Thursday, June 29, 2006

Egregious errors edge out Edubuntu Ecstasy

(reposted from Scot's Forums)
Click here for the thread)

It was the best of distros, it was the worst of distros.

I had found what I thought was the holy grail of Linux installs in Edubuntu - A "bullet proof" (at least within reason) installation that runs easily and quickly, installs a reasonable amount of software without presenting a googolplex of options, allows functionality immediately after install, and presents enough simplicity that my daughter literally unplugged her PC (and eMachines 2Ghz box) herself and brought it out of her bedroom into my office so I could load it up. (I had put it on a test box first, and she was immediately taken with it when she saw it). My daughter, I should note, is 11.

I grant that Edubuntu is not the distro for all people. Its name says it all regarding its target audience. *I* would not run it on my box (personal or work), but I thought I had found that distro I could put on all the other computers in the house (for the technophobic wife, and 4 kids ranging in ages from 3 to 14).

I could wax poetic about the *buntu line, but that's for a different post.

No, gentle reader, it's time that I take you from my ebullient high to the emotional ruin when I realized, after 48 hours of troubleshooting, that I was going to reinstall WinXP in order to avoid full sleep deprivation trauma, save my marriage and help my daughter avoid blog withdrawal.

Some background on my experience: I ran Mandrake (when it *was* mandrake) for over 2 years on my day-to-day work PC, until my work required a switch. I have an ancient IBM PC running Fedora Core as a Samba/web test server. At work I use test boxes running Centos. HOWEVER, while I am comfortable USING Linux, I'm not a *nix system admin. "Make" still weirds me out and usually gives me hives, because I'm not really sure what it's doing or if it's working right. Thank God for automount and automatic partitioning during installs. No, I can't tell you where my shadow file is or how to create a user without a GUI.

My downfall all comes down to 2 words: USB Wireless.

I tell ya: networking should simply not be that hard. Either tell me a particular device is not supported and stop getting my hopes up, or the driver should pretty much install and work. Neither is the case here.

I tried the following adapters:
D-Link DWL-G122
Zonet ZEW2501
Hawking HWU54G

When I performed the actual Edubuntu install, the Zonet was plugged in. While Edubuntu recognized something wireless-ish was installed (WLAN0 existed), no amount of setting the SSID and WEP key (128bit) would actually get me an IP address.

I then began an odyssey which included:
  • Multiple installs/updates of unrelated packages because edubuntu doesn't come preloaded with the tools for make

  • Installing and un-installing the included ndiswrapper-utils package

  • Installing the latest version of ndiswrapper from the sourceforge site

  • Installing/copying the drivers from the manufacturer

  • Installing Unshield from an Ubuntu "universe" install site because Edubuntu can't read Windows .EXE files

  • Installing Cabextract from an Ubuntu "universe" install site because after you unpack the .EXE you still gotta read them CABs

  • Installing/upgrading various packages while installing Unshield and Cabextract because some stuff wasn't working

  • Finding out that the driver from the manufacturer is not the "right" driver because it's all about the chipset

  • Trying to match the output from commands like lsusb and lspci (why would that matter for a usb device?!?) to the hardware list on the ndiswrapper sourceforge site.

  • Trying to compile from source the "right" drivers

In the end, while I knew I could keep hammering at this and possibly find a fix, I also realized that the Achilles’ heel which is Linux+wireless networking remained and if it was this hard to set up, then supporting and changing things on my network was going to be a hassle also.

With the sharp tangy taste of crow in my mouth, I slunk back into my cave with my tail between my legs.

So what am I asking? If anyone has ideas, I'm willing to try them out. I still have some test boxes around that can be used in a pinch. I can take another swipe at it because I really believe *buntu has the chance to be something special.

Otherwise, this is merely a cautionary tale. Here there be dragons. Don your asbestos underwear and proceed with all due caution.

- Leon

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