Ubuntu, Drivers, and IHVs: Learning from Sierra

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Few recent posts have triggered as much offline discussion as my recent piece discussing Greg Kroah-Hartman’s presentation calling out Canonical on their lack of contributions. One of the interesting areas of pushback I received was with respect to open source drivers.

My basic contention was that the influx of new users (brought, in part, by Ubuntu) into the Linux community gave OEMs and IHVs alike new incentive to provide either open source or open source compatible drivers. Where someone like Sierra Wireless might have been little inclined to service the tiny pre-Ubuntu Linux desktop market, the increasing adoption – not to mention mainstream OEM validation – of Ubuntu perhaps changed that equation somewhat. It’s all about volume, remember. One of my correspondents, however, argued that the involvement of Intel preceded the introduction of Ubuntu.

Be that as it may, I stand by my original assertion that the new users that Ubuntu is bringing to Linux are beneficial not just for the distribution but all distributions, in part because of the influence they might wield on driver providers. The fact that this, for example, was possible I regard as attributable, at least in part, to the volume that Ubuntu contributed to.

Still, if my recent experience with Ericsson is any indication, there is much that some device manufacturers have yet to learn about interfacing with open source users.

Ericsson is the manufacturer, you might have read, of the WWAN card in my brand new Lenovo Thinkpad X301. Specifically, I’ve got a F3507g HSPA card on board, which connects to AT&T’s EDGE or 3G networks as they’re available.

Or it would, if it worked.

Sadly, unlike Sierra Wireless, Ericsson’s driver is not present in the Linux kernel by default. Which wouldn’t be a huge issue – it’s not that difficult to insert a driver – if it could be found. Because Ericsson’s own datasheet (PDF warning) asserts that there is a Linux driver available, I took the opportunity to contact Ericsson to inquire as to its location – Google having failed to turn it up. To Ericsson’s credit, I did receive a reply. Unfortunately, however, it was of no particular use:

We unfortunately do not have a direct sales or support to end customer. Our suggestion is for the customer to contact the company (Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba or LG) from whom he bought his laptop to obtain the updated driver.

The answer clearly misunderstood my original inquiry: I’m not looking for support of any kind – I can rely on the community for that. I just wanted a pointer to the driver. Lenovo, who may or may not be decommitting from Linux, was no more help than Ericsson, as its support site serves up only Windows drivers. Leaving me, unfortunately, with a non-functional WWAN card.

Hope is not lost quite yet, because it may be that an ndiswrapper solution will permit the usage of the card using the Windows driver. But questions remain: is there, in fact, a Linux driver? If so, where? And who can look into these questions on both sides.

It’s undeniably true that large corporations like Ericsson and Lenovo have to be careful with drivers and issues of support: you don’t need to look any further than this bug to understand that the implications can be severe. But it would also be useful for these firms to understand that Linux users, typically, are not asking for support – they just want the drivers. Firms that make a minimal effort to produce them need guarantee neither support nor warranty.

Sierra, for its part, seems to get this. As evidence, consider the disclaimer they apply to the page where they make their open source drivers available:

This guide is unsupported and is provided to the Linux user community as a courtesy. This document and associated drivers, scripts, and executable files are provided by Sierra Wireless “AS IS” without warranty of any kind.

Perfect. Give me the bits, and I’ll figure the rest out myself. I have before, anyway.

My hope is that with the continuing adoption of Ubuntu – along with Fedora, OpenSuSE, and netbooks of all shapes and sizes – more OEMs and IHVs will learn that lesson. The lesson that says that there are more and more non-Mac/Windows devices out there, and the community generally provide the support necessary to get them working…if they have the drivers.

I hope Ericsson, in particular, learns this. Because I want my F3507g driver.

One comment

  1. To use the GSM module see my posts in this thread:

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