Damned GNU/Linux drivers

September 03, 2009 in #teen rants #university #college #blu ray #HP #Lexmark #printers #media centre #blog #opinion

I’ve recently has a few driver issues I’d like to share with you.

Printers

I experienced a whole new world yesterday when I attempted to connect a Lexmark Z235 to a laptop running 64-bit Ubuntu (and another PC running 32-bit PCLinuxOS) – no drivers currently exist for it in the GNU/Linux world. I tried using various other Lexmark-related drivers (with the result the paper was threaded through the printer very slowly without anything actually printing on it before jamming mid-way through), and I also scoured the internet for a driver.

The closest I found was a rather buggy effort on Sourceforge to reverse-engineer a Z200 driver (the idea of using ndiswrapper to run a Windows driver isn’t one I’m willing to contemplate). I found this slightly bizarre as I had previously used a Lexmark all-in-one laser printer (C series I think…) and everything worked out of the box – even scanning and faxing. Thankfully I had a spare HP Deskjet F1000 that just plugs in and works, but this will be much more costly for ink when I head to university in two weeks. But why is it so difficult to get every printer working in GNU/Linux as seamlessly as HP? After all, Lexmark produces the best printers on the market. For instance, HP confess that the heads jam if you leave your printer unattended for a few months, yet if you leave a Lexmark for that time it will still print a perfect page.

But the real let down is driver support. Lexmark ensure the cheaper models only have Windows drivers available (for reduced overhead presumably), meaning GNU/Linux and Mac OS X users have to pay a premium (or buy elsewhere). This makes no sense – Lexmark don’t earn any revenue from drivers anyway, so why not open things up a little and let the GNU/Linux community build their own drivers? At least other printer manufacturers are starting to see sense in this area.

TV Tuners

I purchased a Hauppage WinTV Nova-T USB Stick with the full assurance from the GNU/Linux community it would work flawlessly. This couldn’t have been more wrong. In 32-bit Ubuntu I found myself manually installing DVB drivers and then crashing the xserver every time I tried to watch Live TV using Kaffeine (MythTV refused to acknowledge it existed). The only way around it was to install 64-bit Ubuntu and follow the relevant tutorials, then use MythTV. The only distro that installed and worked with my TV tuner out-of-the-box was Mythbuntu 9.04 64-bit, though this was mostly down to the developers doing all the monkey-work I’d just been doing in Ubuntu.

Playing Blu Ray Movies

I have a Blu Ray drive on my laptop and a handy Ubuntu guide to running Blu Ray discs. Unfortunately I need to run Windows XP in a VM to use the relevant software to decode the discs (which is legally questionable at best) and then manually configure MPlayer to acknowledge that I’m trying to play some high definition content through it (and do this for each subsequent Blu ray movie I choose to watch). Don’t even get me started on having to install libdvdcss2 before I can even consider watching standard DVDs…

Conclusion

Despite these annoyances, I will very much remain a GNU/Linux user. My Sony VAIO VGN-FW21L is currently running Ubuntu 9.04 64-bit in solo-boot and that’s how things will stay. But in terms of the latest technology GNU/Linux has some way to go, and until then I’m still going to have to keep WINE and Sun Virtualbox around just in case…

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