Ubuntu Desktop 7.10 is available and its out-of-the-box hardware support is stellar. Even so, while testing it I had a little trouble getting a WiFi card with the Broadcom 4311 chipset to work. Here's how I solved the problem.

First of all, to use a WiFi card with a Broadcom 43xx chipset requires a proprietary driver. For this reason Ubuntu does not come packaged with that driver due to open source licensing restraints. But, the driver is available and can be installed with a just a few clicks by using the "restricted drivers" interface in the OS. So I installed it.

After going round and round trying everything I could think of, no matter what I did the Wifi card would not scan for networks. The card was visible to the operating system so I knew the underlying drivers were working OK for the most part.

Finally I remembered seeing a BIOS setting that lets me turn on or off the system's built-in WiFi card. So I went to the BIOS and checked to see if it was in fact enabled. It was. However, at the same time I noticed that the Bluetooth card was enabled too. Knowing that I do not want Bluetooth active on the system (for security reasons) I disabled that card at the BIOS level.

Lo and behold, the WiFi card starting scanning for networks again! Weird eh? I'm not sure why that turned out to be the problem since I haven't investigated further yet. But that's the fix in case any of you experience similar problems.

If you're looking to enable WPA or WPA2 then be sure to checking into the wpa_supplicant software that is included with the base installation of Ubuntu 7.10. You'll need to configure that to make authentication work.

If you wondering about Ubuntu then you can download the installation CD and take it for a test drive. The CD boots into a live destktop, and if you decide to install it then there's an icon on the desktop to get you started. If you want to install it on a system with Windows then no problem -- the installer will re-partition an existing drive, install a boot loader, and preserve Windows perfectly to create a dual boot system.

Also keep in mind that you can get a free copy of VMware Server for Linux in case you want to run other operating systems inside the Ubuntu desktop.

Oh, and Ubuntu Server is really good too, especially for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (LAMP) platforms ;-)