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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Notes to Self: Elementary OS 0.3.2 installation on desktop

I installed Elementary OS 0.3.2 to one of my office desktops. I had installed this Linux distribution to two other PC's before this. Both worked fine with wifi. One was  laptop -- it could do wifi out of the box. The other was another desktop, using a different USB wifi adapter. It worked fine.

Switching to XFCE4

I found that Elementary OS was quite nice, but somewhat unresponsive on my older PC's. There were crashes with Midori browser as well. So the first thing I did was to install the following via sudo apt-get:
  1. xfce4
  2. xfce4-goodies
I then logged out of Elementary OS, changed session from Pantheon to XFCE, and logged back in. Selected default installation option.

Then I installed the flat, material design-like "Paper" icon theme from Github/snwh.

After that I changed a few things for the appearances:
  1. In Settings -> Appearances: Change icons to Paper.
  2. In Settings -> Appearances: Change windows to elementary.
  3. In Panel on the top, add a launcher, which would bring up a certain application finder / launcher.

Other Things I installed:

  1. Opera browser (from its website)
  2. Libreoffice Writer
  3. Scrivener beta for Linux
  4. Calibre (for its website)
  5. Appgrid (via command line, by adding PPA first)


There were a few problems, which I didn't manage to resolve today. I found that two of my USB plug-in USB wi-fi adapters were not working.

Problem #1: TL-WN727N (TP Link)

Apparently, its based on the RT2800USB driver. I tried to find an appropriate solution, but none seemed to work. See the Linux Wireless page on RT2800USB for some details.

There is a Debian wiki entry on RT2800USB. But unfortunately the wiki entry does not list TP-Link's TL-WN727N as a RT2800USB. It is, however, listed in the Linux Wireless page above.

Anyway, I found an officially provided Linux driver for TL-WN727N v4 at TP-Link's website. The only problem is:
  • The driver was published on 9/9/2015 (not very new)
  • It supports Linux kernel 2.6 to 3.16
You can download the driver here directly.

I only wonder, the latest stable Linux kernel is version 4.6 as of 15th May 2016. So, in future releases of Linux, I cannot rely on TP-Link to provide newer updates of their wi-fi adapter drivers? It means that I would have to buy new USB wireless adapters in the future, to ensure that they are supported by the Linux kernel in the installation.

Problem #2: WLI-UC-GN (Buffalo Inc)

Again, it seems to be based on the RT2800USB driver. Lots of people seem to have had problems with it.

From the Ubuntu forums in 2010: Thread: Buffalo WLI-UC-GN USB adapter help needed there was mention of "RT2870STA" driver.

Debian wiki has an entry on RT2870STA. Most appalling are the words: "Firmware has been removed from the driver in Debian kernel images as of 2.6.30. It is available in the firmware-ralink package since version 0.17."

Whereas, Debian wiki entry on RT2870USB describes the WLI-UC-GN as RT3070. So, big question: Is it RT3070 or RT2870STA?

Also another question. The Linux Wireless website on its "USB" page, does not list WLI-UC-GN. But WLI-UC-GNM is listed as RT2800USB. Close enough right?

I'm considering downloading the "Stretch non-free drivers" from the Debian website.... but wondering if it will work on Elementary OS. I heard that Ubuntu is built on Debian, and Elementary is built on Ubuntu LTS. So, it should work, right?

Buffalo Inc seems to be less caring about its Linux users than TP Link: There isn't any available Linux driver for the WLI-UC-GN that can be downloaded from its Support and Downloads page. What I found were these:

Other Findings on the RT2800USB driver.

I found a few more interesting things, which makes me think, on the one hand, that there could be some movement on the RT2800 driver side. And on the other hand, it makes me think that RT2800 could have been axed in 2010 by the driver's supporters.

What makes me think it could be revived, and gives me hope? 

This little page on the Linux kernel website, for one. It shows that there's movement, with the last one being only 14 days ago! Some guy called Xose Vazquez Perez is doing some updating of the driver. (I read the logs.)

And there's a Linux Driver download for RT3070 over at Mediatek's page. Admittedly, it's for the RT3070 (released 22nd October 2012)... which might work for the WLI-UC-GN? I'm not sure.... I'll give it a try. There's also a few other driver downloads for Linux on Mediatek's download page:
  • MT7612U (released 7th November 2014)
  • MT7610U USB (released 16th September 2013)
  • MT7601U USB (released 13th September 2013)
  • RT3573 USB (released 12th September 2012) and
  • RT8070/ RT3070/ RT3370/ RT3572/ RT5370/ RT5372/ RT5572 USB USB (released 22nd October 2012)

What makes me give up hope?

I found that the RT2x00 wireless driver project has been "decommissioned". They have a RT2x00 static wiki now.

The old mailing list shows that in June 2015, the RT2x00 team decided to shut down the support website for the project.

In the archived IRC chats (of their online meetings) of the RT2x00 team, we see that RT2800 driver was not a priority for maintenance. (The last archived IRC chat is from 2010).
<lfcorreia> we need to do something about the legacy rt2800 driver
<ivd> Why, we hardly have developers?

... if we want increased participation from Ralink, we need to understand that that is a cost to them, and think about how to motivate them to pay that cost. ... They already agreed that rt2800 usage in Linux is slow because of the lack of in-kernel drivers.

From "lfcorreia":
what we were planning to do about the 11n driver is the following, we need a volunteer to cleanup ralink's code and add our fixes to it ... but, and this is the most important issue, we don't want to support it for users. if we provide our version of their legacy driver, and as 802.11n is a hype product, we would get tons of help requests about fixing it. so, we *may* have it, but we don't actually support it for users.

But luckily, one of the "active" forums that I've discovered is the Linux Wireless Networking Development mailing list. (It could be displayed in several formats, and I just happened to choose "blog" format.) There is a search function on the left side of the link, to search the archives. Just key in "RT2800USB" and press "Search". In the results page, sort them by "Newest first". Voila! It looks like an active mailing list, all right. (If you want to jump to the results page, click HERE.)

Where To Next

I'm seriously considering installing another distribution over Elementary OS. The only problem, is that I can't figure out if it's going to solve my problem. I read somewhere that RT2870STA was dropped from the Linux kernel, but the mailing list tells me otherwise.


I don't know if I'm on to something, but I read in the mailing list:
Update rf registers to use the same values that the MediaTek/Ralink reference driver DPO_RT5572_LinuxSTA_2.6.1.3_20121022 uses.

RF5390RegTable in chips/rt5390.c
RF5392RegTable in chips/rt5390.c

Tested on TP-Link TL-WN727N and D-Link DWA-140 Rev.b3 usb wifi dongles.

You can download the mentioned file, DPO_RT5572_LinuxSTA., from Dropbox: Instructions are here. That's the same file as Mediatek's.

Here's some food for thought.
"The Rt2x00 project now supplies free software drivers for the Ralink Rt2400, Rt2500, and Rt2570 chipsets. In addition, the project develops drivers for the Rt61, Rt73, Rt2860, and Rt2870 chipsets that are free in themselves, but dependent on non-free but distributable firmware." Source: