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The Linux Modem Problem? 106

Posted by Cliff
from the no-carrier? dept.
muonman asks: "There is a business in town which refurbishes old computers and distributes them to kids, roughly at cost. Part of this cost is a $5 license for Windows 98 (they do use OpenOffice, tho). I have outlined to them the benefits of migrating to Linux, but the showstopper is modems, which most of their customers require. They buy in bulk at $4 each, with unpredictable chipsets. I can find reliable(?) drivers for Smartlinks, but cant buy them for less than $6 each, and I hate to recommend the switch in suppliers without more info. I haven't had luck getting license info from linuxant for using Conexants. It seems there has been no activity on the linmodem front for some time. Any wisdom from the Slashdot crowd?"
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The Linux Modem Problem?

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  • LinModem?
    • The last time I checked, most "software" (that is, lacking 95% of guts) modems relied on proprietary drivers. And to make it worse, the quality of those is abysmal -- I've been through modems from three different companies, and they all cause a lot of kernel oopses/panics/what not.

      Thus, I was really, really happy doing this [angband.pl] (slow link).
      • I have a Lucent/Agere AMR based modem in my laptop, and I use Alsa + the SmartLink daemon to run it. Never had an oops or kernel panic (mostly because all the crashable code is in usermode in this configuration). As a side bonus, I no longer need to taint my kernel to run the modem. Sadly, I still end up tainting it by installing nvidia.ko.

        There is one downside to this approach. The modem device is no longer a device node, but rather a pipe. Some apps don't like this, and say that there's no modems in

    • RFTS:
      "It seems there has been no activity on the linmodem front for some time."
  • by DavidNWelton (142216) on Monday April 11, 2005 @06:32PM (#12206170) Homepage
    ... be sure to let the rest of the world know about the modems that don't work at the Linux Incompatibility List:

    http://www.leenooks.com/ [leenooks.com]
  • by joelparker (586428) <joel@school.net> on Monday April 11, 2005 @06:35PM (#12206195) Homepage
    Have you asked the modem manufacturers to give it to you for free?

    This is often possible for software when there's good public relations and/or a tax-writeoff.

  • by vinsci (537958) on Monday April 11, 2005 @06:37PM (#12206215) Journal
    Part of this cost is a $5 license for Windows 98
    In Finland, there's no need to buy a new license. After a court decision a year or two back, it was determined that the license is transferred to the new user, presumably if the seller and buyer so agrees. If you get a donated machine in Finland, make sure to agree that license is transferred as well. Don't bother with the hologram license thingie, it carries no legal strentgh in Finland, as is the case with mouseclick licenses, AFAIK.
    • What if the computer does not have Windows 98 installed? I can see the need for a consistent OS that supports lots of random hardware, so Windows 98 for $5 is probably the most cost effective solution.
  • Not much help but (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Red Moose (31712) on Monday April 11, 2005 @06:38PM (#12206218)
    ....wouldn't it be a symptom of the increasing use of broadband (worldwide). I'm sure the guys who originally were making linux drivers for the shitty winmodems that used to ship with Dell and Gateways from around 1998-2001 when linux started to get in the news have long since migrated to some broadband type of connection.

    This isn't a flaw in the open source development method - plenty of companies don't bother supporting old devices either (or old software for that matter).

  • by xoboots (683791) on Monday April 11, 2005 @06:40PM (#12206241) Journal
    How can a license for Windows 98 be $5?

    You can't get it for that price even at ebay. Something is not quite right about this one...
  • by smash (1351)
    I can find reliable(?) drivers for Smartlinks, but cant buy them for less than $6
    Problem solved.

    Pay the extra $2 and sleep easier?

    For $2, it really isn't worth screwing around, IMHO. If your supplier can't supply hardware that works, tough luck for them...

    smash.

