Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Ubuntu: an appraisal of hardware support

31st October 2007

After a painless start with Ubuntu, I have been able to overcome the obstacles placed in my way thus far. In fact, it is sure to yield a goodly number of blog posts, never a bad thing from my point of view. And so to this installment…

For this post, I’ll stick with the hardware side of things. Compared with previous voyages into the Linux universe, I have not encountered any "brick walls" placed in my path. Audio support was one bugbear in the past but Ubuntu simply took care of that with no intervention from me. I popped in a CD and music was played back to me and I have the same confidence with MP3 files. In the same way, graphics were set up to my liking with having to lift a finger; there is proprietary ATI driver available but I’ll stick with the standard set up since it easily works well enough for me. Printer set up needed a prod from my end but it got on with things and found my HP LaserJet 1018 with nary a bother and all was set up very quickly. All other items of hardware but one scarcely merit a mention, so seamless was their detection and set up.

The one piece of hardware that made me work was my Epson Perfection 4490 Photo scanner. it wasn’t supported out of the box but a spot of googling was all that it took to find out how to set things to rights. In fact, the best answer turned out to be on Ubuntu’s forum, hardly a surprise really. The step by step instructions sent me over to Epson’s repository of open source Linux drivers for the correct files; I did need to make sure I wasn’t selecting 4990 in place of 4490, a very easy thing to do. I snagged Debian RPM’s and used alien to convert them to DEB files. Running dpkg as root did the installation and quick checks with sane-find-scanner and scanimage commands revealed that all was well, to my clear relief.

Hardware support has always been an Achilles heal for Linux but, on the basis of this experience, the Linux community seem to be more on top of it than ever before. The proprietary nature of the devices is an ever present challenge for driver developers so getting as far as they have is an impressive achievement. It’s a long way from roadblocks due to tempestuous support of modems, sound cards, printers and scanners and I seem to have got over the biggest hurdle on my Linux journey this time around.

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