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Linux Hardware Support Better Than Windows 7

Are you in the market for a new laptop, desktop or server PC with Linux installed? Please give us the opportunity to quote a preloaded Linux laptop, desktop or server system for you.

I will start this off by adding, “… with the exception of some wireless chip sets and high end graphics cards.” to appease those of you who will act like Arnold Horshack (1, 2) if that is not mentioned. If there are other unsupported devices on Linux that are supported in Windows 7 feel free to scratch your itch and tell me in a comment.

The concept of better is a subjective idea. What is better to me is possibly, even probably, not better to someone else. In my case, and in the case of some of my clients, Linux hardware support is “better”. I do not buy cutting edge hardware and tend to keep systems and peripherals until they stop working and can no longer be repaired at a reasonable cost. When a new release of my favorite Linux distribution comes out I can be 100% certain that my hardware that works with my current release will still work with the new release. That is something I just take for granted. This is not so in the Microsoft camp.

For those people who hold on to working hardware through new Microsoft versions, their hardware may or may not be supported in a new release of a Microsoft OS. Take the example of a recent conversation I had with the manager at one of my client offices. I will call her “Mrs. B” here. Mrs. B is a Microsoft fanatic and will not even consider switching to Apple, much less Linux. When I mentioned switching to Linux for her office desktop during our conversation she laughingly said, “Gene, you know better than that.”, because we have had that discussion before. This came up in our recent conversation about her HP Photosmart 1115 printer.

Mrs B recently had to purchase a new PC for her office use because her old Microsoft XP Professional based PC died. She bought a cheap, commodity PC with Windows 7 Home Premium installed from an on-line discount store. She did not check whether or not her existing peripherals were supported. Why should she? They worked before, so they should still work. Correct? Not so correct. You see, HP has, for whatever reason, decided to not make drivers for the Photosmart 1115 for Vista, much less Windows 7.

Mrs. B had asked me to see if I could help her get her printer working on Windows 7 because she could not find the driver CD. So, I went to www.hp.com and did a search for drivers for her. I already suspected that HP had not created drivers for that model, and I was correct. I informed Mrs. B and mentioned that the printer does have support under Apple OS X and Linux. So maybe we could switch her to Linux so she would not have to get rid of her still working printer just to buy one that has Windows 7 drivers. That is when I got her response above. So, Mrs. B will be buying a new printer and either throwing away or giving away the still functional Photosmart 1115 printer.

While at HP’s web site, just for curiosity’s sake, I looked at the list of unsupported products in Windows 7. That is quite a list. Then I took items from the list at random and checked to see if HP reports they are supported under Linux. Oddly, some of the items in that list do have Windows 7 drivers. It seems even HP is not sure which of their products are not supported. Some of the products are not supported under Linux according to the HP driver search for them. Those also only have drivers for Microsoft Windows 3.1, Microsoft Windows 95 and Microsoft Windows 2000. It is possible these very old models are “win-printer” types that are gutted of any stand-alone capability and require a driver to function at all. But the other models I looked up all had support under Linux listed, but no support under Windows Vista or Windows 7.

One problem here is that Microsoft drivers are so closely tied to the system kernel that a new release of the operating system breaks old drivers. Under Apple OS X and Linux this is not a problem because most drivers, including those for printing, are separate from and not tied to the kernel. On Linux any driver that does require a specific kernel can be, and usually will be, easily recompiled by a distribution’s maintainers and released along with the new kernel. If the driver works with DKMS, even better. Printing runs as a separate subsystem, usually using CUPS. So, if one’s printer worked with Fedora 9 it still works with Fedora 15 and will probably still be able to work with Fedora 25 or whatever Fedora releases may be called later. So, one’s beloved Photosmart 1115 printer can still be used under Linux while it cannot be used with Windows 7. In my book, that is better hardware support with Linux.

