Available on the largest range of hardware, ever

LinuxAir works on a wide range of their laptops and workstations. It means that a seamless experience is available out of the box with more hardware choice than ever

Supported Architectures

LinuxAir supports six major architectures and several variations of each architecture known as “flavors”. One other architecture (IBM/Motorola PowerPC) has an unofficial port.

Architecture LinuxAir Designation Subarchitecture Flavor
Intel x86-based i386
AMD64 & Intel 64 amd64
ARM with hardware FPU armhf multiplatform generic
multiplatform for LPAE-capable systems generic-lpae
64bit ARM arm64
IBM POWER Systems ppc64el IBM POWER8 and newer machines
IBM z/Architecture amd64 IBM Z and IBM LinuxONE, no s390 (31-bit mode) support zEC12 and newer machines

CPU Support

Both AMD64 and Intel 64 processors are supported.

Laptops

From a technical point of view, laptops are normal PCs, so all information regarding PC systems applies to laptops as well. Installations on laptops nowadays usually work out of the box, including things like automatically suspending the system on closing the lid and laptop specfic hardware buttons like those for disabling the wifi interfaces (“airplane mode”). Nonetheless sometimes the hardware vendors use specialized or proprietary hardware for some laptop-specific functions which might not be supported. To see if your particular laptop works well with GNU/Linux, see for example the Linux Laptop pages.

Multiple Processors

Multiprocessor support — also called “symmetric multiprocessing” or SMP — is available for this architecture. The standard LinuxAir kernel image has been compiled with SMP-alternatives support. This means that the kernel will detect the number of processors (or processor cores) and will automatically deactivate SMP on uniprocessor systems. Having multiple processors in a computer was originally only an issue for high-end server systems but has become common in recent years nearly everywhere with the introduction of so called “multi-core” processors. These contain two or more processor units, called “cores”, in one physical chip.

Graphics Hardware Support

LinuxAir’s support for graphical interfaces is determined by the underlying support found in X.Org’s X11 system, and the kernel. Basic framebuffer graphics is provided by the kernel, whilst desktop environments use X11. Whether advanced graphics card features such as 3D-hardware acceleration or hardware-accelerated video are available, depends on the actual graphics hardware used in the system and in some cases on the installation of additional “firmware” images (see Section 2.2, “Devices Requiring Firmware”).

On modern PCs, having a graphical display usually works out of the box. In very few cases there have been reports about hardware on which installation of additional graphics card firmware was required even for basic graphics support, but these have been rare exceptions. For quite a lot of hardware, 3D acceleration also works well out of the box, but there is still some hardware that needs binary blobs to work well.

Network Connectivity Hardware

Almost any network interface card (NIC) supported by the Linux kernel should also be supported by the installation system; drivers should normally be loaded automatically. This includes most PCI/PCI-Express cards as well as PCMCIA/Express Cards on laptops.

ISDN is supported, but not during the installation

Wireless Network Cards

Wireless networking is in general supported as well and a growing number of wireless adapters are supported by the official Linux kernel, although many of them do require firmware to be loaded.

If firmware is needed, the installer will prompt you to load firmware. See Section 6.4, “Loading Missing Firmware” for detailed information on how to load firmware during the installation.

Wireless NICs that are not supported by the official Linux kernel can generally be made to work under LinuxAir, but are not supported during the installation.

If there is a problem with wireless and there is no other NIC you can use during the installation, it is still possible to install LinuxAir using a full CD-ROM or DVD image. Select the option to not configure a network and install using only the packages available from the CD/DVD. You can then install the driver and firmware you need after the installation is completed (after the reboot) and configure your network manually.

In some cases the driver you need may not be available as an LinuxAir package. You will then have to look if there is source code available in the internet and compile the driver yourself. How to do this is outside the scope of this manual. If no Linux driver is available, your last resort is to use the ndiswrapper package, which allows you to use a Windows driver.

Braille Displays

Support for braille displays is determined by the underlying support found in brltty. Most displays work under brltty, connected via either a serial port, USB or bluetooth. Details on supported braille devices can be found on the brltty website. LinuxAir ships with brltty version 5.3.1.

