OK, now that we have the bad news out of the way, here’s the good news:
I (finally!) managed to get wireless network access set up on the home network this weekend. Normally, this would be nothing to write home about—after all, there’s about a bazillion 802.11b and .11g wireless products available these days, so it can’t be too difficult to get going, right?
Well… try setting it up on a Linux laptop.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m as big a fan of Linux as the next guy. Been using it (in parallel with my various Windows-based boxen) since the days of the now-defunct TAMU 0.99 distribution back in ’93. But even I’ll admit that it sometimes takes a bit of arcane knowledge to get some hardware working properly with Linux. Take, for instance, my network card, an SMC 2635W PCMCIA 802.11b adapter. Built-in kernel and/or pcmcia-cs support for this card? Nope. But hey, there’s a Linux driver available from the chipset manufacturer, let’s try that one! Cool, now I can connect to my router… but wait, no… can’t enable WEP via this driver, and even though it’s hardly infallible, you’re nuts if you think I’m going to run a wireless network without some attempt at encryption. Ah, but then there’s NdisWrapper, which allows you to use the Windows drivers for some chipsets to get your card to work under Linux. And voila!—success! Connection: check. WEP: check. Automatically start up at boot: che—… well, OK, that took another half day, but I eventually accomplished it doing what any good Linux geek would do: I wrote my own startup script to load and start everything on boot. (It’s even smart enough not to crank up my wireless interface if a wired network connection has already been brought up. I’m just so clever.) The result: wireless geek bliss.
The laptop “works” from the upstairs office. It works from the downstairs living room. It even works from the downstairs master bedroom (not, errrm… not that I’ll be allowed to bring a laptop into the bedroom too often). The final test will be seeing if it works from the back patio, but that’s for another geeky day.
Follow-up (Aug 20, 2004): I no longer use NdisWrapper, as that solution ended up being somewhat problematic. I now use a GPL’ed native Linux driver that’s recently become available, and it works just great for me; see this post for more details.