I've managed to horde a fairly decent selection of USB adapters using a variety of Realtek, Ralink and Atheros based dongles with a history of ongoing stable wireless compatibility. My two main portable devices expand on this with integrated Intel and Atheros chipsets for much needed 802.11n goodness. So no complaints there.
Unfortunately, many folks trying to install Ubuntu on those "made for Windows notebooks" aren't as lucky. Many of these individuals find Ubuntu (among other distros) relying too heavily on NDISWrapper for their problem wireless devices. More often than not, this approach leads to disastrous results, with people left to fend for themselves, often posting their frustrations to the Ubuntu forums. Let me tell you, these rants have not diminished with time. Not one single bit.
Now I realize this isn't the fault of the Ubuntu distro. Ubuntu and desktop Linux as a collective have bent over backwards to support as many devices as possible. After all, there's great native wireless support provided out of the box. So kudos to the developers for making this possible.
Sadly though, no one in their right mind can make heads or tails out of what devices are actually going to work due to the nature of the 802.11 standard. Wireless devices rely too heavily on revision numbers. This fact alone makes keeping up a usable hardware compatibility list (HCL) for wireless dongles completely useless.
And the Ubuntu wireless compatibility list demonstrates just how pointless this truly is, with flying colors.
What's the solution then? In my view the most logical approach are Ubuntu branded Atheros- and Ralink-based dongles. I have spoken to one dongle vendor that does indeed use compatible chipsets. The possibility for consistency does exists. We simply need a "big brand" company to step up and distribute the devices.
Canonical, are you listening? I'm not looking for corporate platitudes, instead I just want answers. Before you put your core user base on the back-burner to pursue mobile computing dreams, how about addressing this glaring issue first? Perhaps there is no real motivation to care?
QT, wireless and tablets
The more I dug around looking into what I think Canonical's motivations are for the future of Ubuntu, the more I began to see what I think is a shift in the way the distro aims to work.
Pre-bundled netbook/tablet wireless support, check.
Netbook/Tablet focus, check.
A focus on a move to QT that meets with the company's new vision of mobile usability, check.
Nothing listed above is necessarily wrong. What Canonical has done with Ubuntu is an amazing feat in itself. Their accomplishments deserve to be celebrated. I throughly enjoy using Ubuntu. So don't take any part of this as "Ubuntu bashing." Instead consider this commentary a reality check of things to come. If I am wrong, then let's consider the following instead.
I'd like some reassurances that the ridiculous state of wireless device consistency finally gets some attention. Tackling this with the Windows-only wireless vendors has clearly failed. It's time for a handful of Ubuntu-branded dongles for users without working integrated wireless.
If that isn't going to work, then fine. How about finding more companies like Edimax with their Ralink devices? And with no revision numbers and consistent Linux support. In theory, this should be a good match. Too bad I'm still having to compile proper functionality with 802.11n devices, as the drivers provided in Ubuntu are non-functional. Then for everyone else, let them fuel their addiction to NDISWrapper.
About the software
Refocusing ourselves once again on those QT libraries to be offered with Ubuntu, I cannot help but wonder about GTK-themed software. Will my default personal information manager remain Evolution or will we see a slow shift to its KDE counterpart?
Will we begin to see a hybrid of the Ubuntu/Kubuntu projects meshed together in some kind of Frankenstein-like experiment? As a plain-old end user, these are questions I would like more clarification on.
If history is a decent teacher, I'd suggest the possibility that everything will come out fine in the end. Despite my own gripes about how Ubuntu developers handle QT or the legacy issues not yet resolved, the fact is they clearly have managed to make things work pretty darned well.
Hopefully this continues and with any luck, the addition of QT means more shared success for the end user and the developers alike. If tablets are where Ubuntu's future is headed, let's hope it's a bright path being blazed ahead.