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Silly Linux Myths Exposed: Linux Has Great Hardware Support

Wireless, Video, and Multi-Function Printers Gotchas

  • April 12, 2009
  • By Matt Hartley

Perhaps one of the most common myths surrounding desktop Linux is the belief that modern distributions do not provide decent hardware support.

It's unfortunate, but this thought pattern has been ingrained into the minds of many die-hard Windows users over the years. Many of them have only tried using Linux once or twice, at which point they experienced a problem that they attributed to poor hardware support.

In this article, I'll not only provide what I deem to be significant evidence to the contrary, but also provide real examples of PC peripherals and hardware that work out of the box, often with little to no configuration involved.

The most common hardware/peripheral issues

Despite what you might have been led to believe over the years, most PC hardware you have around your house will work with many modern Linux distributions without any extra configuration. In those rare instances where some configuration is required, working through the configuration process is something that doesn't take as much study as one might think.

So which hardware or peripheral devices do most people struggle with then? Clearly, there must be something here, as most myths are based in at least some reality, right? Most of the time any issues to be had are generally experienced with wireless devices, all-in-one printers, or video cards.

I have found that the biggest offenders are Windows wireless cards that are already included in notebook computers. The worst of the worst would have to be wireless chipsets designed by Broadcom.

This is not to say that one can't use restricted software to get it working. But who wants to bother with that when it may not work as expected when the Linux distro releases an update that might conflict with the restricted software in the future? Considering the number of alternatives out there, I see little reason to bother with this approach myself.

Then there is the matter of some users dealing with problems that arise with select video cards. In most cases, this is a simple matter of miscommunication versus any real problem with compatibility. That said, sometimes video card vendors that do not release their own drivers as open source end up passing along a software bug associated with the proprietary driver that could go unchecked � and the community isn't provided any recourse to fix it due to licensing.

And finally, the often confused all-in-one printer compatibility myth. I would start off by saying that 99% of the standard printers out there are going to work out of the box with greater ease than you'll find in other operating systems.

Yet with some all-in-one printers, confusion arises as there are some brands that are not as well supported as others. In the case of all-in-one printers, I am willing to go out on a limb and say roughly 90% of them work out of the box, with the greatest number of those coming from HP.

This is not to say that other all-in-ones from Epson, among others, are not also supported via CUPS and SANE. I am merely pointing out that HP goes so far as to release its own software just for Linux users. This software provides needed functionality for HP all-in-one users. Options like:

  • Advanced printing
  • Document and image scanning
  • Faxing (depending on the device)
  • Photo card access (Depending on the device)
  • Partial integration with SANE scanning
  • Full integration with CUPS printing

For my money, I lean toward using hardware/peripherals sold by vendors that make a serious effort in supporting my chosen platform. HP's HPLIP is my preferred software for all-in-one printing and scanning.

What works and what will not

At the end of the day, all of the failures and success you will have with hardware compatibility will come down to one thing -- research.

Realizing this might seem like it goes against what I've said previously about Linux providing such tremendous support for most hardware support. But the fact of the matter is that there is research that needs to be done.

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