Section 5.2. I m Having Trouble with Microsoft-Dependent Hardware

5.2. I'm Having Trouble with Microsoft-Dependent Hardware

In typical desktop and laptop systems, a number of components depend on Microsoft Windows driver libraries. The most well known of these is the winmodem. Trouble with Microsoft-dependent devices is not limited to Linux; there are a wide range of Microsoft-dependent devices that do not work on Windows XP/2003. While most of these devices are modems and older printers, don't be surprised if you find other Microsoft-dependent hardware. Many of the initial "hacks" that support this hardware are based on the Wine project, which allows Linux to use Microsoft driver libraries.

As strange as it sounds, about half of U.S. Internet connections are still made via telephone modem. While this seems almost "third world" in contrast to broadband connections in other industrial nations, it means that telephone modems are still a common fact of life in the U.S., and a key skill set for the well-rounded Linux geek.

5.2.1. The winmodem

In principle, it's best to find and install hardware that does not depend on Microsoft driver libraries. In practice, that's not feasible, as many computers come preloaded with winmodems.

In many cases, Linux detects winmodems straight out of the box. To see if that applies to your system, run the lspci command. Linux has detected winmodems on all three of my computers. The lspci output is straightforward; I've isolated the key lines for the detected internal modems:

 01:0e.0 Communication controller: Conexant HSF 56k Data/Fax Modem (rev 01) 0000:00:08.0 Modem: Ali Corporation M5457 AC'97 Modem Controller 

When I ran a cardctl ident command, Linux also detected the PCMCIA winmodem on my third computer, a Motorola ModemSurfr, as shown here:

 Socket 1:    product info: "Motorola", "MobileSURFR 56K", "021", "A"    manfid: 0x0109, 0x0505    function: 2 (serial) 

cardctl is being replaced on the latest Linux distributions with pccard ctl.

If you have an ISA modem, you might try a pnpdump or isapnp command. If a modem is installed when you start Linux, you might be able to find a related message in the /var/log directory, in the dmesg or messages files.

But even when your winmodem is supported by the kernel, configuring the modem might require extra effort on your part. With the latest Linux distributions, working winmodems are linked to the /dev/modem device file; for example, the following output from ls -l /dev/modem tells me that /dev/modem is ready and linked to /dev/ttyS1, also known in the Microsoft world as port COM2. (Microsoft numbers ports starting at 1, while Linux starts at 0; COM1 is ttyS0, and so forth.)

 lrwxrwxrwx    1 root root 10 2004-11-19 07:12 /dev/modem -> /dev/ttyS1 

If you don't see this link, you'll need to create it. If you know the port device associated with your modem (such as from a dual boot with Microsoft Windows), you can do so with the ln command. For example, if Microsoft suggests that the modem is connected to port COM3, use the following command:

 In -s  /dev/ttyS2 /dev/modem 

If you want winmodem support, you'll need to enable kernel modules. This is a good practice that I think every Linux geek follows in a regular PC, because enabling modules lets you load the drivers and other modules that you need, depending on the type of modem that you have. Plug and Play ISA

One problem Linux has in a Microsoft-dominated world is default Plug and Play settings. Left alone, Linux does well with Plug and Play. However, any Plug and Play settings in a computer BIOS can keep Linux from detecting an otherwise Plug and Play device.

If you have an ISA winmodem, run the pnpdump command. This looks through all of your ports for ISA attachments. Look at the output in the /etc/isapnp.conf file. SUSE 9.3 still has pnpdump in the isapnp package. The current version of Debian Sarge includes pnpdump in the isapnptools package.

