written in Nov 2002
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I am kind of a computer veteran. I learned programming in 1974, starting with ALGOL. At that time in our university we had the biggest IBM mainframe of Germany, a System/370-168, serving 256 users at terminals and 256 batch jobs all at the same time. The machine was water-cooled and had the exorbitant amount of 2.4 MBytes main memory...
This 2002 notebook has the following key features:
In contrast to earlier Gericom computers this one is not loud (most of the time almost quiet) and has a robust feel. And it is comparitively slim (3.5 cm) and light (2.6 kg).
Windows XP machines use the NTFS file system. Unfortunately the Linux installers of all current distros were not able to split NTFS partitions, so if I wanted to keep the preinstalled Windows I had to buy a Windows partitioning software.
Using "Partition Manager", I split the harddisk into three partitions of about 10 GB each. (In fact I made a fourth small partition as swap space for Linux.)
The first partition stayes the home of Windows XP which I use for game play and for learning about the details of the hardware of my computer.
The second partition was meant to become my main "production" system, I installed SuSE 8.0 on it.
The third partition was to be the experimental partition where I want to check out new distros.
This was the plan. In reality it happened a bit different:
The SuSE 8.0 installation went smoothly, except that:
On the plus side:
The Debian 3.0 installation made much more problems.
I used the stripped-down one-CD installation from the German Linux-USER magazine.
This left me no choice about the kernel and I just had the 2.2.20 version, which makes additional problems when installing the linux-wlan-ng drivers. For having the most modern kernel I changed the source-list from stable to testing/unstable and then did an upgrade. There were many severe problems, but I have forgotten the details. Should have noted everything immediately.
Finally I ended in a quite nice Debian environment with Gnome 2, kernel 2.4.19, but with only vesa-framebuffer graphics (which look very good, but are not suitable for 3d accel. as far as I know.) Not the nvidia, not even the nv drivers want to work on my Debian, don't know why.
Problems with my installation:
On the plus side:
... On Debian
Searching the Internet I found that my only chance to get that beast going was to use the drivers of the ongoing "linux-wlan-ng" project.
From the various docs on that project's web site I learned that it would be best and safest to compile the kernel, then compile and install the wlan modules.
This was bad news, I never had recompiled my Linux kernels. I thought this to be too demanding for me.
Now I had to learn how to recompile and install a new kernel. It turned out this is not too hard to do.
Once I had compiled my own kernel, I could install the linux-wlan-ng drivers and modules which are necessary for using my internal WLAN device, which is a GemTek WL-388 mini-USB device, so I needed to compile the prism2_usb kernel module.
After this and some experimentation with the different included wlan-related scripts I managed to get it into working condition, and just that I did not open a bottle of champagne to celebrate my first real wireless web surfing session from my seat in the wintergarten of our old house...
About two weeks of hard work were gone into this WLAN-under-Linux experiment...
But after some hours my new WLAN died - no way to get it up again.
I tried everything, resetting to what I had, resetting to what I thought how it should be... to no avail.
Finally after 3 frustrating days and some mails from the mailing list I was at a point to just throw it all away.
I startet over.
I disabled any wlan-script I could find, in /etc/init.d, in /etc, in /etc/hotplug, in /etc/networking, any such script got the following lines in the beginning of the file:
echo "===< WLAN script xyz intentionally not running." exit 0
So the script could not do any harm.
Then after booting I "connected" the USB WLAN device (i.e. I turned it on) and evaled by hand the commands as written in the README file of the linux-wlan-ng source directory - one by one.
No error occurred.
I did not use WEP encryption in order to have fewer initial problems.
And it worked! (Internet access worked after setting an appropriate route.)
Then I set up my AP to use WEP.
I collected the WLAN setup commands into a script (I called it
It worked, and it works stable until today. Several weeks of hard use have proven the stability of this system.
Somewhere in the docu of linux-wlan-ng there it is written that the wlan0 device should be initialized as early as possible in the boot process, at least before the network machinery of Linux is started.
In my experience it should be the other way around: wlan0 and all wlan-ng commands should be called as late as possible or even better, as I do it, should be called when the entire system is up and running completely.
