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Getting Started with Wireless Network Technology



Part III: Adding Wireless to a Linux-Based Laptop or Notebook PC


Mike Angelo -- 28 January 2002 (c)


Editors's Note: In Part I, A Simple Wireless Computer Connection for Home, Office, or School, we connected (networked) a notebook PC to a desktop PC without using any wires -- a two-computer wireless network. In Part II: Connecting a Wireless Laptop or Notebook PC to a Wired PC Network, we connected a wireless laptop or notebook computer to an existing, wired, Ethernet network Today, we get the wireless network interface on that laptop working in Linux.


Thanks to wireless networking technology, you can free your computers and yourself from the shackles of network cables. No more need to locate your computers where existing network cables are located. And no more need to string network cables in your home, office, or school.

It's easy to go wireless with your laptop or notebook computer. All it takes is a wireless network PCMCIA card for the laptop or notebook computer. Then you can use a wireless access point to bridge from the wireless-network PC Card on your laptop or notebook computer to your wired-network computers (discussed in Part II).

Or, if you like you can have a 100% wireless network. All you need for that are two or more desktop, laptop, or notebook computers with wireless-network adapters (discussed in Part I).

Simply explained, an access point is merely a radio transceiver (transmitter and receiver). It uses an Ethernet cable to connect to a hub or switch on your wired, Ethernet local area network. On the radio side, it communicates with your wireless computer(s). On the Ethernet cable side, the access point communicates with your wired network. That let's the access point pass information back and forth between your wireless-networked computers and your wired-networked computers -- a bridge between the wireless and wired computers.

Adding wireless networking to a Linux-based laptop or notebook computer is pretty simple for the most part. But sometimes the devil is in the details.

Not all wireless-network PC Card adapters are supported for the Linux operating system (OS) by their manufacturers. Fortunately, third-party, wireless-network PC Card drivers often are available for Linux. That extends your choices of Linux-compatible, wireless-network PC Card adapters. Even if you have either a vendor or third-party supplied Linux driver for a wireless-network PC Card, getting that wireless PC Card to work with your Linux installation can be tricky.

Today, we successfully use a third-party driver to run a wireless-network PC Card on a Linux-based notebook computer. An important Part of doing this is editing the PCMCIA startup-script. That's necessary so the Linux boot process will automatically load the wireless PC Card at boot time.

Proxim makes some very nice IEEE 802.11b wireless networking products, which have been the focus equipment for our Getting Started with Wireless Network Technology series. Unfortunately, as is the case with all too many computer software publishers and hardware manufacturers, Proxim does not support Linux. Nevertheless, thanks to the dedication of so many creative and hard-working people in the Linux community, there are Linux software ports and hardware drivers for many products whose providers do not support Linux.

Figure 1. Skyline PC Card
In Part II of this series we installed a Skyline 802.11b PC Card for Notebooks wireless-network adapter in a Hewlett Packard Omnibook 6000 notebook. We did that in order to connect the notebook, wirelessly, to an existing wired Ethernet. However, Proxim does not supply a Linux driver for its Skyline 11b PC Card, nor does Proxim support Linux. So in Part II we were constrained to limit our discussion to a Windows-based wireless notebook only.

Figure 2. Skyline Wireless Gateway
To connect the wireless HP Omnibook to the wired Ethernet, we used a Proxim Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway as a bridge (access point) to the existing Ethernet LAN. The Skyline Gateway is platform independent so it works fine with both Linux and Windows computers on the network.

Even though Proxim does not support Linux, the Proxim Skyline 802.11b PC Card wireless-network adapter works just fine with Red Hat Linux 7.2. Likely it can be made to work with other Linux distributions too.

However, there are a few simple, little tricks of your own that you might have to pull in order to get the Skyline 11b PC Card working with Linux. It's likely these tricks also apply to getting other wireless PC Cards to work on Linux-based laptop or notebook computers.

Installation -- The Easy Part

As mentioned above, the Skyline PC Card was installed on a Hewlett Packard Omnibook 6000 notebook computer. The HP Omnibook is set up as a multi-boot Linux and Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional machine. (We added the Linux boots. It comes with Windows pre-installed.

If you are a computer or networking novice, you might want to read Some Basics for Computing & Networking Novices before reading on here. That should help to get you up to speed about networking.

If you are new to wireless networking, please read Parts I and II of this series to get up to speed on wireless, local area networks (LANs).

Proxim does support Microsoft Windows and the Skyline PC Card works fine in the Windows 2K boot. Please see our article, Part II: Connecting a Wireless Laptop or Notebook PC to a Wired PC Network, for more about using the Skyline PC Card with the Windows OS. Incidentally, the network discussed in that article is a mixed Linux and MS Windows network.

Prior to installing Red Hat Linux 7.2, both the Skyline PC Card and an Ethernet cable were plugged into the HP Omnibook. Then Red Hat Linux 7.2 was installed to hard drive partition hda6.

There is some HP stuff on hda1. Windows boots are deployed on hda2 and hda3. Caldera OpenLinux 3.1 is installed on hda5. This HP Omnibook has a 20-GB hard drive. That makes hard drive space too tight to add more Linux distributions to the multi-boot arrangement on this Omnibook. For more information about setting up multi-boot machines, please see our article Triple-Boot Caldera OpenLinux, Red Hat Linux, & MS Windows for Best of Three Worlds.

Note: Please be careful not to confuse a local wireless network with a direct radio connection to an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The sort of local wireless network discussed in this article has a radio range of only a few hundred feet or less and is meant for within-building use.

Red Hat 7.2 successfully detected and installed the built-in, wired, Ethernet interface and the added wireless, Ethernet interface. Proxim does not provide a Linux driver for its wireless PC Card or support Linux. However, Red Hat 7.2 does include a driver for the Skyline PC Card, wvlan_cs.

After the Red Hat Linux 7.2 installation, the wired Ethernet interface worked fine. However, the Skyline wireless PC Card did not work -- until we did some tweaking.

Boot-Time Configuration -- The Tricky Part

The clue to the problem came from carefully watching the boot messages. That showed Red Hat Linux 7.2 was trying to start the wireless PC Card, Eth 0, before it started the PCMCIA services. Thus, the Linux operating system (OS) could not see the Skyline PC Card when it wanted to start Eth 0.

The solution to that problem is fairly easy. Simply make the boot process start the PCMCIA services before Eth 0 is started. Here's how to do that.

The following instructions are based on using the K desktop (KDE version 2.2.10) running with Red Hat Linux 7.2 Professional, which uses the 2.4.7-10 Linux kernel. However, please feel free to use whatever desktop you like or simply use the command line from a text-based terminal. Also, please feel free to try this procedure with any Linux distribution you like. However, so far we have run this procedure only with Red Hat Linux 7.2.

This procedure is fairly simple and straightforward for people with average or better Linux experience and skills -- and easily can be effected from the command line. However, if you are a less-experienced Linux user, it is recommended that you use the Windows-like K desktop (KDE) Konqueror, file-manager and the Advanced Editor. That should make this procedure easy and simple for you also. (Continued on Page 2.)


More on Page 2.

  • Editing the PCMCIA Startup Script
  • Enabling & Disabling Ethernet Interfaces in Boot Sequence
  • Generalizing to Other Linux Distributions and Wireless PC Card Network Adapters
  • Conclusion
  • Resources




Copyright 2000-2002 -- MozillaQuest -- Brodheadsville, Pa..USA -- All Rights Reserved


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