ISA cards are sufficiently rare that some distributions (including Red Hat/Fedora) no longer include the isapnp package, which includes the pnpdump command. If you have a newer distribution without isapnp, you should be able to install an older version of the package on your system. Alternatively, you can download and install the appropriate packages from Plug and Play PCI

If Linux detects a PCI card on your system, you should find it in the output to your lspci or scanpci commands. You may get additional information if you run lspci in verbose modei.e., lspci -vv. Some distributions (such as Red Hat) store this information in /proc/pci. Testing your winmodem

If you're fortunate, your winmodem is ready to go. Your /dev/modem device is linked to the actual modem device (alternatively, you can substitute the actual modem device file, such as /dev/ttyS1). You can test your modem from the command-line interface with the minicom utility. I open it with the minicom -s command, which starts the configuration menu, where you can modify modem settings as needed through the Serial Port Setup menu. When you run the "Save Setup As Dfl (default)" command, and then exit, minicom takes you to the main menu with a basic Attention (AT) command similar to:

 AT S7=45 S0=0 L1 V1 X4 &c1 E1 Q0 OK 

This confirms that Linux can communicate with your winmodem. You can configure the Internet connection tool of your choice, such as KPPP or Red Hat Internet Configuration Wizard, to connect to the Internet via modem. Alternatively, you could connect directly on a touch-tone line with a command such as:

 ATDT 555-654-3210 

If your modem is connected to the telephone network, this will dial a number. If successful, it connects you to the system on the other side. If the call is not free, you may see additional charges on your telephone bill. Finding the driver for your chipset

If minicom shows no response to your commands, Linux is having trouble communicating with your modem. The first step is to make sure your phone line is securely connected to your modem.

The next step is to find the chipset associated with your winmodem. You may already see it in the output to the lspci -vv command or in the /proc/pci file, both described earlier in this annoyance. Alternatively, you can use the scanModem tool available at to find most chipsets. Just make sure to make the scanModem tool executable (chmod +x scanModem).

You can then connect to additional resources for your system through links at, or with a Google search. The options are too varied to list here. In general, you will need to install the source code for your active kernel, make sure to enable modules, and then add the driver modules you need.

If you have a Conexant/Rockwell winmodem, you may be able to use the drivers available through Linuxant. While their work does not fully comply with the GPL (see the Linuxant HSF Driver License Agreement), it can save significant amounts of time. If you're willing to live with 14.4 Kbps, they have drivers that you can download for free. Alternatively, full 56k drivers are available on a trial basis for a month, and then for a one-time fee of $20.

If you use the Linuxant drivers (or any other drivers where the source code is not available and licensed under the GPL), they "taint" the Linux kernel with non-GPL code. For many, this is not a big deal; it's just incorporating code that helps Linux work better. But if you're building a new version of Linux, tainted code can't be released under the GPL. In addition, some Linux enthusiasts are ideologically opposed to non-free drivers and refuse to help people on mailing lists if they use such drivers.

5.2.2. The winprinter

The other major hardware item that depends on Microsoft Windows driver libraries is the GDI printer, also known as the winprinter. Naturally, most winprinters are found on older (pre-year 2000) systems. As these printers generally depend on older driver libraries, newer Microsoft operating systems such as 2000/XP also have trouble printing to winprinters.

There are three basic categories of winprinters. Two are associated with specific brands (HP and Lexmark). The third includes a variety of printers that are designed to convert Windows printer output into the PostScript language that newer Microsoft operating systems can understand. Unfortunately, that by itself does not make such printers usable on Linux. However, many Linux distributions include the work described at to help many winprinters work on Linux.

Sometimes winprinters are already supported through the new standard Linux print system, CUPS. Before you try any other techniques, try configuring your printer through CUPS (or system-config-printer in the latest Red Hat/Fedora distributions). You may be pleasantly surprised.

Briefly, the HP winprinters use Printing Performance Architecture. If you have one of these printers, you can download the pnm2ppa print filter. If there is no package available for your distribution, you can download it from the associated SourceForge project home page at As it was last updated in 2002, there is no guarantee that it will work with the latest distributions.

A few older Lexmark printers also relied on Microsoft Windows driver libraries; these printers were effectively ported by 2000. A number of the associated Linux drivers are available from

Linux Annoyances for Geeks
Linux Annoyances for Geeks: Getting the Most Flexible System in the World Just the Way You Want It
ISBN: 0596008015
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 144
Authors: Michael Jang

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