutions before making them the default as well so you shouldn't need to use some trick if you can't see anything on the screen.

Ubuntu and Fedora (and OpenSuse) also have software update applets that allow you to enable automatic updates, and they have robust desktop solutions with many options. Fedora probably has the best selection of configuration utilities (especially for workstations/servers), and OpenSuse is good as well. Ubuntu has a less robust set of tools but they are fine for the end user and are getting better all the time. You can accomplish everything necessary to run a desktop on Ubuntu, and it is all easier than on the other distros and more focused on desktop end users. Ubuntu has excellent support as well and there is tons of help for you out there. You can install it from Windows without repartitioning your hard drive so it's simple to give it a shot.

A realistic assessment of Linux today. As long as your hardware is supported, things are effortless. Even less effort than in Windows for many things.

But when things are not, as in the case of wireless that was mentioned, additional steps may be needed that are likely unfamiliar to someone not experienced with Linux.

Wait, you have to modify a text file to change your res and refresh rate? I know this is a tiny detail but wouldn't it be simple to just implement an interface to do that? I understand the obsession with command line in linux but why not be able to do it both ways?

(WICKO said @ #1)
Wait, you have to modify a text file to change your res and refresh rate?

You don't have to with most distros, it shows how you can if you can't use the GUI tool.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could configure Windows with plain text files instead of the convoluted insanity that is the Registry? Even with GUI tools Windows falls down like a house of cards after a *single* critical error in the registry, while Linux still boots with corrupted settings which you can easily restore. I mean, you can actually see what's wrong, but in Windows any error is hidden deep in a hierarchy of unintuitive registry keys.

(toadeater said @ #1.1)

You don't have to with most distros, it shows how you can if you can't use the GUI tool.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could configure Windows with plain text files instead of the convoluted insanity that is the Registry? Even with GUI tools Windows falls down like a house of cards after a *single* critical error in the registry, while Linux still boots with corrupted settings which you can easily restore. I mean, you can actually see what's wrong, but in Windows any error is hidden deep in a hierarchy of unintuitive registry keys.

Okay, I was just worried that you were forced to, that's the impression I got from reading the summary. You are right, the registry IS a mess, in fact I'm kind of appalled that anyone thought it was a good idea. Maybe years ago it looked good on paper.. Even so, if it were configurable by text files it would be simple to implement an interface to it, with the interface handling the more commonly modified settings. It's much simpler to make in interface for binary files though...

(WICKO said @ #1.2)
Okay, I was just worried that you were forced to, that's the impression I got from reading the summary. You are right, the registry IS a mess, in fact I'm kind of appalled that anyone thought it was a good idea. Maybe years ago it looked good on paper.. Even so, if it were configurable by text files it would be simple to implement an interface to it, with the interface handling the more commonly modified settings. It's much simpler to make in interface for binary files though...

Windows.ini and system.ini FTW. :laugh:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SYSTEM.INI

I wouldn't mind binary files as long as they weren't so convoluted like the way the registry is now. Looking up CLSIDs and then tracking down all the related entries is ridiculous. It's nearly as difficult tracking down drivers and services. Then you've got companies like Symantec that spam the registry with literally HUNDREDS of entries. This should have been stopped years ago.