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in Open Source
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If you've never tried it, you might want to wait until you have lots of time to give it your first go.
Mind you, I have only tried configuring wireless networking under one distro, Mandrake 10.1. I have not heard that it is any simpler in any other distro, though, and after having done it on a couple of different machines, I can completely understand why it wouldn't be different.
Setup entailed finding firmware, drivers and gaining an understanding of how these items are loaded into the OS, etc. It was a learning experience to say the least. I feel like a changed man. I've really grown. I had limited knowledge of such things when I started, but now I am practically a novice.
So the first machine I tackled is my Dell D800 laptop. It comes with an Intel wireless set, in linux-land we call it the IPW2100. I guess that's a model number or something.
The second machine is my cobb-jobbed desktop, using a DLink DWL-520 Rev E1. This Rev business is important, mind you. It seems to have a great deal to do with whether the thing will actually work or not.
Especially notable in both cases was the fact that neither of these cards have firmware planted firmly anywhere. That is to say, the firware for both of these cards is loaded at system startup. This means that you have to make sure the system knows where the firware is, and how to load it.
I used a nifty driver loader called ndiswrapper, found conveniently at ndiswrapper.sourceforge.net, for my laptop. After toying with loading all sorts of drivers and following all sorts of installation instructions, I finally decided to try this approach since it appeared easy. You install ndisloader, then you put the firware files (found at ipw2100.sourceforge.net) in /lib/hotplug/firmware. If there's no directory called "firmware" already there, you can just create one. As I understand it, the ndiswrapper is a package that loads a Windows driver within the Linux OS. Neat, huh? Once I did those two things, I was able to restart the machine and run Mandrake's GUI network configuration tool to make a new connection.
My desktop is another story. The DWL-520 Rev E1 doesn't like to play nice. I am still trying to figure that one out. I attempted to use ndiswrapper for that system, bt it didn't work out much. Fortunately I was able to do a whole bunch of reading about what other folks recommend. None of it worked, but as I've found to be the case with other linux-related activities, you don't always find the answers out there, but you do almost always find lots of little bits and pieces that can be assembled to make an answer yourself.
Today I will attempt to use the hostap driver utility stuff to get my desktop running. I tried it yesterday but was unable to make it work. I think I may have tried to load the wrong driver, who knows?
Stay tuned. I'm highly likely to find an answer. And if I do, you'll be the first to know, since nobody else in my life is remotely interested in hearing about it (my website is my friend).