These days I will only purchase new peripherals for my SOHO that specifically state they have Linux support or are shown to be supported by open source drivers. If the package says “Linux” on it, I also try to take the time to send an e-mail to the manufacturer letting them know I chose their product because they took the effort to put on the packaging the fact they support my preferred OS. This is my small effort to keep these manufacturers interested in supporting Linux. Perhaps you can do the same.

Do you have your own “peripheral horror story” with a Microsoft OS? Feel free to post a comment about it.

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37 comments to Linux Hardware Support Better Than Windows 7

  • I just thought of something else after posting this article publicly. Being able to keep supporting older hardware also makes Linux more “green” than Microsoft. Those of you who care about that sort of thing and are still using Microsoft, shame on you. ;)

  • A good point was made in a comment on reddit. Occasionally a piece of hardware, such as an old graphics card, may be left behind when a distribution updates to a new release of the software that requires that type of hardware. In that case, switching to another current distribution that still supports older hardware may be the only option. It is good that that option for Linux is there for those who may need it.

  • Fartin

    I run vista on a shared laptop computer and for years relied on very expensive dialup internet. I was surfing the net on a nokia fone for one year and due to the crippled browsing experience realised I needed a secure proper os as I couldn’t see pdf’s nor many forums wouldn’t render correctly in the fone browser. I had a data cable for the fone and tried downloading several hundred megabytes of different drivers and nokia pc suites to use the fone internet on the laptop. None of them worked and I had to get a slow bluetooth dongle to get it to work. The drivers would also make the computer freeze often. After trying several live cd distros I settled on puppy525 on a usb stick a week ago and I havent looked back since. It worked perfect with the fone and high speed data cable ever since and I need not worry about my little brother installing keyloggers either.

  • Arup

    On my brand new AMD C50 ASUS 1015 eeePC, everything worked right out of the box, no need for drivers, I enabled the option to install latest Catalyst but I didn’t really need that. OTOH, the Win7 this machine came with made it crawl, programs would take forever to open even after defragmenting. Updates would make the system crawl. Worse of all, every driver had to be individially wheras in Ubuntu, I had to download nothing. This laptop is relatively new and yet, it works right out of the box with Ubuntu and not with Windows so who has better h/w support may I ask?

  • lxskllr

    If I were given a box of unknown hardware and told to build a computer, but it HAS to be fully functional when I was finished, I’d put XP on it. Not because I have any love for XP, but it’s a Windows world, and I have more confidence I could get everything working from the start. Linux /generally/ is a more pleasant experience for a new install but when things are painful, they can really be painful.

    • I suppose you are not locking me in a closet with no way to research the hardware? :)

      If so, I would handle that scenario by researching the hardware to see if each piece had Linux / Unix / W7 drivers. Then I would look at the use for which the system were intended. If the drivers were available and the use would fit with Linux, then I would install a Linux distribution, or if *BSD a *BSD, with my last choice being a Microsoft OS. I always try to pick stability and security over Microsoft. ;)

    • riot

      If you have the drivers for the hardware, or the hardware uses drivers from the windows install disk (unlikely) then your okay with a windows install.   Or if you at least know what hardware you have so you can go download the drivers.  but . . .  I can only imagine the headache you would have installing Win XP on a box of unknown hardware since it does not identify the devices.  Yes, it recognizes it, it just does not ID it.  It you are lucky if will give you some kind of generic name like ‘PCI Audio’ giving no clue of the brand much less the model.  If I had a box of unidentified part I would install Linux.  Don’t believe the Microsoft lie.  Here is the truth.  Windows is hard, Linux is easy.

  • WorBlux

    I wonder if you could have used virtual box, passed the USB printer through, and then  used a cups client in windows in order to print.

  • rishidev

    I have used linux for years and still use mandrake linux on my old pentium 3 laptop. Linux saved me money, time. life. blood and further reduced my nuances related to everything and im belated such a thing exists and im glad i got to see it in my lifetime.

