Friday, August 8, 2008

Linux Kernel news: Wlan and Webcams for everyone


At the Ottawa Linux symposium the current state of Wlan in Linux was highlighted in detail. In the meantime, the development version of the Linux kernel included the gspca webcam drivers.

Wlan in Linux

The Ottawa Linux Smyposium was at the end of July and dealt with all kinds of Linux (kernel) related topics. Heise’s Thorsten Leemhuis made an excellent review in German about the main topics of the symposium, and you also find detailed background information at the symposium archive and at the proceedings page.

One topic which struck me was the current state of Wlan in Linux: Wlan in Linux was horrible and broken for years. Or, to cite a Linux Wlan developer: “Linux was a wireless Lan ghetto.” But it changed a year ago when the new Wlan stack mac80211 was integrated into the mainline kernel. Since then, things have improved very much, and today Wlan on Linux is not the number one problem any more. In fact, given that even Atheros now officially supports Linux by hiring the main Atheros Open Source driver developer the number of not-supported devices on Linux is shrinking every day.

But there are still some interesting points on the ToDo-list of the Wlan kernel developers. The main point it the new API for userland applications to access the hardware: CFG80211. It will provide a much cleaner, saner and more usable API to the userland applications, hopefully resulting in much easier to maintain Wlan programs (think of wpa_supplicant here for example). Given that the old API, the Wirelesss Ectensions where hardly extensible themselves, the new API is developed to be easily maintainable and also extensible for future features.

Besides the new API there will also be support for Access Point Mode and Mesh Networking. With the new Wlan stack it should be possible to bring these features to all mac80211 supported devices at once. Together with sufficient userland devices sit should be only two or three clicks away in the future to provide others Wlan internet access when a Linux box has a Wlan card and is itself connected to the internet via ethernet.

Mesh Networking will provide that even automatically if needed.

In the future the developers will also focus on low-level features like power management, power saving and suspend/resume support. The main problem are still some vendors which don’t bother providing even basic Linux support. Most notable seems to be Broadcom which has good LAN hardware support, but zero Wlan support.

Here, as usually, money and user feedback create pressure! There are many Linux friendly companies out there these days, like Intel, Atheros and Realtek.

Webcams in Linux

Webcams on Linux were not working in the last years. To bring them up users (or sometimes the distributors) had to install the drivers manually - that was still the casee on recent distributions like Fedora 8.

However, at least the situation was overseeable: for most of the webcams one of two drivers was working, gspca or uvc.

However, the drivers were not included due to various reasons and problems with the sub-system. But in April rumors came up that uvc wil land in the mainline kernel soon - and it did in June already.

Now gspca was also added to the current development tree, meaning that the next kernel will indeed ship with the gspca driver on board.

For users that means that future kernels, and therefore future distributions, will all ship with drivers supporting hundreds and thousands of Webcams out of the box! Also, since the drivers are now wide spread new webcam applications can be expected soon.

But again, some vendors are not playing nice here, and do not provide any documentation and do not even follow the UVC standard. Decide with you money, and be sure to by a webcam of a Linux friendly company like Logitech.


Complete Story


Sign up for PayPal and start accepting credit card payments instantly.
ILoveTux - howtos and news | About | Contact | TOS | Policy