This weekend I made the switch from from Ubuntu 11.04 to Fedora 16 beta. After the last upgrade, Ubuntu started acting funny, everything from shutdown/reboot issues to glitchy UI with the new Unity desktop. I did like some of what Unity was doing, but I think it still needs a lot of work before it is really ready; both in terms of the interface design and stability. Much of Ubuntu, like most distributions is the culmination of the efforts of the entire OS community, but the stuff that they layer on top they have to maintain themselves and I think Unity was such a big project that its release came at the cost of some of the normal “house keeping” tasks of running a linux distribution, and this may have caused some of the issues I and others have complained about (or it could simply be that to much had changed to smoothly upgrade from 10.10). I had been leaning towards giving the 11.10 release a chance to correct some of the shortcoming of the previous one but since I am taking a college course that emphasizes rpm distros, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give Fedora another go, besides, the brief look I gave gnome3 left me wanting more.
The computer I am using is an Asus 1215t, with no optical drive and a 12″ screen it is what some have termed “notbooks”, as in bigger than a netbook, but not really a full sized notebook. This model has the AMD neo low power cpu, integrated ATI graphic, typicall intel HD audio, and most notable a dreaded Broadcom 4313 wireless b/g/n. I think it bears mentioning that I have had little trouble with broadcom wireless in the past, though this may have just been luck. With Ubuntu wireless wouldn’t work until you otherwise connect to the internet and use the Proprietary drivers applet to install the correct driver.
Initially I installed Fedora 15, not wanting to use the beta, and also not wanting to wait the few weeks until it is finalized and shipped, but I was not able to get the wireless card to work no matter what I tried. For this wireless card there are several drivers available: the old b43 driver that needs proprietary firmware (typically this is what Ubuntu uses), the newer broadcom-sta (aka wl) driver from Broadcom, the fallback ndiswrapper wich just wraps around an appropriate windows driver, and a newcomer the brcm80211 which is open source but still very much in the experimental stage. I tried everything, even compiling the wl driver from the source provide from Broadcom even though there are binaries in the Fedora repos. I never did get the brcm80211 driver to compile, but considering the shape it is currently in that is not a big surprise. It is likely that ndiswrapper would have worked had I not been using a 64bit distro, and the only available drivers are 32bit. I had just about given up hope when I decided to try the beta before running back to Ubuntu. The Fedora 16 beta didn’t have the wbroadcom-sta driver in the repositories, only the b43, which didn’t work. However, after installing the kernel-devel package I was able to compile the source provide by broadcom and it works perfectly.