    • But its not just $2, its -$3 (5-2) and a vendor change and an operating system change. Its not that the hardware doesn't work, its that it doesn't work in linux, thus making the operating system switch more difficult.
    • I'd be more than happy with that solution. The trouble is, I have no way of knowing whether the $6 modem will actually work, and the proprietor has to buy them in quantity to get the price, so I'm afraid they will get stuck with $5 + $2 expense per box, instead of $2 - $5, if you follow.

      The bottom line is being able to be SURE that the modems you buy will actually work! Hence the query.
  • by NotoriousQ (457789) on Monday April 11, 2005 @06:46PM (#12206312) Homepage
    Total Cost Delta:
    +$2 modem
    -$5 windows
    -----------------
    $3 profit

    Why not just buy more expensive modems and save money at the same time.
    • Well presumably a large portion of their customers actually want the win98 licence. And to be honest its $5 who cares if your paying $5 for somtheing you dont need.
      • And to be honest its $5 who cares if your paying $5 for somtheing you dont need.

        Presumably the same people who care about paying $2 more for a different supplier of something they DO need?
    • If anyone can point to a source of modems that can reasonably be expected to work with Linux, I imagine we could pay up to $5 + $4 or even more and still be happy.

      I didn't mention that the $5 license has very strict limitations, as well (k-12 only...), so we have a
      need even if the modems cost more, but the difficulty is finding a reliable source of them whatever they are.
  • Test them. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker AT gmail DOT com> on Monday April 11, 2005 @06:46PM (#12206322) Journal
    I'm sure you have some numbers of the percent of these cheap modems fail. If the failure rate even in windows is high enough, the conversion to a better modem might be worth it financially as well. Run the numbers, you may be surprised.
  • Check out modem chipsets from Intel (or Ambient). Many of them have Linux drivers available from Intel for them (and they are less trouble than licensing from Conexant). No idea what kind of pricing you might be able to get on them. There are a lot of OEMs that put them on their cards.
    • I'm the de facto maintainer of the CLMD5620DT driver after the guy who wrote the driver disappeared (I just added an AT command parser, it used custom commands before).

      My advice : try to find actual, hardware modems somewhere. A real 33600 is better than a 56K winmodem.

      In the particular case of the CLMD5620DT, it used to work sometimes with 2.2 kernels (the version I released, with AT commands, is 0.3.0-gg), I made a quick port to 2.4 (you may find it as version 0.4.0) and I have no idea if it works wit
    • Agreed. Simple job of compiling and installing modem with 'make' and 'make install'. I bought a modem with this chipset for £5.00 including p&p off eBay. Also the gkdial package "apt-get gkdial" is a very nice easy to use dialer for newbies. Michael
    • Maybe Intel would give them to you.
      It is worth asking.
      The big problem is how to get hooked up to the Internet. A lot of the big ISPs seem to be going to strange custom dialers and such.
  • Uh... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RealityMogul (663835) on Monday April 11, 2005 @06:50PM (#12206351)
    You really can't argue this one? The argument you need is called math.

    $5 OS + $4 modem = $9

    $0 OS + $6 modem = $6

    If they are concerned about unit prices - this is easy. IF they have other concerns about switching over the Linux due to support or application compatibility issues, then the cost of the modem is irrelevant anyways.
    • Re:Uh... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by lounger540 (730992)
      That's fuzzy math.
      He has to buy the modem either way so it's more like...

      $0 OS + $4 modem + $6 driver (for $0 os) = $10

      but seriously, if you're donating them to kids how many wanna really be stuck w/ linux? No snood, aim, kazaa and whatever else they want from download.com or where ever e-kids hang out these days. I know theirs free alternates but do they? Will these kids wanna spend 4 years learning how to use it all properly and not get r00ted in the mean time?
      • Re:Uh... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by xoboots (683791)
        "but seriously, if you're donating them to kids how many wanna really be stuck w/ linux? No snood, aim, kazaa and whatever else they want from download.com or where ever e-kids hang out these days. I know theirs free alternates but do they? Will these kids wanna spend 4 years learning how to use it all properly and not get r00ted in the mean time?"

        but seriously, that's a joke, right? 4 years of learning for kids is no problem. Why give a kid a computer if not to help them better themselves? But most of all
      • Re:Uh... (Score:3, Funny)

        by Curtman (556920)
        Will these kids wanna spend 4 years learning how to use it all properly and not get r00ted in the mean time?