Maybe the difference comes from my device being a USB-connected device, in contrast to a PCMCIA-card. (?)
In late December I made up new softlinks in the Debian boot/init directories which now start up my WLAN automatically by calling the
I decided to do this because:
En detail: (for Debian - other distros use slightly different directories)
Here are the essential commands of my script, to be called after booting has finished, with superuser access rights (use sudo to be able to call it from user account)
#!/bin/sh # ws (wlan-start) # this script should initialize the GemTek WL-388 mini-USB WLAN module # firstname.lastname@example.org 2002-10-22 # using linux-wlan-ng-0.1.16-pre6 PATH=/sbin:$PATH modprobe prism2_usb prism2_doreset=1 wlanctl-ng wlan0 lnxreq_ifstate ifstate=enable wlanctl-ng wlan0 lnxreq_hostwep decrypt=true encrypt=true # for me this must be host-based encrypt. wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11WEPDefaultKeyID=2 # which WEP key to use wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11ExcludeUnencrypted=true wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11PrivacyInvoked=true wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11WEPDefaultKey0=<your:first:key:goes:here> wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11WEPDefaultKey1=<your:second:key:goes:here> wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11WEPDefaultKey2=<your:third:key:goes:here> wlanctl-ng wlan0 dot11req_mibset mibattribute=dot11WEPDefaultKey3=<your:fourth:key:goes:here> wlanctl-ng wlan0 lnxreq_autojoin "ssid=<your-ESSID-goes-here>" authtype="opensystem" #authtype should be "sharedkey" but that does not work for me ifconfig wlan0 192.168.1.50 # your local WLAN IP address route add default gw 192.168.1.1 # route to your router IP address
... On SuSE
Now that it turned out to be such easy:
I thought well let us do it on SuSE too.
Well, I did not have any success.
When evaluating the first command of the wlan driver, I get the infamous "implementation failure" message.
I still had no idea what could make the difference, except I have kernel 2.4.18 on SuSE and 2.4.19 on Debian, but that was not the problem.
... On Knoppix
The Knoppix distribution is a so-called live-CD, i.e. it should run straight from the CDROM without the need to install anything on the harddisk. Thus it is ideally suited to try out Linux on your friend's notebook or PC or even in a computer shop before buying a new machine. If Knoppix has problems to run you can assume any other distro will have some problems too, because the hardware detection of Knoppix is one of the best IMHO.
The Knoppix Linux-Live-CD v.3.1 "special edition c't" runs nicely on my X5 except for sound (the snd-via82xx-module seems to be missing). It contains the linux-wlan-ng drivers and modules, so after replugging the WLAN module and then calling my
Update Feb 06 2003:
Finally! Just read the hint in the linux-wlan-user mailing list to turn off usbdevfs in the SuSE kernel config because it conflicts with linux-wlan-ng somehow (only for SuSE, not for Debian).
(I should have read that hint on the very interesting homepage (Linux install. on X5) of Gerd Fleischer some time ago, but I overlooked its importance when I was just in the phase of learning how to compile a kernel...)
I switched off usbdevfs and recompiled, and violà! now my WLAN works with SuSE 8.0. Fine.
See my guestbook for someone who had success using SuSE 8.1.
Update Feb 10 2003:
Just succeeded in activating sound in Debian 3 with my own kernel. My installation is not really clean, because I did it as in the "Install" manual of the Alsa release. I used Alsa 0.9.0rc6 and that worked well. I did not build the deb packages, just compiled and installed the modules, then "set up" everything as explained in that "Install" text and in the Debian Alsa tutorial, and now I have a Linux with high quality sound running on my X5. Great.
Of course I turned on sound in the kismet_ui.conf file. There it is said there is an interface to the Festival speech synthesis software.
I installed Festival too, and now kismet talks to me, reading netword names of newly found access points.
Update Feb 12 2003:
I tried the SuSE 8.1 Live-CD on my X5 notebook. In contrast to the older SuSE 8.0 LifeCD or full version this evaluation-version has good sound, but after launching 4 to 7 application programs it hangs up, maybe it has not enough memory to breath.
