I love how anti-linux advocates and windows fanbois always pick on Linux for hardware compatibility or rather lack of thereof. Just about every rant about Linux I have seen so far includes a gripe about it not supporting new or exotic hardware out of the box. Funny thing is that, neither does Windows.
Here is an experiment, and I encourage everyone to conduct it at their leisure. First, grab your Windows XP CD (preferably the one with SP2 slipstreamed in) and do a clean install on a formated drive. Once it is done, pull up the device manager and count the yellow question marks (these are the devices that failed to initialize because they are not supported out of the box). Try to figure out what they are (good luck on that), and write them down on a piece of paper. Once you do that, grab your favorite Linux distro (I recommend Ubuntu) and repeat the exercise. Once you have your Linux installed, run lshw or equivalent command and see how many of the devices from your “yellow question mark” list were detected and configured during the installation. I suspect that you will be able to cross of at least few of them from your list. Your results may vary
I did this experiment several times on fairly standard, and widely deployed (at least in my company) Inspiron 600m hardware. Both Dapper Drake (6.06) and Gutsy Gibbon (7.10) have booted into fully operational machines and installing optional “proprietary” drivers was as easy as clicking on a button in one of the system menus. Windows XP SP2 on the other hand booted in low resolution mode, and without any working network device forcing me to install 4 or 5 driver packages off an OEM “Drivers & Utilities” CD that was shipped with the machine.
I had very similar experience when I installed Hoary on my old Inspiron 4000 laptop back in the day. Not to mention that one time when I pulled the HD out of the aged 4000 and installed it in an Inspiron 4150 which actually had a different motherboard, different video card, sound card and network devices… And it still worked. Don’t ask me how – but I was using that machine for over two years without a hitch.
These are just the examples which I have documented, but in my experience every time I pitied Linux (or rather Ubuntu) against Windows the former always turned out to be the more robust, and more user friendly (at least during installation and setup) than the later. Perhaps I’m biased, but I implore you to test this yourself.
Note that I didn’t talk about Vista here, because I have yet to do a clean install of that monster. Hardly anyone that I know is running it, and those who are are usually more interested in downgrading to XP than re-installing it when the time comes. Honestly, that’s the sentiment around here. I can’t tell you how many people approached me asking if I can downgrade their Dell or HP computer to XP. But that’s inessential. Perhaps the new OS from Redmond can really match Ubuntu in it’s ability to detect, and configure hardware out of the box. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Ubuntu had Windows XP (the most widely deployed OS in the world so far) outmatched and outclassed for years now all the while Microsoft fanbois were ragging on Linux for lack of hardware compatibility.
So I ask you, which operating system is better in this area? The main difference between the two is that all the hardware being sold out there is guaranteed to work on Windows. So while a clean install of XP will often have your machine limping in a half crippled, low resolution mode, with no sound, no network connection and no working modem, you can always get it working with the proprietary 3rd party drivers. You just need to find and install them – which may or may not be difficult, depending on whether or not you managed to lose the OEM CD with the drivers.
So what is the main difference between Windows and Linux? Windows always has access to 3rd party drivers – Linux, not so much. Is this something we should blame Linux community, or developers? No, not really – just like we can’t credit Microsoft and their dev teams with making all these drivers. They are made by hardware manufacturers who are at liberty to pick and choose which operating systems they are willing to support. How do they choose them? I guess they look at adoption and deployment rates – and many of them find Linux to be to small of a target to commit their resources to supporting it.
So we end up with an endless loop scenario. Hardware vendors are not supporting Linux because to few people are using it. Few people are using Linux because the lack of support from the hardware vendors. In such environment the only thing Linux community can do is to hack, and reverse engineer everything they can get their hands on, and support it out of the box. And this is what they have been doing for years now.
[tags]ubuntu, linux, hardware, gutsy, dapper, hoary, inspiron, dell, xp, windows[/tags]