Choosing hardware that works with Ubuntu


Choosing hardware that works in Ubuntu is typically viewed as a challenge, and usually only learned about after your first mistake. In this session we'll share a few easy rules to follow when shopping around for new hardware or troubleshooting existing one. How can you quickly find out if it works or if there's any chance it will ?

Your instructor: Fabián Rodríguez

I work at Canonical's Global Support Services center in Montreal, Canada as a senior support analyst and technical trainer since November 2006. The scope of my works includes hardware, desktop and server support issues, as well as training support partners on how to best tackle those. I am mostly interested in free technologies advocacy (including formats, content, licencing) & training for new users, with an emphasis on security.

About me:

Course Structure

  • Ubuntu Why does my hardware run fine on Windows / Mac OSX / etc. ?

    Ubuntu What hardware is guaranteed to work with Ubuntu ?

    Ubuntu DO your research, vote with your money

    • Ubuntu Known freedom friendly/unfriendly manufacturers

      Ubuntu Relying on official sources: Ubuntu info vs. Manufacturer's info ("Linux")

      Ubuntu Relying on public accounts of "this works": the good, the bad & the ugly

      Ubuntu Sharing success & defeat

    Ubuntu Five essential rules you can't break when testing hardware

    • Ubuntu Don't break your system

      Ubuntu Search effectively: bugs, forums, blogs,

      Ubuntu Getting professional vs. community help

      Ubuntu Contributing back: bug reports & public sharing of information

      Ubuntu The ultra-secret, mega-testing, extra-sweet testing weapon: The Live CD

    Ubuntu Q and A

Session Logs

   1 === pleia2 changed the topic of #ubuntu-classroom to: Ubuntu Classroom || Ubuntu User Days | Current Session: Choosing hardware that will work with Ubuntu ~~ Presented by MagicFab || Please ask questions in #ubuntu-classroom-chat || Ubuntu User Days Survey:
   2 [19:00] <nigelbabu> Thanks mhall119 for that wonderful session
   3 [19:01] <nigelbabu> next up is MagicFab with a session on Choosing hardware that works with Ubuntu
   4 [19:02] <nigelbabu> Fabián work at Canonical's Global Support Services center in Montreal, Canada as a senior support analyst and technical trainer since November 2006.
   5 [19:03] <nigelbabu> The scope of his works includes hardware, desktop and server support issues, as well as training support partners on how to best tackle those.
   6 [19:03] <MagicFab> inasec
   7 [19:03] <nigelbabu> He is mostly interested in free technologies advocacy (including formats, content, licensing) & training for new users, with an emphasis on security.
   8 [19:03] <nigelbabu> well, MagicFab is going to take a minute.  During that time I'd like to remind you all about the attacks again!
   9 [19:04] <nigelbabu> Please do not click any links that say about the attacks and promise to give more information
  10 [19:04] <nigelbabu> and when you get the time, do answer the survey at
  11 [19:05] <MagicFab> Ok, I take a glass of water and brb in 1
  12 [19:06] <nigelbabu> As you all know, there is a Spanish version of Ubuntu User Day and MagicFab just finished a class there.
  13 [19:07] <MagicFab> OK let's roll :) nigelbabu tx for the intro
  14 [19:07] <MagicFab> My session today is described at:
  15 [19:08] <MagicFab> You'll find contact info too, in case anything remains unclear/unanswered
  16 [19:08] <MagicFab> And just to be SUPER CLEAR: this will NOT be about troubleshooting, but rather how to buy your hardware so you don't have to troubleshoot ANYTHING :)
  17 [19:09] <MagicFab> and also understanding why your  existing hardware doesn't work (if/when it doesn't)
  18 [19:09] <MagicFab> Questions welcome ANYTIME
  19 [19:10] <MagicFab> In my daily work at support I often get support cases that have this remark: "BTW, my hardware run fine on Windows / Mac OSX ."
  20 [19:10] <MagicFab> runs8
  21 [19:10] <MagicFab> runs*
  22 [19:10] <MagicFab> :)
  23 [19:10] <MagicFab> So I want to start with that misconception.
  24 [19:11] <MagicFab> It's important to know why this has nothing to do with the same hardware working in Ubuntu (or in general, Linux)
  25 [19:11] <MagicFab> I often politely say "ok, so we know it's not broken" ! .. which may be useful to know anyways... well..
  26 [19:12] <MagicFab> The fact is all hardware that work on Windows or Mac and lists it under its requirements most likely came with drivers for it. Would you expect a wheel designed for a Hummer to fit on your bicycle ?
  27 [19:12] <MagicFab> Or would you expect to be able to call Hummer/GM/whoever and have a "workaround" in five minutes ?
