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Re: How Do You Know If It Works In Linux?

On Sunday 28 September 2003 02:35 pm, alex wrote:
> Suppose someone wants to put together or buy a computer ---something 
> that is fully compatible with Linux.....no makedo patches such as 
> for winmodems or other components,  etc---how can you make sure 
> you're getting what you want?

Nobody mentioned this that I saw, so I'll point this out: In retail
computer stores, you can look for hardware that claims to be
both Windows and Mac compatible.  Usually if it can do those
two, it will not be overly dependent on the CPU or driver, and
it will at least be possible for a Linux driver to be written.  I often
use this to narrow the field.

And, in my experience, amazingly enough, the combination
of "available in retail stores" and "possible to write a driver
for Linux" makes it really likely that one already exists.  To make
sure, just search for the exact model number and the word
"linux" in google. Like this:

"Officejet 6110" linux

Often enough, you'll get a hit.  This worked for printers and
scanners for me, but I'm not sure how useful it would be for,
say, video cards.
> What are the indicators that will tell us whether the components are 
> fully Linux compatible, whether they are part of a ready to run 
> Windows computer, a systemless computer, a bare bones box, or one 
> that you build from scratch?

You will also find that "brand name" components are often more
likely to be specifically supported by drivers (really the factor in
question is whether they are popular enough to motivate developers).

But if the manufacturer withholds crucial specs and/or the system
in question is difficult to reverse-engineer and/or the system is
dependent to a large degree on driver software, this will usually
be a more significant indicator.

> Is there something that prevents manufacturers from clearly stating 
> that a product is fully suitable for Linux?  It's done for MS 
> Windows.  Is this some kind of legal or technical issue, or is it 
> some kind of 'business arrangement'?

Others have mentioned the more paranoia-inducing reasons (which
are probably true :-( ), but I'll also mention this -- the beauty of the free-
licensed open-source development model is user/developer support.
That is, people who are both users and developers handle the support,
as on this list.  But, just as every piece of GPL carries that "NO WARRANTY"
disclaimer, a company can't REALLY say they support Linux unless
they are willing to do telephone tech support for it, just like they do for the
proprietary systems.  And, as I'm sure you've heard, that's expensive.

Add to that the fact that Linux is *rarely* the same exact beast -- since
the model also encourages "adaptive radiation", that could be a large
and intractable problem.  One irate, deep-pocketed customer could
seriously sue them if support was claimed, but it didn't work!  Considering
that we in the community actually prefer to see GPL drivers -- usually
written by the community -- than closed source drivers provided by the
manufacturer, we would be pretty demanding to assume that the
company should take formal legal responsibility for our work (when, as
the disclaimer says, we ourselves emphatically won't -- it's strictly "at your
own risk").

Of course, in *practice*, that reasoning might not pan out -- it's very
likely that the GPL driver is going to be *more* reliable than anything the
company would be able to turn out on an under-resourced closed-source
project.  But it's still a risk that they have no real control over.

What we need is a way for the company to be able to point to the Linux
support effort *without* taking that responsibility.  For me, at least, that
would be good enough.

(Note that as a practical matter, even if the company writes a
driver and releases it under the GPL, they still can't really be responsible
for it, since it will evolve past what they delivered -- or else there
would've been little point in opening the source in the first place,
from their point of view).

> Wouldn't it be nice if there was a notice or disclaimer that clearly 
> stated, "100% suitable for Linux"   or "Not suitable for Linux"

It would, but they could be held liable for those statements, and
the kind of guarantee you get with Linux is not usually that solid.

There is (or was) an effort to create an "open hardware" certification
mark that would simply indicate that the company had provided
adequate information to the community to write a driver.  I'm not
sure how that has turned out, but I certainly haven't seen them
popping up all over the place.

> With the universal recognition and use of Linux as an operating 

Ah, "universal".  I don't think we're quite *there* yet.  I still meet
people who don't know what Linux is.

> system, it seems strange that you don't see components or a whole 
> computer clearly identified as fully suitable for Linux even though
> it may have MS Windows installed.

I *have* seen cookbook-like reviews, in which currently available
components are combined into a "best" Linux computer in the
reviewer's opinion (actually 3 different ones for 3 different price/
performance breaks).  Unfortunately, I can't remember where,
and I'm not finding it with Google.  This information is obviously
ephemeral -- such a site would have to be maintained, and it
may not have been. (?)


Terry Hancock ( hancock at anansispaceworks.com )
Anansi Spaceworks  http://www.anansispaceworks.com

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