Linuxant wrapper lets users run Linux on Centrino

Montreal-based Linuxant Inc. last week released DriverLoader 1.6, a compatibility-wrapper allowing Linux users to use the wireless capabilities of Intel Corp.’s Centrino chip.

“People were deploying Linux on their Centrino notebooks and then they would notice their wireless LAN (WLAN) would not work. DriverLoader 1.6 allows them to activate the WLAN interface on their notebook,” said Marc Boucher, president and founder of Linuxant.

Driver Loader 1.6 supports Intel’s PRO/Wireless 2200BG card (BG meaning it supports both 802.11b and g protocols) with 54Mbps 802.11g technology and the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) security protocol, Linuxant said. It allows the standard Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Network Driver Interface Specification (NDIS) be used as-is on Linux x86 systems.

“Not all hardware vendors have been providing adequate Linux drivers, so what we’ve done is implement interfaces that are used under [Microsoft’s] Windows drivers in DriverLoader and we convert between the two worlds,” Boucher said.

Although many of today’s laptops are Centrino-based, Intel has been slow to release a driver that allows Linux to run on Centrino because it doesn’t want to inadvertently give away its intellectual property (IP) to the open source community, said Gordon Haff, senior analyst and IT advisor at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H.

“[Intel] has been rewriting the driver in a more modular way so it can more easily release part of the driver as open source without releasing its IP,” Haff said. “Intel has committed to doing it but it has not yet.”

Right now Centrino only supports Windows XP Professional, Home and Tablet and Windows 2000. However, whether DriverLoader 1.6 will be a big hit with enterprise users remains to be seen.

“Basically, the use of Linux in the client is relatively small but it is increasing and this is certainly one of the most common chipsets used in laptop computers,” Haff said.

While DriverLoader 1.6 supports Centrino, it also supports almost any driver for network cards and (WLAN) cards from other companies, which don’t have drivers available for Linux, Boucher said. These vendors include Broadcom Corp., Intersil Corp.’s Prism GT/Duette/Indigo, Cisco Systems Inc., Integrated Programmable Communications Inc., Realtek Semiconductor Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. and Atheros Communications Inc.

To deploy DriverLoader 1.6, a user needs to first install any major Linux distribution that is based on the 2.4 or 2.6 Linux kernel, then DriverLoader 1.6, followed by a Windows NDIS driver, provided by their hardware vendor.

Linuxant offers a 30-day free trial of DriverLoader 1.6 and its licenses cost $19.95 per user. The company is also developing Linux-based soft modems for Conexant Systems Inc.

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