Linux overcame most of its former driver woes years ago except for one noticeable exception: Wi-Fi drivers. While many Wi-Fi cards and chipsets were Linux friendly, two major Wi-Fi chipset vendors, Atheros and Broadcom, kept their drivers proprietary. Now, things are changing. Atheros has released a true open-source driver for its latest 802.11n chipsets.
Madwifi.org, an open-source developer group that has long worked on open-source drivers for Atheros WI-Ffi chipsets, announced that Atheros released the new driver, ath9k, underneath the liberal ISC license. Moreover, according to the Madwifi programmers, “This driver is aimed at inclusion to the Linux kernel and supports all Atheros IEEE 802.11n devices. This represents a major shift in terms of support from Atheros with respect to Linux.”
While Atheros had long offered some support for Linux, it has always insisted on keeping its HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer) code proprietary. Last year, an open-source alternative, OpenHAL, became available, but it wasn’t completely compatible with the newer chipsets.
This change by Atheros isn’t too much of a surprise because the company just hired two of Madwifi’s top developers: Luis Rodriguez and Jouni Malinen.
According to Madwifi, Atheros also plans to add Linux access point support to ath9k with the aid of its two new open-source engineers.
There are many Wi-Fi devices already on the market using the ath9k-supported chipsets. These include Belkin’s N1 Wireless Notebook Card; D-Link’s RangerBooster N and Extreme N lines; Linksys’ WPC and WMP N lines; NEC’s WL300NC; and Netgear’s WNHDE111 Video Bridge and WN711.