Wi-Fi for Linux May Get Easier

By Eric Griffith

May 01, 2006

Embedded software maker Devicescape wants to make it a simple affair for non-PC devices and Linux computers to get unwired.

San Bruno, California-based Devicescape makes software you probably have used but don't know it — it might be running some of your wireless hardware from big name vendors. The company is planning several new initiatives around what it calls "service-enabled devices," consumer or mobile products that wirelessly connect to the Web without the benefit of a PC.

"Imagine a wireless iPod with Wi-Fi on it," says Glenn Flinchbaugh, the company's Vice President of Marketing, "connecting directly to iTunes Music Store instead of synching with the PC." The vision is that devices using Devicescape software would automatically connect when in range, download what you want (be it data, sound, or video) and you'll be set.

To get there, the company is launching a technology it calls Easy Access to get past the setup hurdles faced by modern WLANs. All the Devicescape software in the future will include it — and it's not proprietary — it's based on the Wi-Fi Alliance's work on what it currently calls Simple Config, a one-button (or PIN-number based) setup of security settings similar to what is available in products today from Buffalo Technology.

"It's similar to Buffalo's AOSS and others, but it's multi-vendor and goes beyond what others have done," says Flinchbaugh. This technology will also be part of the wireless support in Windows Vista.

Devicescape is a Cisco partner, and builds Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) into its software. The company has had version 4.0, which has extra voice capabilities, available to customers since January.

So what about Linux?

Devicescape's Wi-Fi driver stack is going open source under the General Public License (GPL).  Called the Advanced Datapath Driver, it has been submitted for inclusion in the Linux 2.6 kernel. That could mean that in the very near future, instead of struggling to get drivers and cards to work together on a Linux computer, users may be able to plug in just about any card and get up and running. Developers could potentially stop porting drivers from Windows or writing new drivers from scratch.

"This is the first time Linux will have native Wi-Fi support," says Flinchbaugh. "Previously, it just had Ethernet. That meant it was always a hassle to support Wi-Fi adapters or chips on a Linux system, whether in a PC or embedded. We're trying to make it easy for the industry to make devices with Linux."

Acceptance of the Devicescape driver into Linux isn't 100 percent guaranteed, but Flinchbaugh thinks it's very likely. In fact, he claims that this contribution supersedes a previous attempt by Intel to get Wi-Fi support in the Linux kernel, though Centrino chipsets in laptops tend to be a bright spot in Linux support of Wi-Fi.  

As for what cards or chips the Devicescape software will support immediately if it becomes an official part of future Linux builds, Flinchbaugh could only confirm that just about every Atheros Wi-Fi chipset would work out of the box.  Some chipmakers may need to write some low-level hardware-specific drivers.

The submission will also bring some multimedia Quality of Service technology to the Linux kernel.  

"We found that previously the Linux kernel couldn't distinguish between streams of traffic -- say, one with voice, one with video and one with data," says Flinchbaugh. "That's important as people build voice and video into networks... we added that as well."

Rounding out a slew of announcements today, Devicescape also inked a deal with LVL7 Systems, which makes software for wireless switches. "They do switches, we do access points, so we said, ' why not form a partnership?'" Flinchbaugh says. Together, the two expect they'll be able to offer OEM and ODM vendors a complete WLAN switch suite of software.



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