Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Desktop BSD Day 7 – Fooling around

I am down with a cold and that leaves me with little energy to do much else than to click around aimlessly. Mind you, there is still a lot you can learn that way. I realized that I forgot to test the DesktopBSD cd in live mode on my laptop. I wondered whether it would recognize my wifi.

Going live on the laptop

The laptop is an Acer Aspire 3681 WXMi. Not exactly top of the line, but hey, I got it almost for free with a new mobile phone subscription. The on-board wifi is based on the ‘infamous’ Broadcom chipset. I got Ubuntu 7.04 working with it by using the restricted drivers tool. Some other information: it’s a dual boot laptop with both Windows XP and Ubuntu 7.04, a separate restore partition and a data partition. It has 512 Mb RAM and a 1,46 Ghz Intel Celeron M Processor 410.

Booting the DesktopBSD live cd was easy enough. It recommended a 1024 x 768 resolution which is not bad for this laptop. The live desktop was again very responsive. Nothing sluggish, no slow startup of programs, so no complaints there.

Wifi didn’t work out of the box though, but this shouldn’t be a surprise to the more experienced open source friends. In the DesktopBSD forum there is this post about this issue. It refers to the FreeBSD Laptop Compatibility List and it’s not a bad idea to check that one out before you actually install DesktopBSD.

While clicking and browsing through the DesktopBSD forums I found various references to ndisgen. A quote

DesktopBSD contains the FreeBSD tool ndisgen, which also uses the NDIS interface to generate a DesktopBSD/FreeBSD driver from the Windows driver’s .INI and .SYS files.

A step by step tutorial on how to use ndisgen can be found here and here. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks similar to ndiswrapper.

Some other observations

After this I played around with some music and video files and was glad to see it all worked without a glitch. I was impressed with the video performance. I fired up a 700 Mb xvid files in VLC and it was smooth. The next experiment was to mount the various partitions on the internal hard drive.

Mount Control noticed all the internal partitions. It couldn’t recognize the filesystem for the restore partition and labelled all other partitions as FAT. Considering that the Linux partitions are both swap and ext3 I found that quite odd. The two Windows partitions are FAT32. I could mount both of them, after which they wound up under /media using generic FAT names. The labels (with more descriptive names) I have given to the partitions were not recognized or used (where Ubuntu for instance uses those labels without a problem). Then I added the external hard drive (60 Gb) and could use it moments after that.

Comparing DesktopBSD to Ubuntu 7.10

I decided to reboot the laptop with the most recent Ubuntu version, just to make a brief comparison. The Ubuntu cd takes a lot longer to load the live desktop. As expected, wifi didn’t work out-of-the-box, though the restricted drivers tool did recognize the necessity for the broadcom driver. No MP3 support or Xvid support either. Ubuntu 7.10 comes with Compiz Fusion enabled, but I was still surprised to see elements of it on the live desktop. It does make for some great looking spit-and-shine.

Comparing the two live cd’s I would definitely prefer to have DesktopBSD with me on the road over Ubuntu, but – and I can only repeat my remarks of yesterday- only if it is enhanced with an Office suite and a personal information manager. For now, it is back to bed.

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