  28 [19:13] <MagicFab> Ok, I know this example is not exactly fitting :) But you get the idea. Ubuntu and Linux in general relies on the idea that whatever has open specs and documentation that can be freely shared and implemented without patent/legal constraints will be - if there is demand for it.
  29 [19:13] <pleia2> Question - possible suggest notebook will support best for ubuntu ?
  30 [19:13] <MagicFab> When hardware manufacturers don't make their specs open & legal to implement, that's when you're most likely to find compatibility problems. Nowadays most situations when this happens are known and manufacturers that support Linux (or not) are not difficult to spot.
  31 [19:14] <MagicFab> pleia2, I will get to that very shortly :)
  32 [19:14] <pleia2> < LuizAquino> Question - Does Ubuntu comes with, by default, some GUI tool to know our hardware?
  33 [19:14] <MagicFab> LuizAquino, yes it's called the LiveCD. I'll get to that at the very end :) It's the secret weapon to test BEFORE you buy.
  34 [19:14] <MagicFab> Most importantly, manufacturers historically target Windows or Mac depending on what will be more profitable to them. Remember those are *business relationships* which means even if there may not be technical obstacles to make their devices compatible with Linux, the economic incentive may just not be there.
  35 [19:15] <MagicFab> or economic * capability *.
  36 [19:15] <MagicFab> Nevermind the offer to do this for free (thanks for the reminder andresmujica):
  37 [19:15] <MagicFab>
  38 [19:16] <MagicFab> Some companies just can't afford (in every sense of the term) to do so.
  39 [19:16] <pleia2> < somnoliento> QUESTION What role (if any) should Canonical have in "bugging" hardware makers for support?
  40 [19:16] <MagicFab> Can they afford not to support Ubuntu ? *THAT* is why it's important you *always* let a manufacturer know you are using Ubuntu (or just "Linux") with their devices. Every email/call/public post counts.
  41 [19:18] <MagicFab> somnoliento, honestly Canonical is only an enabler. The community votes with their money. The manufacturers respond or not. The nice thing right now is we can at least say there is *some* business to get from +10 million users...
  42 [19:18] <MagicFab> And by *only* I mean getting companies like Dell to ship pre-installed :) That's one area of focus :D
  43 [19:19] <MagicFab> So I'll start with that notion. --> "DO your research, vote with your money"
  44 [19:19] <MagicFab> What hardware is guaranteed to work with Ubuntu ? ?
  45 [19:19] <MagicFab> Right now Canonical offers *systems* certification (NOT component-only).
  46 [19:20] <MagicFab> This means you can easily check if a server, desktop or laptop is certified or not. Components, are a bit trickier.
  47 [19:20] <MagicFab> So your first stop, and this answers the previous netbook recommendation question, should be:
  48 [19:20] <MagicFab> Knowing your official docs may help tremendously when looking at components + systems recommendations...
  49 [19:21] <MagicFab> For example
  50 [19:21] <MagicFab>
  51 [19:21] <MagicFab> and
  52 [19:21] <MagicFab> if you come from Windows...
  53 [19:21] <MagicFab>
  54 [19:22] <MagicFab> A loooot more resources exist. But those are what I'd call "official" as far as *Ubuntu* is concerned. Sure, most things that work in "any linux" will work in Ubuntu.
  55 [19:22] <MagicFab> So other sites help there
  56 [19:22] <MagicFab>
  57 [19:22] <MagicFab> is one of them.
  58 [19:22] <MagicFab> So who can you trust ?
  59 [19:22] <MagicFab> Public accounts of "this works" are incredibly useful. For example look at this one:
  60 [19:22] <MagicFab>
  61 [19:24] <MagicFab> This is an important part of the search & buy process - just like any other goods you'd buy! So many times i hear someone saying they bought this expensive printer... without even checking first!
  62 [19:24] <MagicFab> Relying on public accounts of "this works" is crucial in that respect. But it's not enough- make sure they don't date back 3 years :D
  63 [19:24] <MagicFab> Which brings me to another important part of that process: Relying on official sources: Ubuntu info vs. Manufacturer's info ("Linux")
  64 [19:25] <MagicFab> I mentioned before ** contact your manufacturer, ask about Ubuntu/Linux support **
  65 [19:25] <MagicFab> You'd be surprised how many have unofficial support (or don't know about it)!
  66 [19:26] <MagicFab> Here's a test - call Canon... They may not know about it but they have this nice resource:
  67 [19:26] <MagicFab>
  68 [19:26] <MagicFab> Unfortunately it's not free software. And it's not trivial to install. At least not "the Ubuntu way" - so what to do ?
  69 [19:26] <MagicFab> Vote with your money.
  70 [19:26] <MagicFab> This means, know your manufacturer.
