Broadcom makes its Wi-Fi chipsets more Linux friendly

Broadcom, Linux users' least loved Wi-Fi chipset vendor, has launched a new open-source driver for its latest chips.

Slowly, too darn slowly for the taste of Linux notebook users, Broadcom has been providing drivers for its Wi-Fi chipsets on netbooks and laptops. Now, Broadcom has released an open-source driver for its latest 802.11n chip sets.

See? Miracles do happen!

According to Henry Ptasinski, a principal scientist in the wireless connectivity group at Broadcom, Broadcom has released the source code for the "initial release of a fully-open Linux driver for it's latest generation of 11n chipsets. The driver, while still a work in progress, is released as full source and uses the native mac80211 stack. It supports multiple current chips (BCM4313, BCM43224, BCM43225) as well as providing a framework for supporting additional chips in the future, including mac80211-aware embedded chips."

For Linux users who aren't Wi-Fi engineers that means you can look forward to your laptops with Broadcom chipsets working properly with Linux. It took Broadcom long enough! Other Wi-Fi chipset companies like Intel and Atheros have have long done a reasonable job of natively supporting Linux for years.

But, don't get too excited yet. These aren't finished drivers. For the moment, you'll need to build them yourself from the source code. For those of you who are comfortable with 'make' and the like you can get the code from the Linux kernel git repository in the drivers/staging/brcm80211 directory.

The good news for most users is that these drivers are on their way to the main Linux kernel distribution. In a Twitter note, Greg Kroah-Hartman, head of the Linux Driver Project and a Novell engineer wrote that the "Linux Broadcom wireless driver is now open and in the staging kernel tree will be merged in 2.6.37." What that means for most people is that you'll see full Broadcom support baked in to Linux distributions arriving in early 2011.

You may not have to wait that long though. Canonical, according to Jeremy Foshee, an Ubuntu kernel developer, hopes to have the new Broadcom Wi-Fi drivers in its upcoming Ubuntu 10.10 release, and may backport the drivers to the current stable version, Ubuntu 10.04.

I've also talked to openSUSE and Fedora developers, and they tell me that their distributions have similar plans. This may be one small-step for Wi-Fi users in general, but it's one giant leap for Linux Wi-Fi users.

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