Alex and I were debating the pros and cons of various operating systems during our geekfest (working on my latest website project, in the pub) last weekend – he’s just bought a new Mac (and works with them all day), so, like most Mac users I know, he can’t see why anyone would possibly want to use anything else (not quite true, but that’s the gist of it). Meanwhile I sat down at his Mac and couldn’t even work the mouse properly to open up Firefox and pull some information off the ‘net. I complained that standard keyboard shortcuts didn’t work (I had to use the Apple key instead of control) and he said it’s because I only use Windows. I disputed that – I like GNOME on Linux – and the reason I like it is that it works like Windows, only better. It’s got a cleaner interface but most of the keyboard shortcuts that I know still work. But even Linux is not ready for complete newbies. It’s come a long way since I first used it back in 1993 – in fact it’s advancing at a tremendous pace – but even Linux Format magazine acknowledges this month that it needs to be approached “with an awareness that it takes time and patience to use properly”. Linux is not for everyone. I’ve got nearly 20 years of PC experience under my belt (12 years designing, supporting and implementing systems using Microsoft software), and I’m still struggling with Linux (although getting on much better since I spent last week learning a bit about Red Hat Enterprise Linux).
So, what’s the point of this rambing? Well, last night, after weeks of wrangling, I finally got a non-Windows operating system to connect to my wireless network. I gave up trying to do this on Solaris (after the Solaris NDIS wrapper toolkit failed to compile on my system and I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer to my post at the OpenSolaris.org forums) and instead went for a popular Linux distro (SuSE 10.0, which Novell very kindly sent me a copy of a few weeks back).
There are many reports on how to do this out there on the ‘net, but none of them worked exactly for me. What follows is what I did with SuSE 10.0 on an IBM ThinkPad T40, with a D-Link DWL-G630 PCMCIA card and a D-Link DWL-2000AP+ access point, configured to use WPA-PSK (TKIP) and proven to work using a selection of Windows clients.
SuSE 10.0 comes with packages for NdisWrapper (v1.2), wireless tools (v28 pre-8) and WPA supplicant (v0.4.4), I used YaST to check that these were all installed and located the netrt61g.inf, rt61.cat and rt61.sys files from the CD supplied with my network card. I don’t think the .cat file is required, but I copied them all to /tmp anyway.
Next, following the advice for installing NdisWrapper on SuSE Professional 9.2, I ran the following commands from a terminal window (logged in a root) to install the network card:
ndiswrapper -i drivername.inf
In my case this was netrt61g.inf, and the response was Installing netrt61g. Next, I entered:
to check the status of the NDIS drivers and saw the response:
Installed ndis drivers:
netrt61g driver present
The next part is to load the module, using:
This doesn’t return a response, but using
iwconfig should return details for a new interface (in my case it was wlan0). At this point, I hadn’t yet inserted the card, but all seemed fine with the card driver configuration.
I then used YaST to configure the new wlan0 interface (although I could have made the edits manually, YaST saves me from missing something). The instructions I followed used YaST to edit the system configuration (System, /etc/sysconfig Editor), although some settings need to be added into text files manually, so they might as well all be done that way:
That should be it for a basic wireless Ethernet configuration (although it may also be necessary to set any other network interfaces to start on cable connection, on hotplug, etc., rather than at boot time). For those of us using a secure network, there’s still more to do as it’s necessary to configure WPA Supplicant. It should be as simple as configuring /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf, then issuing a few simple commands:
ifconfig wlan0 up
wpa_supplicant -Dndiswrapper -iwlan0 -c/etc/wpa_supplicant.conf -dd
Sadly, that didn’t work for me. Even now, I’m not sure that the contents of my /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf file are correct – that’s why I haven’t published them here; however it maybe useful to know that the package also includes command line (wpa_cli) and graphical (wpa_gui)
utilities for troubleshooting and managing the interface. wpa_cli was pre-installed as part of the package on my system, but I didn’t get anywhere until I obtained wpa_gui from the latest stable release of wpa_supplicant (v0.4.8).
cp wpa_gui /usr/sbin
Only after typing
wpa_gui -iwlan0 was I able to scan for an AP and locate the available networks:
Then I could connect using the appropriate WPA key:
The connection doesn’t last long (it drops a few seconds after the 4-way handshake shown above), but at least it seems I have a working configuration (if not a stable one…).
So, it wasn’t easy. In fact, I’d say that wireless support is one of Linux’s weak spots right now, not helped by the fact that the device manufacturers generally only support Windows. Even now, I have some issues – like that my connection drops and then I can’t re-establish it – but I think that might be an issue with using Windows drivers and NdisWrapper. At least I know that I can get a connection – and that’s a step in the right direction.