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Running without wires

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With the 802.11b standard, reasonably fast wireless networking support is now available from many vendors.

With 802.11b, wireless networking supports 11 Mbps, or slightly more than the speed of the old wired 10 Base-T Ethernet. Most wired Ethernet runs at more than 100 Mbps. Even so, with most users running connections to the Internet at less than 1 Mbps, wireless support for 11 Mbps is not all that bad.

Wireless networking cards are easy to come by. All the major network card manufacturers, including D-Link, Linksys, and SMC, all sell wireless 802.11b cards.

Virtually all these vendors provide Windows drivers for their cards. Many also support Linux drivers. Thus far, the Linux situation has been difficult. Most wireless networking cards are PC Cards designed for notebooks. In a really strange twist, the PCI cards for desktop computers are often PC Cards stuck into some sort of adapter or bridge card. In fact, a number of card vendors require you to purchase a PC Card as well as a separate PCI holder to support a desktop computer. You then place the PC Card into the PCI holder.

All of this mess makes Linux support more difficult, especially for Linux on desktop systems. That’s because you have to install Linux PC Card services along with the network card support. For most users, that’s two strange installations, along with the potential for having to build your own custom Linux kernel. This makes many users ready to flee for the hills, although the process is not all that hard. Recent Linux distributions, though, have improved the situation greatly. For example, Red Hat Linux 7.2, and SuSE Linux 7.3 both provide greater support for wireless networking, allowing users to set up at installation time, running each distribution’s friendly installation program.

You can find out a lot more about Linux support for various wireless cards. There’s also a good article that goes through setting up a wireless network.

In addition, just about every wireless network card vendor has some form of Linux driver available. The Linux WaveLAN project (named after the Lucent WaveLAN wireless networking cards) provides a lot of useful tips, including a nice hardware compatibility chart. Most popular wireless cards use the WaveLAN driver for Linux.

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