01 January 2009

Playing with Wubi and Improved Broadcom Wireless Support in Ubuntu Linux

Since I had didn't have to work for most of New Year's Eve, I got a chance to install Ubuntu Linux using Wubi on my April 2004-vintage Dell Windows XP desktop PC (which is now a dual-boot system with Windows XP and Ubuntu 8.10 on it).

Wubi comes with Ubuntu Linux as a built-in feature on the Live CD installation disk since Ubuntu 8.04 and is useful for anyone who wants to try out Ubuntu Linux while also using Windows for the following reasons:
  1. Current Windows setup remains unchanged (Wubi only adds an extra option to boot into Ubuntu during system startup and Windows remains the default operating system).
  2. Wubi does not require you to modify the partitions of your PC or to use a different bootloader. It does not install special drivers.
  3. Wubi installs from the Ubunti "Live CD" disk just like any other Windows-based application.
  4. Wubi is spyware and malware free, and being open source, anyone can verify that.
  5. Wubi keeps most of the files in one folder (doesn't clutter the hard drive with software "debris") and can be easily uninstalled like any other Windows-based application.
This means that Wubi is a very easy way for a Windows user to experiment with Ubuntu Linux with very little risk. All one needs to do is log into Windows, insert the Ubuntu Live CD, and following the on-screen instructions for installing Wubi and Ubuntu Linux.

All you need is to run Ubuntu with Wubi is 256 megs of RAM, 5 gigabytes of available hard drive space, and a computer currently running Windows (Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista supported). Additionally, you have total access to your Windows-created documents -- the rest of the "C" hard drive is available in the "/host" directory for browsing. User documents are available in the "/host/Documents and Settings" folder.

If you don't like using Ubuntu Linux through Wubi, just reboot into Windows and uninstall Wubi. Everything is back to normal.

Here's a brief description of what Wubi is from Wikipedia:
Wubi (Windows-based Ubuntu Installer) is an official Windows-based free software installer for Ubuntu.
The goal of the project is to assist a Windows user unacquainted with Linux in trying Ubuntu without risking any loss of information due to disk formatting or partitioning. Wubi can also uninstall Ubuntu from within Windows.
Since my wireless card was an Linksys 802.11b/g card (Linksys WMP 54G PCI card) with a Broadcom chip set, I knew that the wireless internet on this computer would not work initially and I would need to connect this PC to the internet using a wired connection to get the Ubuntu side of this PC on the internet.

Broadcom has been reluctant to assist the open-source community with hardware drivers and this can make setting up wireless internet a real chore on a Linux PC. This has changed with the recent release of linux drivers for Broadcom wireless chipsets.

Borrowing 50 feet of 10/100Base-T ethernet cable from work (left in my office from a co-worker's project), I was able to install Ubuntu Linux through Wubi, patch my system with the latest updates, and (most importantly) install the restricted drivers for using my wireless card with very little effort. Getting wireless working was easier than installing multimedia drivers during this installation.

Given the large number of laptop and desktop PCs using Broadcom wireless chipsets, this improved Broadcom wireless support is very useful. This means that churches and other non-profits will be able to better use older computer hardware donated to them - the old laptop that was donated may now be usable for a staff person or volunteer who needs a laptop for word processing, email, web surfing, etc using wi-fi.

The only hardware hiccup that I had to deal with was the Dell OEM Soundblaster Live audio card. I couldn't get this sound card to work using Ubuntu Linux but I can get sound out of the integrated audio on the computer motherboard which is good enough sound for my purposes.

Update: After rebooting into Windows XP, I discovered that I was getting no sound in Windows. To fix this, I downloaded the integrated audio hardware driver from Dell's web site, installed this software, removed the Soundblaster software, and disabled the Dell OEM Soundblaster hardware.

Since the integrated audio hardware works for both Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP, I will use the integrated audio hardware instead of the Soundblaster hardware.

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