        Sure they're just kids. Set them loose on Windows 98, and it won't take 4 years to get r00ted. 4 minutes maybe.
        • Re:Uh... (Score:2, Funny)

          by freakmn (712872)
          I dunno, do the script kiddies of this day and age remember Windows 98? I doubt many of them could manage their way around the DOS prompt...
      • >No AIM

        There's Gaim [sourceforge.net]. That will let them use AIM, but it will also mean that if their friends use MSN or ICQ instead, they can talk to all of them from within the same program.

        >No Kazaa.

        Heard of mldonkey [nongnu.org]? eDonkey, Kazaa, Gnutella, BitTorrent, Napster, and Direct Connect, all in the one app. Got more clients than you can shake a stick at, too.
      • No snood, aim, kazaa

        They have Frozen Bubble (a clone of the same game that Snood copied), Gaim, and mldonkey. A lot of the other simple games will run fine on wine.

        Will these kids wanna spend 4 years learning how to use it all properly and not get r00ted in the mean time?

        If iptables is set to take no incoming connections except on those specific ports that the IM and P2P apps use, then how will they get r00ted?

    • Re:Uh... (Score:1, Troll)

      by jazman (9111)
      You missed a bit:

      $0 OS + $6 modem + 200 hours at $40/h trying to figure out why the fuck Linux won't recognise a totally 100% standard modem, or won't use a higher display resolution than 10x10, or whatever other stupid basic thing it won't recognise = $8006.

      OK, I'm exaggerating. Let's take a concrete example. New PC (Dell Optiplex GX270). Works perfectly with Windows at full resolution (1280x1024 on a nice shiny LCD monitor). Install Linux (SuSE 9.0 so this isn't exactly ancient software) - only does
      • You must have used linux like once... It's like anything else, once they get good at it it won't take any time at all to trouble-shoot. Have you ever tried tracking down old windows 98 drivers? Old hardware is flaky and hard to support no matter what software you use.
      • I have always had better luck getting minimal functional video in Linux then Windows (16 bit 800x600 or better) when installing on random box with random on baord video.

        Look at what Knoppix does on practically all hardware compared to Windows. I hate getting graphics up to snuff on Windows, nvidia's website won't even work at the deafault resolution for a fresh install (have to tab to the "Go" button to download drivers).

        Also an aside, I just installed SUSE 9.2 and get better refresh rates then Windows a
    • nuff said.
  • A proposal (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nate53085 (782588)
    What you should do is write up a proposal that outlines how the switch from Windows to Linux will be relatively painless and will save $3 per machine. This will spark interest if your working with any kind of volume. The $2 dollar increase in modem will likly make no difference if you can show that a lowered pricetag.
    • Better yet, set up dual boot on some machines and show them. I still have Win 98 on this PC right now, although I haven't booted into it in months. But if I needed to use a WinModem I could. I only keep it around for the 2 apps on it that will never be ported to Linux.
  • Try Free Geek (Score:5, Informative)

    by conform (55925) on Monday April 11, 2005 @07:07PM (#12206476)
    contact the people at Free Geek [freegeek.org] -- all the machines they give away come with modems, and all the modems they get are scavenged from donated machines, so this is probably an issue that they have dealt with. they're also just a great organization. they can probably help with some of the other issues as well; they've been giving away refurbished linux machines to computer illiterate people for years now (a machine comes with a class on how to use a computer, and i think 18 months of tech support), so they've tackled a lot of these problems.
    • Free Geek is awesome.