  • [...] Linux Hardware Support Better Than Windows 7 The concept of better is a subjective idea. What is better to me is possibly, even probably, not better to someone else. In my case, and in the case of some of my clients, Linux hardware support is “better”. I do not buy cutting edge hardware and tend to keep systems and peripherals until they stop working and can no longer be repaired at a reasonable cost. When a new release of my favorite Linux distribution comes out I can be 100% certain that my hardware that works with my current release will still work with the new release. That is something I just take for granted. This is not so in the Microsoft camp. [...]

  • Grant

    I had a video camera that was officially supported on Windows.   Every time I plugged it into a windows machine (via IEEE 1394) BSOD.   Tried it on several machines.   Tried with and without the software that came with it.    ARGGHHHHHH!!!    Plugged into Linux.   Not only did it work, but I could control rewind, fast forward, play, etc.   Those features weren’t even offered on Windows.    This was not a cheapo online special either, this was a high end consumer model from a major manufacturer.

  • sola

    I have recently bought a HP multifunctional printer and I have to say, I am very much impressed with the level of support HP provides.
    I have an older version of Linux (Ubuntu Karmic) but HPLIP works like a charm after installation.
    Way to go HP.
    I am so impressed that I may even buy a HP Touchpad :))))

  • you could install her a linux VM and tie the wintendo to the linux cups driver with one of those network printer drivers.  So she could continue to run her beloved redmond os and continue using that printer. You most probably could do the same using a windows xp vmware, since she should still have a license from her old wintendo. I definitely knew some hardware that stopped working with some kernel versions, for example the pwc (philips webcam) went away, the fritz isdn usb stick also stopped working as of 2.6.18.  also the quality of wlan card support wasn’t constant while switching to madwifi, softmac, back and forth. And, the guy mentioning the AMDc50; Got one here too; using opensource drivers i.e. switching back to console or booting with KMS won’t work. Using the amd proprietary fglx driver puts you in the same situation as with those hp closed source printer drives: once they drop support for your GPU, you’re done.

    • Yes, I could install a VM with XP for her and configure it for LAN access to share a printer. Then hook W7 into the printer share on the hosted XP VM. But I do not work for “free”, so that might end up costing more than a new printer. That depends on what printer she gets of course.

  • sehar

    Is it better than Vista? Sure. Is it faster than XP? Not so much. Does it run a ton of popular applications? You betcha. But is Windows 7 still prone to an endless array of malware programs and stuck with a pre-Internet security model? Yes — yes, it is.

    (Admin edit: Your URL was removed as it pointed to a broken site. Your name was changed to the first part of your e-mail address as the name you used is not allowed here. Thank you for your comment.)

  • the Two

    You could’ve tried to install the firmware in XP comparability mode – it’s possible to get peripherals working that way. I just hope she just won’t scrap the printer, I hate wasting when you can, very much, help it.

  • Peter Rasmussen

    I have a Canon CanoScan 9000F that isn’t supported in Linux, but works with Win7.
     
    I have an SDXC flash card with ExFAT that doesn’t work with Linux out of the box, and LKML can’t tell me when it will be supported.
     
    You mention a that some wifi chips aren’t supported, and I have such a wifi-usb adapter. I didn’t buy it because I thought it was bleeding edge, but because it was cheap and a tiny and handy USB adapter.
     
    Incidentally my daughter is interested in film editing and has a Panasonic video camera that produces FullHD 1080p format files that I haven’t found software for, so that she can edit it on Linux.
     
    I believe that hardware support is good in Linux, but please don’t start an article with comparing it in such a cheeky way, even to Windows7. It only works when you are preaching to choir.
     
    And I am a hardtime supporter of Linux since December 1993 (until then SunOS4 and Solaris) so it isn’t because you can claim I am Bill Gates lover.
     

    • My point is, when one takes the time up front to pick peripherals that do work with Linux before buying, then more than likely they will still work with Linux 10 years from now. Especially printers. Even if some distributions drop support for a peripheral there will still be distributions that continue to support that peripheral. It is unlikely that once a printer is in CUPS it will ever be dropped.

