All Unkept
Posted in: Rants, Linux  —  April 27, 2007 at 09:17 PM

Edgy, Feisty, and Pheenet WLU-703Z

by Luke Plant

Until about 10 minutes ago, this was going to be a rant that basically said about Linux and hardware:

When it's good it's very, very good,
But when it's bad, it's awful.

I guess I want to say the same thing now, except that I'm not ranting anymore, since I'm experiencing the first half.

Basically, I bought a Pheenet WLU-703Z USB wireless adapter this week, precisely because it was supposed to work well under Linux. In fact, it did work well even with Ubuntu Edgy in terms of basic driver support, but the network I want to attach to turns out to be encrypted using WPA, and nowhere did I find a note that says "remember, WEP is rubbish [which I found out later], so you need to check whether your device supports WPA, either via a wpa_supplicant driver, or generic Linux Wireless Extensions with WPA-PSK extensions [which I found out later]". Getting this second bit to work under Edgy turned out impossible -- the drivers that came on the CD for my USB device wouldn't even compile, and I never managed to get any other ones to actually work.

Since I didn't know that much about wireless networks, I didn't even find out for ages that it was a problem with encryption type, though I suspected as much, because the interface for configuring wireless networks in Kubuntu Edgy (wlassisstant) doesn't have anything indicating encryption types other than WEP. You have to drop down to wpa_supplicant to configure this stuff, and I'm still not sure I was doing it correctly.

Anyway, I saw a post that suggested this chipset (zd1211) works much better in Feisty, so I downloaded Kubuntu Feisty and had a go. With KNetworkManager (plus an updated kernel), it all worked first time, no manual installation of drivers or anything. I haven't yet installed Kubuntu (I'm running from the LiveCD), but that's a job for tomorrow. The nice thing about LiveCDs is that I can confirm that the system upgrade will be worth it (and getting this wireless internet connection working is worth it, since wired is not an option for me) before actually having to do it.

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