  71 [19:27] <MagicFab> Some are recognized for strong support and easy access to bugtrackers, docs, engineers (some even send their peoiple to the Ubuntu Dev Summit!)
  72 [19:27] <MagicFab> Dell, HP (for printers), Intel are some of them.
  73 [19:27] <MagicFab> Atheros too.
  74 [19:27] <MagicFab> Some are not, but they use standard components...
  75 [19:28] <MagicFab> from Intel, Atheros... :) You get the idea.
  76 [19:28] <MagicFab> Some other are really AGAINST supporting Linux (as per their own word).
  77 [19:28] <MagicFab> Logitech, for example is one of them.
  78 [19:29] <MagicFab> Some others are in another area: they'll support Linux but won't make it easy/legal to check their specs and work publically
  79 [19:29] <MagicFab> Nvidia, VIA... are some of them. Broadcomm too.
  80 [19:29] <pleia2> < davbran> QUESTION - Can we expect to see Linux support stickers in the future, similar to those we see for other OSes?
  81 [19:30] <MagicFab> In such cases sometimes a business arrangement may make things work - in other not. Bottom line if you buy a desktop with VIa graphics, broadcomm and a Lexmark printer... don't wonder why it requires major work.
  82 [19:30] <MagicFab> davbran, we're already seing Linux among specs
  83 [19:31] <MagicFab> for example
  84 [19:31] <MagicFab> stickers on systems ? I don't know, that only a tiny part of what I'd check
  85 [19:32] <MagicFab> Samsung for example and Brother advertize "we support LInux". The fact is they provide binary only drivers that hardly are "plug n play". Why bother ?
  86 [19:33] <MagicFab> For example look at this bug:
  87 [19:33] <MagicFab>
  88 [19:33] <MagicFab> Do you see anyone from Brother there ?
  89 [19:33] <MagicFab> Compare that to this:
  90 [19:33] <MagicFab>
  91 [19:33] <pleia2> < davbran> QUESTION - Follow Up, I didn't mean system so much. Some of us are more tech saavy than others and research. Some look for the sticker on component packaging.
  92 [19:34] <MagicFab> So in essence, many vendors already have a strong (or no) reputation and an excellent (or weak) support track for Linux/Ubuntu. Ask about that. I only named a few.
  93 [19:34] <MagicFab> I'll repeat this again: the only way to change that is to let them know you want(ed) to use heir product on Ubuntu, but it's not possible.
  94 [19:35] <Pendulum> < lielf> QUESTION: How do I know the driver for linux supports 64 bit?
  95 [19:35] <MagicFab> lielf you ASK the manufacturer! See ? This is what I was saying. We are programmed to rely only on the community. THat is just wrong.
  96 [19:36] <MagicFab> :) I am not complaining... but we need to be better at this and include the manufacturers in the discussion.
  97 [19:37] <MagicFab> lielf the technical answer to your question depends - but iun my experience ALL open source drivers support 64 bit unless some very specific would block them from doing so.
  98 [19:38] <MagicFab> At the opposite side, something with a binary  only driver needs to have a 64-bit build provided by... the manufacturer. So you need to ask them anyways.
  99 [19:38] <MagicFab> Sharing success & defeat is my last point in this "Search & vot w/money" section
 100 [19:39] <Pendulum> < ehlim> QuestionL will ubuntu have own - inhouse hardware in the future, just like other cybergiant like brand A , and brand G you know what i mean
 101 [19:39] <MagicFab> ONce you've had success (or have been defeated) trying to get your hardwrae to work... report that!
 102 [19:39] <MagicFab> It may be as long & detailed as Jorge's post which I cited before:
 103 [19:39] <MagicFab>
 104 [19:40] <MagicFab> or as short as this microblogging post:
 105 [19:40] <MagicFab>
 106 [19:40] <Pendulum> < oskude> QUESTION - but there is a way to run 32bit drivers in 64bit system ? or does this only work for "user space" applications ?
 107 [19:40] <MagicFab> Remember, Google and other search engines rely on this information being posted somewhere public! So share as much as you can
 108 [19:41] <MagicFab> Pendulum, there may be a way. But this is not about troubleshooting. This is about choosing the hardware so you don't end up asking yourself that type of question.
 109 [19:43] <MagicFab> Pendulum, honestly I answer much more questions about 32 bit software <-> 64 bit OS. I can't remember (in 3 years of full time support) having a customer asking about 32 bit drivers in 64 bit Ubuntu.
 110 [19:44] <MagicFab> oskude (sorry I had the wrong nick) if you have a specific example maybe I can tackle it, I am almost done (~10min)
 111 [19:45] <MagicFab> Now I'll explain my "Five essential rules you can't break when testing / shopping for hardware"
 112 [19:45] <MagicFab> - Number one, try not to break your system (if you're testing existing hardware).
