The community of developers who support Linux has done an excellent job creating drivers for an overwhelming majority of PC hardware. Many ”perhaps even most ”new components get Linux drivers within months of their release. Many hardware manufacturers, in fact, include Linux drivers with their hardware or make them available for download from their website. With the advances in Linux plug and play, most hardware is now detected and configured automatically. So in many cases, you don t have to worry about hardware when you install Red Hat Linux on your computer.
However, there can be problems. If you re planning to install Linux on a group of computers, hardware problems can be expensive. Not all hardware is built for Linux ”or for Microsoft Windows XP, for that matter. And not all hardware has Linux drivers.
It s true that the cost of hardware tends to fall over time. However, when you re planning for a group of computers, the cost of replacing every network card quickly adds up, not only in hardware, but in the labor required for each computer.
Some components are more expensive than others. If you make a mistake with your video configuration, you could easily blow the circuits associated with your monitor. And if that monitor is your laptop display, the cost can be frightening. Therefore, you should at least record the specifications for your video card and monitor.
If you make a mistake while configuring a video adapter, you could make it send signals that exceed the capability of your monitor. This is true on Linux as well as Microsoft Windows computers.
In most cases, modern monitors just tell you that you ve made a mistake.
When video adapters send signals to monitors, they send them at specific frequencies and refresh rates. Monitors have limits on the frequencies and refresh rates that they can handle. The results could burn out circuits on your monitor. While some monitors have protective circuits built in, why take the risk?
Some manufacturers release the source code for their hardware. Some of this code is even released under the General Public License (GPL). That makes it easy for a Linux developer to design a driver for that hardware component.
However, not all hardware is built for Linux. For example, a group of modems and printers, Winmodems and Winprinters, were explicitly designed for Microsoft Windows. They explicitly use Microsoft Windows driver libraries to function. Since Microsoft does not release the source code for its driver libraries, that makes it difficult for Linux developers to create drivers. Strangely enough, because of the changes in Microsoft Windows XP many Winmodems and Winprinters may also not work on these latest Microsoft operating systems.
A number of Linux books suggest that you avoid Winmodems at all costs. That may no longer be necessary. I have Winmodems that Linux recognizes on both my laptop and desktop computers.
Sometimes Linux developers haven t had the time to create drivers for the latest components. As of this writing, Linux drivers are incomplete for three types of components: USB, IEEE 1394, and IEEE 802.11 wireless systems. While Linux support for USB 1.x components is fairly good, USB 2.0 requires a kernel that supports the Enhanced Host Controller Interface (EHCI), which is still experimental for the kernel that is supplied with Red Hat Linux 9.
Linux support for some IEEE 1394 equipment is available as experimental drivers. Linux support for regular wireless networking (IEEE 802.11b) is good; drivers for IEEE 802.11a-11g are currently in the works. Later in this chapter, in the Questionable Hardware section, you can find the home pages for those who are developing these cutting-edge drivers.
Starting with version 8.0, Red Hat Linux can no longer be installed on computers with 386- and 486-level CPUs.