Last winter I also tried to boot the "warlinux 0.5" live-CD distribution, but I could not make any use of it, especially I could not get my wlan module to work. The linux-wlan-ng kernel drivers are included, only the USB module is missing. The author of warlinux has emailed me he intends to include that
Update Feb 13 2003:
Now that my Debian installation has good sound, I could not resist to try the same Alsa release 0.9.0rc6 on my SuSE 8.0.
The release 0.9.0rc7 did not compile correctly (produced unresolved symbols), so I tried rc6 which compiled without any errors.
Update Feb 28 2003:
I recompiled both kernels (2.4.19 for Debian and 2.4.18 for SuSE) once again, adding support for serial line protocol in USB. I will need this when my already ordered USB-connected GPS-mouse finally arrives. Should be a nice wardriving kit together with the ingenious GPSDrive software.
Today I compiled a kernel driver module for a new ethernet card of my desktop system. The total time for installing the hardware PCI card, compiling and installing the driver (supplied on floppy) and configuring using YaST2 was under 10 minutes. I am quite proud about this (although actually it was my son Thomas who did the hardware part of this fast mini project).
Update Mar 11 2003:
Another minor glitch of my SuSE installation on the X5 notebook was most standard man pages refusing to open. I got some error messages about to few permissions and there were no man pages for... I have installed SuSE 8.0 on several desktop PCs and on none of these there is that man page problem. What happened here? I don't know and I could not find out.
Update April 20 2003:
The new Knoppix Live-CD v.3.2 runs as well on my X5 as the c't-edition (see above). But I was a bit disappointed to note sound is still not working (while the sound chip is detected correctly) and it is still using Kismet v. 2.6.2 (version 2.8.1 is current for a while). Also it is quite difficult to get Kismet configured, because its config files are in a read-only area. The best way would probably be to copy the config files into a writable directory and call the Kismet scripts with the options for different config file paths.
... and I am still waiting for
Update April 29 2003:
Oh, silly me. Just read in the Knoppix newsgroup to use the "alsa" boottime switch to enable sound. This works. (But the sound quality is as bad as it was for the plain SuSE 8.0 installation, good for alarm sounds but unusable for music listening.)
Update May 06 2003:
After my )(-trip to Graz I finally updated the flash firmware of my Gemtek mini-USB
WLAN module. The flashing was done in WinXP and worked just fine. After rebooting into Linux
at first I could not get any wireless connection. After some tries in SuSE and Debian suddenly the WLAN
worked as fine as before the upgrade. (I did not change any settings file...) So far so good.
Update May 12 2003:
After fighting against an upgrade problem in my Gnome/Debian installation for several days I decided to give up on Debian (for now) and give the new SuSE 8.2 a try on that partition. After all, the third partition was meant as a playground for checking out new distros. I put a separate page about SuSE 8.2 on the X5 force online.
Update June 12 2003:
One advantage of the firmware update is I now can let the WLAN-hardware do the WEP encryption. Unexpectedly the download transfer rate increased from about 280-300 KB/s to 340-360 KB/s, despite I have a relative fast processor. I just had to set the two hostbased-encrytion flags in the WLAN-config file to false.
Update June 16 2004: SuSE 9.1
I replaced the horribly instable SuSE 8.2 installation with a SuSE 9.1. I put a separate page about SuSE 9.1 on the X5 force online.
Update August 09 2004: Gentoo 2004.2
I replaced the trustworthy but outdated SuSE 8.0 installation with a brand new Gentoo 2004.2. A separate page about Gentoo on the X5 force is online.
Update October 21 2007: openSUSE 10.3
I replaced the older SuSE installation with the new openSUSE 10.3. (I still have the SUSE 10.0 installed on a second partition.) Installation of openSUSE went smoothly, very nice system. The one remaining problem, as always, was the internal WLAN module. YAST knew about it and asked me all the relevant data for configuring it, but in the end it did not work. I experimented a while than gave up. My trusty script ws from 2003 was copied and "installed" easily. YAST can now manage sudo entries, nice. So I go online per WLAN (WiFi) still with my ancient script, and it works great. Btw, openSUSE 10.3, which got some bad reviews lately, is IMHO the best SuSE ever, and I like it even better than the newest Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon, which is also a very good distro.
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2002-11-22 rudolf mittelmann
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