Anyone who thinks dell supports Linux doesn’t own an Optiplex

I volunteered to set up a Linux desktop machine for someone. They just got a new Dell, so I figured it would be pretty easy, since I’ve run a Dell on my desktop at work for some number of years now. Besides, Dell loves Linux, right? Our Linux servers are Dells as well, and they run fine!

Slow down, there. What I didn’t know before volunteering was that this was a Dell OptiPlex. A coworker of mine had once extolled the horrors involved in running Linux on an Optiplex. “Hardware is hardware” was my motto then — Linux has good hardware support, and up to this point I hadn’t found anything, even a laptop, that I couldn’t hack into submission. In fact, in recent years, I haven’t had to do much hacking at all — most things “just work” nowadays — but not the Optiplex.

When I say “nothing” on the optiplex works out of the box with Linux, I mean pretty much anything that is essential to getting any work done. The network card doesn’t work — I had to go and download a driver from the Broadcom website to make it behave. The video card is an ATI, and ATI’s support for Linux is the topic of probably thousands of blog rants by now. The sound card is not detectable, though it might work if you manually figure out which modules it needs. The ones I used were snd-inteli8x0 and i810_audio. I’m still waiting for feedback on whether or not that works before I go figuring out how best to automate the loading of these modules at boot time under SuSE 9.1 Pro.

So, to ATI, Dell, and Intel (whose SATA-enabled motherboards are also causing me MUCH pain with Linux), get your crap together please. I’m willing to spend money on your hardware which is advertised as “Linux compatible”, but not if I find that this, in your language, translates as “some features work half-assedly well under linux” in mine.