I was listening to my usual round of amazing Linux Podcasts this week (you know who you are) and one of the discussions that made the rounds was about hardware compatibility issues with Linux. One of the hosts was bemoaning the issues with running linux on a repurposed MacBook and trying to get the wireless drivers to work. That led to a discussion about proprietary vs. non-proprietary drivers and you can pretty much guess how the conversation went from there.
I’m not seeing it. I don’t believe the rumors.
Let me explain. I’m typing this on a Lenovo T420 I was gifted because someone in the family upgraded their machines. It has two hard drives- one for Windows and one for Ubuntu MATE (tweaked to replicate the workflow on my mac). When I installed MATE, literally everything worked on the first install. I haven’t done a thing with drivers.
When I had to reinstall Windows on this computer–a computer designed to run Windows–I had an entirely different story to tell. I like nuking and paving my machines. The time from nuke to drive (freeway speed) on MATE was 2 hours. Windows was 4 hours. Why? Because when I reinstall Windows, I have to download every possible driver for every possible component on the machine. I now have a folder of drivers on an SD card reserved for the day I decide to reinstall Windows.
Finding the drivers is always a pain under Windows. Although Lenovo does a decent job putting the ones I need on a single page, they also put a lot of their crapware on the same page and with obscurely named .exe files (n1au410w.exe) it’s sometimes hard to remember if I’m installing something I need, or something I’m trying to avoid.
Then there are the problems where the drivers don’t get updated. I’m sure this happens under Linux as well. Drivers for old components probably don’t get any more love when their popularity starts to wane but I think it’s worse on Windows. I can’t scroll sideways with my touchpad on Windows, but I can under MATE. It’s the same touchpad, I promise. I get a more elegant experience on this hardware under MATE than I do on the OS it was designed for. I call that winning.
I’ve also got Ubuntu MATE 15.10 running on a MacBook Air as one of my crucial systems here at home. It works. The wireless works. The ethernet works (I used a Thunderbolt Ethernet Adapter) and it generally kicks butt for being low powered, low noise, set it and forget it awesomeness. The hardest part of installing Linux was doing it on a cracked screen but that was easy to work with once I plugged it up to a television.
When I’ve run Linux, I’ve had to work around a couple of issues, and there’s one issue I’ve just bypassed altogether–a Canon Printer at church. So I can appreciate that things aren’t perfect, but they’re way better than the competition.
When I was in Afghanistan, I purchased a USB-powered WIFI antenna to boost my range on our FOB. I pulled it out of a box a few weeks ago and decided to see if it still worked. When I plugged it into my MacBook, it didn’t work until I went and downloaded the driver. So I started Googling Linux drivers for it before I plugged it into one of my Linux boxes. That was a complete waste of time. No drivers needed. As soon as I plugged it in, the darn thing sprang to life. The driver was already in the kernel.
The Linux community tends to vociferously express their frustrations with installation, video/audio settings and so forth when they occur. That’s a really healthy thing for getting better products out of the community, but sometimes we do so at the expense of talking about how, in most cases, and in most situations, this stuff just works. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t use it. We’d take our freedom and go somewhere else. We’re here because it does work and it’s worth mentioning that the rumors about incompatibility are grossly exaggerated.
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Lenovo Thinkpad T420 – http://amzn.to/1ZhnFZU