      They don't get new modems. Actually, most machines they take in are recycled (aka destroyed) rather than refurbished. They just take the good modems they get. This is always an option, but then you have to be prepared to throw away some machines.

  • linmodems.org (Score:4, Informative)

    by Curmudgeonlyoldbloke (850482) on Monday April 11, 2005 @07:39PM (#12206754)
    Probably a silly question, but you have checked http://www.linmodems.org/ [linmodems.org] haven't you?

    The main site is full of information to help identify and get working "windows" modems under Linux. The list still seems to be active. Before ADSL arrived in my corner of the world I was dependant on them to get connected via inbuilt modems. I can't fault the helpfulness of the people on the list.

    It doesn't matter if the modem cards you're getting are unpredictable provided that you know that it's one of a small subset and you know how to get each one (or most of them) to work. When I was last looking at this (over a year ago - but I guess that the kit you're seeing isn't new) the most manufacturer that modems identified themselves as was Agere/Lucent, for which there are various drivers around.

    Some modems will probably just never get Linux drivers - the 3com 3c556 and relatives are examples of that. See:
    http://zurich.ai.mit.edu/pipermail/omnibook/2002-A pril/001275.html [mit.edu]

  • My Experience (Score:3, Informative)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) <bittercode@gmail> on Monday April 11, 2005 @08:22PM (#12207111) Homepage Journal
    with a winmodem is related to my laptop. It has a lucent chipset. I'm not sure if this is helpful but I have no problem getting up to date binary packages of drivers for this modem. (Right now I run FC3 and the modem works- installed with an rpm package- I consider that pretty current).

    Drivers are available at http://www.physcip.uni-stuttgart.de/heby/ltmodem/ [uni-stuttgart.de]

    Maybe these are just older modems and you can't buy them anymore-- but if this type of modem is still available maybe you can get them for cheaper.
  • Last I checked Win95 was running $10-$15 on e-bay. I didn't check Win98 but I'd expect it to be more.

    I'm asking because I'm doing something similar.
  • I work at a place where people develop on Unix. Not exactly n00bs. Yet, we almost all use either OSX or Windows at home. Why? While Linux is better at some things (like being a server), trying to install desktop software only to go through dependency and obscure problem hell is something we don't like to spend our free time doing. Don't get me wrong, I love Linux and Unix. It's just not designed as a desktop OS, even redhat admits as much.

    If the kid gets a computer with Linux, he'll prolly get someone to put Windows on it (which Daddy/Mommy knows how to use) or just buy another computer. It's much better for Free Software and for kids to put polished OSS on a Windows box (like Open Office, Firefox, and Gimp).

    I really hope Linux will get there someday. It's just that today isn't that day, and by pushing a unready product to an audience, you give it a bad reputation.
    • If you give them a preconfigured linux box it will work fine. Besides, dependancy hell is a thing of the past.

      Besides the guy they get to commit copyright violations with Windows probably won't be able to remove Linux. :)
      • Man, I'm glad you told me that. I spent the better part of yesterday trying to figure out why a library required on GTK+ wouldn't compile on my redhat box. I now know I was dreaming!

        Seriously though, I'll wade through that shit. You think an 8 year old would? Or even know where to look?

        Computer's aren't monoliths; people want to install things and want them to work. They don't want something to not work after compiling from source (good luck on getting them to do that) and then doing research to disc
        • The grandparent was talking about package managers I think - the average person would probably never see the command line let alone compile software. What they would see would be YaST or Synaptic which handles things for the user.
        • Man, I'm glad you told me that. I spent the better part of yesterday trying to figure out why a library required on GTK+ wouldn't compile on my redhat box. I now know I was dreaming!

          You were trying to solve the wrong problem. You need to upgrade to either a modern distribution or a good distribution. Then your solution becomes 'apt-get install whatevercrappyGTKapp-you-were-trying-to-run,' and the dependency stuff is figured out for you.

