Wednesday, November 11, 2009

UNR 9.10 and Lenovo S10-2 - Bad Karma Continued

It seems that I'm not the only one who is having problems getting Broadcom-based wireless to work on netbooks with UNR 9.10. Using Google, I discovered issues with with this hardware combination - mainly due to the fact that the Broadcom drivers were proprietary - hence manual installation was necessary. It would not be so bad if the manual installation had worked properly but it seems otherwise. There were also suggestions on the Ubuntu user forums on how to solve this problem and I wanted to try out one of them.

A digression: Another interesting fact about the S10-2: If you have a bootable USB stick in any of the 3 USB slots, the S10-2 will ALWAYS boot up from that USB stick (unless you override it using the F12 key during boot). So do not put any bootable USB stick into the S10-2 unless you mean to boot from it.

Coming back to UNR 9.10, this time around I decided to install the OS to my hard disk instead of using the "Live CD" (ie, try out UNR). I also plugged the S10-2 into my home network using an ethernet cable. Installation was effortless - kudos to Canonical for making it easy for anyone to install the OS. The actual installation process - partitioning and formatting, decompressing and copying files, etc, was very fast - however, the 'Configuring apt' and 'Installing language packs' portions (where it needed to access the repositories over the internet) took about 8 minutes. I guess this part is dependent on how fast the internet connection is - my ISP is also not known to be very reliable at times. Once the installation was completed, I re-booted (without the UNR USB stick in the S10-2) and was presented with the Grub menu. Pressing Enter booted the netbook into the brand new UNR OS. I should mention here that it was obvious during the installation process that UNR could connect to the internet via the wired ethernet connection - however I am more concerned on whether the wireless will work. After all, this is why I bought the netbook in the first place - freedom from being tied down to a wired internet connection.

A short while after the main GUI screen appeared, two things happened - one a blinking "Update Manager" icon appeared on the taskbar - probably to tell me that new updates are available. The second happened a short while after the first - another icon appeared on the taskbar and a message popped up on the screen saying "Restricted drivers available". This is probably the drivers for the Broadcom wireless chipset but before I install this, and as suggested by users in the Ubuntu forums, I had to perform an update to the system. Clicking on the blinking "Update Manager" icon opened the Update Manager showing me a list of all the available updates. I clicked on the "Install Updates" button, entered my password (update required administrative privileges) and the update process started. It went well for a while - downloading the updates took about 10 minutes - however, the update process hung up at the "Configuring grub-pc" part. The OS itself was OK and I managed to get a screenshot of the hung process - see below:

At this point, I said a few unkind words about the OS and killed the hung process using Ctrl-C, after which the rest of the updates were configured. At the end, Update Manager told me that the update was completed but with errors. and also left me with the task of fixing the error. According to Upade Manager, the error occured while configuring grub-pc. Checking in the /var/cache/apt/archives directory, I found the package 'grub-pc_1.97-beta4-1ubuntu4_i386.deb' which was the culprit. I then opened a console window and executed 'sudo aptitude reinstall grub-pc' in order to re-install the offending package. This time around it installed and configured without any errors - which made me wonder whether the error was caused by Update Manager since aptitude installed it with no problem. Anyway, now that the system has been updated, it's time to configure the S10-2 wireless (with finger crossed!).

Clicking on the "Restricted drivers available" icon on the taskbar, it started searching for the drivers, found it and presented me with a Hardware Drivers dialog box listing only ONE driver - the Broadcom STA wireless driver. Note that this differ from my previous try where 2 drivers were listed. Taking this as a good sign, I pressed the 'Activate' button. After entering my password, a status screen briefly flashed on the screen and I was back at Hardware Drivers dialog box which still informed me that the driver is not activated. I tried to activate it again, and again, and again!!! After the third time, I gave up. Words cannot describe how I felt at that moment! Does it have to be so hard to get wireless working on the S10-2 with this OS? Maybe it's just bad karma!!!

Thinking I need a reboot (just like Windows!), I rebooted the S10-2 and waited at the main GUI screen for the "Restricted drivers available" icon on the taskbar to re-appear. This time it did not. Neither did the wireless AP's appeared when I clicked on the networkmanager icon on the taskbar. Starting the Hardware Manager manually and trying out to install the Broadcom driver again proved to be unsuccessful. I guess it's time to try another suggestion listed on the Ubuntu user forum and that is to install the 'bcmwl-kernel-source' package found on the install CD or USB. I ran 'dpkg --install /media/TRANSCEND/pool/restricted/b/bcmwl/bcmwl-kernel-source_5.1-decom-0ubuntu4_i386.deb' command in a console. Note that my USB stick was mounted on /media/TRANSCEND. After the package was installed, I re-booted the S10-2 (since I noticed that the kernel modules were rebuilt during the installation) and lo and behold! the wireless worked!!!!! After testing the wireless to see if it could connect to my home network's AP - which it did successfully, I gave a huge sigh of relief.

This experience raised one big question which I think Canonical should clarify. The Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10 is designed for netbooks, right? If most netbooks out there at the moment uses the Broadcom wireless chipset and if the reason why people buy netbook is portability - which implies access to the internet via wireless, why did Canonical makes it so difficult to get wireless working on Broadcom-based netbooks? Is Canonical deliberately driving netbook users to use Windows? The faster Canonical give an answer, the better - and I do not wish to hear "non-free" or "restricted" drivers as an excuse! Just make it simple for the average joe to get wireless working on the netbook!

Now that I have wireless working on the S10-2, I am going to play around with the UNR 9.10. Stay tuned for my adventures with it.


  1. This was very, VERY helpful in my decision to dual boot my HP Mini 110 to XP/UNR. Wasn't 100% sure about partitoning, or wireless once I had UNR up and running, as I had heard it was slightly difficult for first time users. I'm headed right now to install it. Results to follow.
    Thanks alot!

  2. I also cannot understand what is so difficult to get wireless cards to work under Ubuntu. I have an HP tablet which has a built in broadcom which no longer works (HP will not recognize it as a manufacturers defect even though there are MANY other HP users with the same problem) so I bought and use a Belkin PCI Express wireless-N. This works flawlessly in Windows. It did initially with Ubuntu, until it simply dissappeared altogether. No adapter, nothing. What gets me is my iPod iTouch 16GB comeswith wireless and will detect ans connect with fail where ever I go but Canonical cannot seem to do what my little ol' iPod can when it comes to wireless. Go figure.