 113 [19:46] <_marx_> 15 minutes
 114 [19:46] <MagicFab> Don't blindly follow "compile this, sudo that, run this" instructions you find on the web. DOuble check if there isn't a package already, rely on the few links I posted before
 115 [19:46] <MagicFab> Ask about others "How can I check if my / XYZ scanner works in Ubuntu" ? Your local team mailing list /channel may know this simple answer.
 116 [19:47] <MagicFab> Use another hard disk, a new partition, or bring your system to the vendor (easy with laptops, not so with servers) - limit physicial "bare-metal " installs
 117 [19:48] <MagicFab> Takes notes! And backup your config files when playing with them. Perhaps even ask the poster of such solutions how to revert them ?
 118 [19:48] <MagicFab> Check the dates - as i said before, a 3yr old blog post will probably do more damage than good :)
 119 [19:49] <MagicFab> This brings me to another point: Search effectively: bugs, forums, blogs
 120 [19:49] <MagicFab> Yes, I'll repeat this, check that the HowTo you're following matches your UBuntu version! Obvious, but often disregarded.
 121 [19:50] <_marx_> 10 minutes
 122 [19:50] <MagicFab> Check their author. Do they regularly blog about solutions ? If this is a server issue... and this person is part of the server team... would you trust them more ? :)
 123 [19:50] <MagicFab> _marx_, roger that
 124 [19:50] <MagicFab> - Getting professional vs. community help
 125 [19:51] <MagicFab> In my position as a senior support analyst and technical trainer... I am amazed many people have absolutely no idea they can pay for support & help
 126 [19:51] <MagicFab> - Ask your local team and fellow users if there's a consultant or a friendly shop that would accept to help professionally
 127 [19:53] <MagicFab> - If your business (or your reputation :) depend on it, consider Canonical support. At plans starting at ~U$60/year for unlimited support, it's worth considering in some cases.
 128 [19:53] <MagicFab> - When you get community help, set your expectations right: be courteous and pacient, after all many volunteers do that in ther spare time.
 129 [19:53] <MagicFab> Last but not least..
 130 [19:53] <MagicFab> the SECRET WEAPON!!!!
 131 [19:54] <MagicFab> It's called the LiveCD. I got a question earlier that asked if we had " some GUI tool to know our hardware?"
 132 [19:54] <MagicFab> The Ubuntu LiveCD is very easy to carry around. In fact I don't carry a LIve CD anymore but a business card USB bootable Ubuntu
 133 [19:54] <Pendulum> < IdleOne> MagicFab: just the other day in #ubuntu we had a user complaining about the "paid support" he says he was told that they would not help him
 134 [19:55] <Pendulum>                  because the application he wanted help with was not supported.
 135 [19:55] <MagicFab>
 136 [19:56] <MagicFab> IdleOne, I'd welcome that person to call me directly. Yes, we get many people calling us directly expecting free support. We can't possible scale that :)
 137 [19:56] <MagicFab> IdleOne, yes, would you call Microsoft to get Linux support ? Amazingly, we get those calls too.
 138 [19:56] <MagicFab> Here's the FSF bootable card:
 139 [19:56] <MagicFab>
 140 [19:57] <MagicFab> Carrying a USB stick with Ubuntu to your local shop and asking nicely to test the system/ component you want to buy is often easy.
 141 [19:57] <MagicFab> Most computer techs I 've asked this to accept gladly (FutureSHop, Best Buy, etc)
 142 [19:57] <MagicFab> and they understand it's best to let someone test than to deal with a return
 143 [19:58] <MagicFab> Oh yes, ALWAYS shop in places wher eyou can easily return stuff. I realize this is easy mostly only in NorthAmerica... but it's a good tool too.
 144 [19:58] <Pendulum> < IdleOne> QUESTION: I guess what I wanted to know is if the Canonical support covers all software available in the repositories?
 145 [19:58] <MagicFab> IdleOne, no we don't. Call me and I'll elaborate.
 146 [19:59] <MagicFab> So thanks everyon for your time and patience, I hope at least some of what I shared is useful :)
 147 [19:59] <Pendulum> < jazz__> QUESTION: if itll work on a live cd or a usbflash drive, it should work?
 148 [19:59] <MagicFab> My direct phone number is at - honestly I'll answer all questions about this if anyone want to call (weekdays) :)
 149 [19:59] <MagicFab> Cheers!!
 150 [20:00] <MagicFab> jazz_, correct, in fact we often do taht as part of troubelshooting
 151 [20:00] <cjohnston> Thank you MagicFab!
 152 [20:00] <cjohnston> Up next we have duanedesign..
 153 [20:00] <MagicFab> Forgot to mention I am off (holiday) next Mo, Tu, so Wed onwards is best
 154 [20:00]  * MagicFab waves
 155 [20:01] <duanedesign> thank you cjohnston

UserDays/01232010/ChoosingHardwareThatWorks (last edited 2010-01-24 00:28:05 by alderaan)