          Seriously though, I'll wade through that shit. You think an 8 year o
          • I'm using the current release of Redhat enterprise. I've managed to find dependency hell using every "modern distibution" from Mandrake and Redhat (Fedora and Enterprise) to Gentoo and Debian. While some installs work just fine, the nasty ones are nearly impossible to fix.

            The windows installers by far and large "just work". It's not to say that I haven't ever had any problems, it's merely that the problems never result in program A requiring library Z version 1.1 and program B requiring library Z versio
            • There's no reason you can't install both versions of a library on Linux.

              If you're using Debian, and you use packages from the Debian repository, you never have the problem you describe.
            • More time with Windows would show that lots of installers don't work well, don't respect settings, etc. If you wanna talk impossible to fix, try a closed-source installer with an undocumented archival format. Try to figure out what to do when a popup says "this installer is trying to copy a file called blahfuk.dll to c:/winnt/system32/, but there ie already a version there. Do you want to replace it?" - tell me what that library will break, or what installed it. What, windows doesn't have any way for th
      • The sooner you introduce them to Linux the better. I've been using Linux since 1997, when I was only 10 years old. It wasn't a problem for me, & the tools of today (e.g. Synaptic) are amazing. Dependencies are not a problem. If you take a kid & give them Linux, it'll be just as easy to learn as Windows, & that's a fact. Of course, why should we even try? Linux isn't ready for the desktop! Next year will be its year. Oh wait, was that the next or the one after that? (sarcasm) Blast. Just give i
    • Well since I just did both a WindowsXP install and a Linux install. I can honestly say the Linux one went easier. I am having all sorts of driver issues on the Windows box. The Ubuntu Linux desktop literally just worked. The only problems I have had on the Linux box was setting up some new apt-get repositories. I then did an upgrade to the new release and then installed KDE. It is fast and easy to use on a PIII box. The windows box still does not have sound! And no I am not using any funky strange hardware
      • You're totally addressing the wrong part of the problem.

        The guy's going to give the machines to the kids preconfigured. It doesn't matter how easy it is to install. What matters, is ease to maintain. I don't know what kind of 98 box you're using, but my old 98 boxes still work fine on the 'net and aren't owned.

        Many people still pay professionals to install MS Office on their machines. I can't wait for someone to explain rpm -Uvh to them.
        • "I don't know what kind of 98 box you're using, but my old 98 boxes still work fine on the 'net and aren't owned."
          I don't use 98 boxes at all. But since Microsoft claims that it is impossible to make Widows 98 secure I really would love to know how you have your 98 boxes setup. Unless of course they are behind a NAT firewall which these kids computers probably will not be.
          As far as ease of loading new software. Frankly some Linux systems are easier than Windows. I just upgraded my Ubuntu box to the new dist
  • by imperious_rex (845595) on Monday April 11, 2005 @09:19PM (#12207545)

    Even when using PCI hardware based internal modems (such as US Robotics/3-Com modems) it's a crapshoot. Just because a modem is listed as being Linux compatible is no guarantee. Getting online depends a lot on what distro you're using.

    For example, on my Linux distro test box I have a 3CP5610 internal PCI modem. It works fine with Xandros, Lycoris, and Mandrake. Knoppix can detect the modem, and dials up to my ISP but cannot truly connect (although my KPPP settings are identical to the settings in Mandrake). Mepis cannot detect the modem, even though I tell it to use ttys4.

    With the rise in broadband access, modem support is becoming less of an issue. But for those needing dial-up access, what distro you use can make or break your ability to get online.

    • Even when using PCI hardware based internal modems (such as US Robotics/3-Com modems) it's a crapshoot.

      Yeah, but that was a nightmare with Windows too. In fact, I had an easier time getting modems to work under Linux than Windows (once I got rid of the WinModem joke).

      Just because a modem is listed as being Linux compatible is no guarantee. Getting online depends a lot on what distro you're using.