      I am sad to read that you bought peripherals that do not work with your Linux distribution. As I state at the end of the article, I only buy peripherals that I know work with Linux. I expect they will still be working with Linux in the future too, even if I have to change to a distribution that supports “legacy” hardware.

      For that matter, the misuse of the word “legacy” to denigrate good working hardware just seriously irks me.

  • OLDGUY

    I have an old toshiba laptop, with a p4 and intel i845 video, do any of you gurus know of ANY new release of linux that will run on this machine.
    I have run xp, vista, win7, debian, ubuntu, fedora, and suse, on this machine; now the only OS’s  that run on this system are windows

  • rich

    If a client’s (who obstinately refuses to switch to another OS) peripheral stops working after a Windows upgrade, I suggest to take the offending peripheral away at no charge, while recommending one that will work with the new OS.

  • rich

    I have found this fascinating article on how to integrate Windows and Linux.  http://blog.angulosolido.pt/2009/01/integrating-legacy-windows-applications.html

  • rich

    Ever heard of the “Emperor has no clothes”?  Well,  Windows is that emperor.  One cannot let Windows run “naked”, au naturel.  Put Windows in a virtual machine.

  • suchindran

    sometimes the other side of the coin is true as well. i have a canon mf pixma mp486 which runs fine on all win versions 32 & 64-bit, but has no drivers for *nix-x64.  workarounds are possible though … xsane manages the scanner at lower resolutions than the scanner is capable of, and propreitary turboprint drivers work for the printing part.   hp printers/scanners in general seem to be better supported under *nix-type systems though.
    regards
    suchindran

  • kebala

    I understand your point Gene, but let me tell you mine.
    I use my computer for desktop, like most of my friends i have latest hardware, new keyboards, gaming mouse and expensive soundcard.
    For me its not important IF linux will run my hardware, for me important is HOW! Have creative X-fi titanium fatality pro, it comes with 1CD drivers, tons of nice things, also logitech G15/G13, few gaming mouses. There is no drivers and support for them in linux, just some scripts i found but its not what i want. How can i manage profiles of my logitech G700? How can i easy overclock my videocard?
    These are the basic things that every OS for me need to have, linux dont have still. 
    I know the problem is not exactly in linux, but i prefer an OS that CAN use my devices. And i didnt paid 200$ for sound card to have 1 slider for volume.
     
    p.s. just my point of view.

  • kebala

    Oh and 1 more thing!
    If you overclock an i7 system(socked 1366) with more than 190 BCLK New linux kernels symply not start!, but in windows is 100% stable.
    So i made 2 profiles in my computer, 1 for windows with 4.2 GHz CPU and 1 for linux with 3.8Ghz :) 

  • A Non Y Mous(e)

    A recently purchased laptop, dual boot (Windows 7 and Linux Mint 11) was an interesting experience. With Windows 7, upon connecting various eqiupment (printer, phone, mp3 player, ext. drives) I then proceded to work my way through a series of “Windows needs to access the internet” or “please insert the installation disk” prompts. With Linux Mint 11, these items were installed automatically with no user interaction required. For me, Linux wins this one.

  • Jim

    Windows XP stopped supporting my laptop touchpad with a Windows Update years ago. I was quite surprised to see that it works fine in any Linux I have tried. I need to use a USB mouse when in XP because Windows doesn’t seem to have a way to force it to try a driver it believes is incorrect.