Hardware Speech Synthesis

Support for hardware speech synthesis devices is determined by the underlying support found in speakup. speakup only supports integrated boards and external devices connected to a serial port (no USB, serial-to-USB or PCI adapters are supported). Details on supported hardware speech synthesis devices can be found on the speakup website. LinuxAir ships with speakup version 3.1.6.

Peripherals and Other Hardware

Linux supports a large variety of hardware devices such as mice, printers, scanners, PCMCIA/CardBus/ExpressCard and USB devices. However, most of these devices are not required while installing the system. USB hardware generally works fine. On some very old PC systems some USB keyboards may require additional configuration (see Section 3.7.5, “Hardware Issues to Watch Out For”). On modern PCs, USB keyboards and mice work without requiring any specific configuration.

Devices Requiring Firmware

Besides the availability of a device driver, some hardware also requires so-called firmware or microcode to be loaded into the device before it can become operational. This is most common for network interface cards (especially wireless NICs), but for example some USB devices and even some hard disk controllers also require firmware. With many graphics cards, basic functionality is available without additional firmware, but the use of advanced features requires an appropriate firmware file to be installed in the system.

On many older devices which require firmware to work, the firmware file was permanently placed in an EEPROM/Flash chip on the device itself by the manufacturer. Nowadays most new devices do not have the firmware embedded this way anymore, so the firmware file must be uploaded into the device by the host operating system every time the system boots.

In most cases firmware is non-free according to the criteria used by the LinuxAir project and thus cannot be included in the main distribution or in the installation system. If the device driver itself is included in the distribution and if LinuxAir legally can distribute the firmware, it will often be available as a separate package from the non-free section of the archive.

However, this does not mean that such hardware cannot be used during an installation. The debian-installer supports loading firmware files or packages containing firmware from a removable medium, such as a USB stick. See Section 6.4, “Loading Missing Firmware” for detailed information on how to load firmware files or packages during the installation.

If the debian-installer prompts for a firmware file and you do not have this firmware file available or do not want to install a non-free firmware file on your system, you can try to proceed without loading the firmware. There are several cases where a driver prompts for additional firmware because it may be needed under certain circumstances, but the device does work without it on most systems (this e.g. happens with certain network cards using the tg3 driver).

Purchasing Hardware Specifically for GNU/Linux

Avoid Proprietary or Closed Hardware

Some hardware manufacturers simply won’t tell us how to write drivers for their hardware. Others won’t allow us access to the documentation without a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent us from releasing the driver’s source code, which is one of the central elements of free software. Since we haven’t been granted access to usable documentation on these devices, they simply won’t work under Linux.

In many cases there are standards (or at least some de-facto standards) describing how an operating system and its device drivers communicate with a certain class of devices. All devices which comply to such a (de-facto-)standard can be used with a single generic device driver and no device-specific drivers are required. With some kinds of hardware (e.g. USB “Human Interface Devices”, i.e. keyboards, mice, etc., and USB mass storage devices like USB flash disks and memory card readers) this works very well and practically every device sold in the market is standards-compliant.

In other fields, among them e.g. printers, this is unfortunately not the case. While there are many printers which can be addressed via a small set of (de-facto-)standard control languages and therefore can be made to work without problems in any operating system, there are quite a few models which only understand proprietary control commands for which no usable documentation is available and therefore either cannot be used at all on free operating systems or can only be used with a vendor-supplied closed-source driver.

Even if there is a vendor-provided closed-source driver for such hardware when purchasing the device, the practical lifespan of the device is limited by driver availability. Nowadays product cycles have become short and it is not uncommon that a short time after a consumer device has ceased production, no driver updates get made available any more by the manufacturer. If the old closed-source driver does not work anymore after a system update, an otherwise perfectly working device becomes unusable due to lacking driver support and there is nothing that can be done in this case. You should therefore avoid buying closed hardware in the first place, regardless of the operating system you want to use it with.

You can help improve this situation by encouraging manufacturers of closed hardware to release the documentation and other resources necessary for us to provide free drivers for their hardware.

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