      For example, on my Linux distro test box I have a 3CP5610 internal PCI modem. It works fine with Xandro

  • This question is unanswerable and based on the tacit assumption that Windows 98 will "just work" on these legacy machines.

    Do these bulk modems come with Windows drivers? For $4? Do they work? What about all the other components of these refurbished computers?

    Why don't you have your configuration person do a bake-off. Try MEPIS or some other user-friendly distro and see how many of these refurbished machines work (including modem) immediately, and how many require screwing around and/or installation of
  • When I was still in dial-up land (actually, that was no more than 2 weeks ago), I had 2 Linux boxen - one Mandrake and one Gentoo. In terms of internal modems, I've had pretty good luck with the HSP cheapo internal modems. The Intel HAM modems also have Linux drivers (albeit limited to certain kernel revisions). Both of these modems can be had for just a few dollars online.

    Or the surefire way is to get an external modem. Connecting to the serial port will surely work with anything - and without drivers of
  • I am new to Linux and just tried to fix a friend's rotten Win98 install. I read that winmodems were a problem and my friend had one, so I bought an external serial port modem.

    I tried:

    1. VectorLinux - no joy connecting to the internet.
    2. I upgraded the RAM, and tried Knoppix - still nothing.
    3. I tried Windows 2000. No joy, but at least it reported the serial modem as being faulty.
    4. I tried Knoppix, with the Linunxant drivers for the winmodem. STILL no joy.
    5. I tried Windows XP. Everything work
    • You will no doubt get flamed for disparaging Linux, but you are correct. An external modem is better to use, because the interface is the standard AT command set. The problem is that you have to configure two different things: the serial port and the PPP client. The right order is to get the serial port working first and verify that you can talk to the modem. Second get PPP set up. Knowing that's what you have to do is the problem. Linux documentation can be a bit sketchy.
    • This was a problem with the serial modem, not linux.
      • KPPP and Minicom both detected the serial modem, but I was never able to dial out with it.

        Similarly, I was unable to get the Winmodem working with the Linuxant drivers.

        I was able to get the Winmodem working with XP. I did not try the Serial modem on XP, as Win2K said it was faulty and the winmodem worked.
  • ...works with more than just Smartlink modems. I use it with the Agere softmodem built into my Toshiba laptop. I do, however, have to use AT commands to limit it to a 33.6 connection, as a V.90 connection actually ends up slower with all the retransmits.

    The real solution is, of course, to use external RS232 modems.

  • Winmodems (Score:3, Insightful)

    by petrus4 (213815) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @01:35PM (#12213980) Homepage Journal
    I've got a Netcomm 56k internal based on the Lucent Mars chipset. Contrary to the amount of flak I've heard levelled at the hardware, the drivers from here [www.heby.de] work solidly in my experience, with both 2.4 and 2.6 series kernels.

    However, not all winmodems are created equal. I'm not entirely sure about this, but I believe it depends on whether or not the winmodem in question actually DOES have a controller chip and just needs proprietary drivers, as opposed to a true controllerless modem. From what I've read, the Lucent AMR modems are genuinely controllerless and thus not supported under Linux.

    In a nutshell, because the term "winmodem" is a catchment word and actually describes quite a large number of different devices, you need to make sure you have reasonably intimate knowledge of which specific breed of winmodem you've got. Some will work, some won't...but again, in my experience anyway with my own chipset, both the 2.4 and 2.6 Lucent modules work well.

    Of course, a standard hardware modem is always more desirable if you can get one...particularly seeing as the Lucent modules taint the kernel, which may be a problem for some people. (it doesn't particularly bother me) The advantages of winmodems however are price, greater level of availability these days from what I've seen, and marginally better throughput than their standard cousins in some instances. I'm hoping to eventually save up for a standard/external one of these days, and as I said they are more desirable if you can find/afford it...but I'm at least surviving on my Lucent right now.
  • Can you run the Win32 Winmodem driver with Wine on Linux?

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