  • Other peripherals notwithstanding, the way I see it, the root problem isn’t printer companies not providing drivers. The problem is printer companies requiring a custom driver for each and every printer they sell.
    It’s insane. Just how many different combinations of printer function are completely unique to each printer? My inkjet printer does X DPI, handles Y types of paper, and has Z colors. Not to mention Q paper trays. All you have to do is abstract what a printer is into a few standard functions, allow for a ridiculous amount of expansion of each variable, and create a standard handshake that determines those values and other capabilities at initialization.
    Once you have an abstract of what a printer is and what things you can do with it you can write a single driver to drive every single printer model from then on. Surely after nearly 3 decades HP has accumulated enough data to know what likely functions are needed in a printer (6 decades if you include all computer printer history and not just HP). Not just HP, all of ‘em. I picked on HP arbitrarily as an example.
    It shouldn’t be that difficult to create a common protocol. Ideally all the printer manufacturers would use the same ones, but even if each had its own proprietary protocol the effect would be essentially the same: a handful of printer drivers would handle everything forwards and backwards. Not including the meshugenah printers we’re dealing with now, of course, but after they started.
    Why come out with a new one for virtually every printer? Planned obsolescence? Don’t be silly, they don’t make money on the printers. They make money on the ink. And they make a different set of ink cartridges for nearly every printer, fer cryin’ out loud! That complicates their own manufacturing and inventory as well as store inventories. Again, what advantage does this give them? What problem are they trying to solve by adding complexity and cost of designing and manufacturing, increased support costs and customer frustration, to each printer model?
    Why on Earth is her printer obsolete in the first place?

  • mike

    Due to many restrictions, linux may have trouble on new hardware. One thing I like about linux is a much better support on relatively old peripherals. If something works, it’s likely to be working for a long period of time if not forever. As people have more types of computing devices (eg. phones, tablets, netbooks, etc) that are not powered by Windows, manufacturers will have to come up with more drivers for better hardware support. This should help linux a lot in the long run.

    I also like the idea of sending email to the manufacturers, admiring them for supporting linux. Yes, I should do the same from now.
     

  • For now. Pretty much every system i’ve installed linux Has had drivers, though sometimes the open source drivers have problems with OpenGL. The real only problem I have noticed is driver support for new printers. I mean for the past ~10 years I have needed to keep windows PC running so that i can print and scan stuff even if my Linux boxes do notice the printers, but can not work with them. Probably problem with being too lazy to check if the printers actually support Linux before buying.

  • [...] libre. Como todo, Linux tiene sus cosas buenas y sus cosas malas, y ahora me he encontrado con un post bastante ambicioso en la idea que defiende: que el soporte del hardware es mejor en Linux que en [...]

  • Karoly Negyesi

    Ahem. Did you read the ubuntuforums long long thread where people with Samsung printers desperately tried to get em runnin’ after a certain ubuntu release broke them? There’s not a good solution to get those multifunctions working and yes I needed to sell my working printer. I still use Linux, just moved to Arch.

  • s2

    Well, Win7 doesn’t support ISA bus controllers.  So my old ISA sound card (build on a chip OPTi 82C931) won’t event is present as Unknown Device — it simple isn’t enumerated at all. To be honest, Linux support for this chip has regressed during recent year.  But that’s solvable task — to find the regression and fix it.

  • gregzeng

    Brand new HP Pavilion notebook, DV7, i7, 8gb DDR3, bluray r-w, esata, bluetooth, …. but silly W7-64 HOME.   So many days & hours d-loading HP drivers to get www access for W7-64 ULTIMATE.
    Ubuntu wotked immediately – no trouble, auto d-loading one not really needed 17 inch ATI display driver.
     

  • Ken Jennings

    I can’t think of anything I bought that I had to toss or give away, because it didn’t work with Linux.

    Over the years I have had Brother and HP printers for which the drivers/”custom applications” refused to install properly on Windows, their intended environment. (The Brother was the worst. Curse them.) HPLIP, Cups and Sane have been working great for me on several HP printers for the past six+ years. openSuse (as of 11.4) still comes with the driver support for the exact versions of printers I have. Windows 7 on the other hand does not, so I had to fudge it with a new model hoping it won’t assume something that isn’t really possible with the printer.

    New discovery — I have a new Logitech gaming mouse that just works with Linux, but on Windows 7, it acts brain damaged, repeatedly disconnecting itself and reconnecting if a Logitech USB joystick is connected at the same time. On another laptop at work (Windows XP) the mouse won’t even act like a mouse — completely dead.

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