Dell and Ubuntu: it’s all about the drivers

So Dell has given some more details on its plan to fulfill one of the top 10 wishes of the people who submitted ideas to its Digg-style IdeaStorm site: It’s going to start shipping Dells that have the Ubuntu flavour of Linux preloaded on them. Regardless of what you think of the move, I think it’s pretty amazing that Dell has given its fans a forum like IdeaStorm, and — more importantly — has actually listened to them.

ubuntu.pngNaturally, the Ubuntu announcement has caused plenty of cheers in the Linux camp, since the release from Mark Shuttleworth’s Canonical is seen by many as the new standard-bearer for the Windows replacement vanguard (Michael Robertson’s Linspire, formerly known as Lindows, also had some early potential, as did Xandros and Novell’s Suse). And I have to say that having Ubuntu pre-loaded on a Dell machine would help with one thing: namely, finding drivers that work for all the various hardware inside a brand new machine, especially if it’s something fancy like a Media Center.

I don’t know if Michael Dell — who is a Ubuntu user, as Engadget notes — has had any of the same problems that I have, but I’ve been trying for days to get Ubuntu’s latest release running on an HP Media Center, and have had no luck. It installs fine, and loads and I get the nice Evolution desktop that comes with Feisty Fawn (as the new release is called, following the Linux “goofy name” rule). But the network card doesn’t work.

Let me note that I am not some Linux noob. I’ve installed and run Suse 8, 9 and 10 as well as Debian and Xandros and three or four other flavours of Linux. I have personally edited the x86config file and added mode lines by hand to get an LCD monitor working, and have SSH’ed into my Debian box remotely using putty and repaired my MySQL tables. So there.

Ubuntu can’t recognize the Intel network chip, no matter what I do. I’ve edited the modules file, installed various add-ons. Nothing. Intel has a Linux driver — but you have to compile it yourself and add it to the Linux kernel, and that’s a little too close to brain surgery for yours truly. Give me a box with it all pre-installed, and I would be a pretty happy camper. If there’s one thing Windows does pretty well, it’s the drivers.

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