The Windows Tax problem and free software
At this point, you must have figured this out. I am a free software advocate. I think it’s both painful and wrong when I’m not in control at all of the software that I use on my computers.
As many users of GNU/Linux systems know, it’s incredibly difficult to buy a decent laptop without being forced into buying Microsoft Windows, even if you don’t want to use it. This is what we usually refer to as “the Windows tax.” This has two consequences:
we have to pay indirectly for a Microsoft Windows license fee through the manufacturer, and we do not even know how much it really costs us,
we get hardware that may or may not be supported by the Linux kernel out-of-the-box, which results in a waste of time in settings adjustment (or worse).
If you’re looking for information on where to get hardware free of pre-installed proprietary software, FSFE volunteers maintain a list of Hardware Vendors.
If you already bought a machine with Windows and want to get your money back, there’s also tons of information on how to get a Windows Tax Refund (make sure to look at information specific to your country).
But getting your money back does not fully fix the problem and takes a lot of time (sometimes met with deception). Indeed, it does not resolve the hardware support issue in any way because it does not impact the manufacturers’ sale, and it sure does not help to make demand of GNU/Linux grow on the market of pre-installed laptops.
So obviously, one of the best strategy is to reward manufacturers that meet our demands and supply laptops with GNU/Linux pre-installed and good hardware support. By good hardware support, I mean that it should work without requiring non-free software.
And here comes the Dell XPS 13.
Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu: wireless issues with Qualcomm Atheros AR9462
Dell has launched a project to provide developers with a good laptop. I am not really a developer in my day-to-day life, but I could certainly enjoy a good laptop as well ☺
Especially, the XPS 13 comes with Ubuntu. I have been told by Otto Kekäläinen (FSFE head in Finland!) there’s even a custom linux kernel and all that. I could have a look at his XPS 13 while in Berlin last month and it looked amazing.
So I decided to get one, as I was looking to replace the Thinkpad Edge that has been around me for the last 3 years (which I have not been very pleased with because of several hardware issues and not so helpful Lenovo customer relations). The only thing that was holding me on from buying the XPS 13 was the price. It’s 50% more expensive than the budget I usually put into a laptop.
About two weeks ago, I made up my mind and bought one. I got my hands on it today. And surprise! the wireless connection drops off momentarily here and then, something like every 10 minutes. And when I deactivate bluetooth using the Ubuntu menu in the top-right hand corner, the wifi drops as well (and it’s super strange to get it back, I have not found the exact pattern that works).
At this point, I was kind of surprised. But well, I go on with the setup process, hoping that the wireless connectivity does not drop too often, because the laptop is too thin to have an RJ45 port as backup!
One thing that did not go well during the setup process, even though Ubuntu asked me for the keyboard layout, it sticked to QWERTY afterwards, making it quite painful to enter passwords and stuff.
After the setup (which went very quickly), I decided to upgrade everything. Maybe that’ll solve it… It didn’t. Of course.
So I opened the terminal, and
$ lspci Network controller: Atheros Communications Inc. AR9462 Wireless Network Adapter
Why. Oh, why Dell? Why are you doing this to me? The original page where I bought the laptop from states quite clearly:
Intel® Centrino® Advanced-N 6230 802.11 a/g/n
Having a quick look around and searching, I see that I’m not the only one who got a different wireless chipset than the one announced by Dell. I wouldn’t care so much if it were working out-of-the-box after updating. But it doesn’t!
And No, I don’t want to fix it myself. The reason why I’m buying a pre-installed GNU/Linux computer in the first place is to make sure everything is perfectly supported!
I’m now trying to get mine exchanged for the Intel Centrino wireless card… But of course, tomorrow is a holiday.
Well, maybe it’s for the best. I am not supposed to tweak my laptop these days: the bar exam orals are approaching!