Big Switch 5: Unplugged

So now I had all the software installed and working correctly I could catch up with work, and just get used to using Linux on a day to day basis. I also had the security of a fully functional Windows installation to fall back on, should everything go wrong, or should I have forgotten to copy something across.

But up until now, I'd only been using a Wired connection. The built-in wireless on my Thinkpad R51e didn't work with Ubuntu, and a few attempts to fix it were not rewarded with success. I decided to wait until I had a weekend free to sort it all out. In the interim, if I needed wireless, I had a Buffalo Airport PCMCIA card which worked perfectly when I plugged it in.

Fixing Wireless.

The truth of the matter is that by the time I actually fixed the wireless, I'd tried so many things that I'm not entirely sure which one worked. After install, the installer had found the wireless hardware — a built in Intel chipset, based around an Atheros chip. The lspci command identified this as the Atheros Communications, Inc. AR5212/AR5213 Multiprotocol MAC/baseband processor (rev 01) . Based on this, the installer had chosen the madwifi drivers.

My attempts to connect with my Access point were not successful. I unplugged the ethernet cable, and then tried to connect with the Access point running WPA2, using the Network Manager which is present in the bottom right corner of the menubar. Guessing that WPA2 was the problem, I changed the encryption down to WEP, which although it isn't a very secure protocol, is supported by almost all hardware, and is at least better than nothing. Finally I dropped all encryption and tried to connect to the AP with no encryption. Still no luck.

  • iwconfig reported all the right things, but
  • dhclient couldn't get me an IP address, and
  • /etc/init.d/networking restart also had no effect.

I thought there might be a problem with the drivers, so I upgraded to the latest version of the madwifi drivers, grabbed directly from the madwifi site, rather than the slightly older ones which the repository had installed for me. Still no luck.

I then tried using the Windows drivers which had worked previously in windows. I mounted my Windows partition and used the "Windows Wireless Drivers" applet supplied with Linux Mint (essentially a front end to ndiswrapper) to install them. No luck. I then found some more recent drivers on the Lenovo support site. I uninstalled the previous drivers and installed the new ones. No luck.

I then tried upgrading ndiswrapper to a more recent version and tried some other drivers from a step-by-step guide which someone else had created on the Internet. Maybe this one worked, maybe not. I'd tried so many things by now I'd lost track of where I was. Eventually I got it working with a combination of ndiswrapper and Windows drivers, and had probably spent a whole day trying to get it going. Irritating. And the best I could do was use WEP. I decided not to experiment with WPA2. I have

  • ndiswrapper version 1.45
  • Unknown windows net5211 driver

Having said that, there are a few problems with this current setup. Occasionally it forgets its WEP key and asks for it again. Changing from wired to wireless networks usually confuses it, so a reboot is the best way to do that. Changing networks from one AP to another is also problematic. A bad job all round, but I'm limping along with it.


A week or so went by without incident and it was time to consider the final stage: moving Windows to a virtual machine and getting rid of the old Windows partition. Here are the main stages.

  1. Make a windows install CD from the install files on the windows partition (Thinkpads don't have an install CD, they use an Install partition)
  2. Install vmware on Ubuntu and make a Windows Virtual Machine.
  3. Delete the old Windows and IBM Install partitions
  4. Re-arrange the remaining partitions to suit the new arrangement.

These will take some time to explain, so I'll do it in the next post.

Update 2nd April 2008: Got WPA2 working. Didn't change anything, but it just decided to work. Maybe an update in the background updated some critical files. Lets see if it still forgets the WPA key.

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