September 13, 2010, 10:35 AM — Wireless chip maker Broadcom on Thursday announced good news for Linux users in the form of a fully open wireless driver that's compatible with the operating system.
Wireless networking has long been a sticking point for Linux users with netbooks and laptops including Broadcom chipsets, which have traditionally used proprietary drivers that don't work with Linux. Other makers of Wifi chipsets--Atheros and Intel, for instance--have been supporting Linux natively for some time already.
Issues with Broadcom hardware, in fact, have even resulted in warnings to Linux users against purchasing it. Now, however, such warnings are effectively moot.
Playing Nice with Linux
Known as brcm80211, the new open source driver is for Broadcom's latest 802.11n chipsets, and it uses the Linux kernel's native Mac80211 stack, according to Henry Ptasinski, a principal scientist in Broadcom's wireless connectivity group.
Not only does it support several current chips--including BCM4313, BCM43224 and BCM43225--but it also provides a framework for supporting additional chips in the future, including Mac80211-aware embedded chips.
Though the driver isn't yet finished, ultimately it will mean that computer hardware featuring Broadcom chipsets will work well with Linux at last. Once it's been merged into the main Linux kernel--it's expected to appear in version 2.6.37, which will be released late this year or early next--Linux distributions will be able to fully support many common Broadcom wireless chips.
Canonical, meanwhile, has already said that the driver will be included in its upcoming Ubuntu 10.10 release, due next month and also known as Maverick Meerkat. It may even be back-ported to the current stable version of Ubuntu 10.04, Lucid Lynx, Ubuntu kernel developer Jeremy Foshee wrote on Thursday.
No More Worries
Though Wifi has been no problem for users of hardware based on other chipsets, news of Broadcom's move represents a big step for Linux. First, it means that every major 802.11 wireless driver has now been open sourced, effectively removing wireless as a point of potential concern for businesses and individuals considering moving to Linux.
Second, the move also signifies Broadcom's long-awaited recognition that Linux users are now so numerous as to constitute a force to be reckoned with and a market to be served.