Windows Vs Ubuntu – Driver Wars

Recently I have bought a couple of new pieces of hardware (as all good geeks do). Some of the new toys I have bought are a HP Envy Sleekbook Laptop, a HP Officejet 4500 Wireless Printer and also a Wacom Bamboo graphics tablet. I use Ubuntu on most of my machines but on my Sleekbook laptop I have both Ubuntu 12.04 and also Windows 7 in a dual boot configuration so all my new toys had to work with both operating systems.

HP Envy Sleekbook

The first thing I did was to replace the 500GB HDD with a 120GB SSD. So I first of all installed Windows 7 and unfortunately nothing worked out of the box. I thought that since my laptop had the “made for Windows 7″ sticker on it (which has now been picked off by the way) that it would pick up all my devices. Nope. Luckily I have other machines so I booted one up and downloaded all the drivers from HP. I also had to do Windows updates, install Office, AV, anti-malware etc and about 2.5 hours later I had a workable machine. on a 20GB partition – so much for “made for Windows 7″. Then came Ubuntu…

I partitioned the rest of the drive (100GB) to use Ubuntu as that’s what I’m running 99% of the time. I booted up via usb, installed Ubuntu and rebooted. Once I had logged in everything just worked. Sound, wireless, ethernet, video, the whole lot. I installed updates and some proprietary drivers for my graphics card and wireless and within 30 minutes I had a perfect install of Ubuntu that was fully patched and usable. Ten minutes more of copying my backed up Dropbox folder and some personalisation like icons and wallpaper and my machine was complete. Ta da! Simple.

Considering my machine was “made for Windows 7″ it was much easier to setup Ubuntu that it was on Windows…oh the irony!

HP Officejet 4500

Next came my shiny new printer as my 5 year old Epson 4400DX had finally given up the ghost. On a side note, I get HP devices a lot cheaper than retail because I work for HP, that’s the only reason that all my kit is HP.

Anyway I digress. I setup the printer and connected it to my Wireless LAN. I booted up to Windows 7 in order to setup the printer, it detected the printer on the network and set it up, I could successfully print but when I tried to scan it soon became obvious that some generic print drivers had been installed by Windows and I couldn’t scan over the network. So, back to the HP site for more drivers (I couldn’t use the CD as my Sleekbook doesn’t have a CD drive)…45 minutes later the new printer and scanner was working wirelessly with Windows 7, back to Ubuntu….

I booted back into Ubuntu, searched my network for the new printer. Ubuntu found it and promptly installed the new printer for me. I printed a test page and all was well. Now for the scanner…I’ve always found scanning to be hit and miss in Ubuntu and I actually couldn’t scan at all with my old Epson. So I was kind of expecting this with the new device. Well, I was so wrong. I started the simple scan application and attempted to scan. Low and behold it worked, right out of the box with no extra configuration, Googling or help from the Ubuntu forums guys. I was very pleasantly surprised.

Wacom Bamboo Graphics Tablet

All of the artwork that is on RefuGeeks is done by me, everything from the RefuGeeks logo to the purple and orange accents on the site. Doing this with a mouse is a slow, laborious process so I decided to get a graphics tablet to make things easier. I saw in the Ubuntu settings menu that there was an entry for “Wacom tablet settings” so I assumed Wacom were the manufacturers to go with.

The tablet was promptly delivered and had nice little Mac and Windows compatibility logo’s on the side – no Linux/Ubuntu compatibility though according to the packaging. Anyway, I plugged it into my Windows machine and nothing, no blue light to tell me it was working and obviously no movement when I put the stylus to the tablet.

As I said before, there is no CD drive on my Sleekbook so I had to go hunting for drivers. An hour later I had them downloaded & installed. Finally the tablet worked in Windows 7. So I re-booted to Ubuntu…

I really expected that such a niche peripheral like a graphics tablet would need at least some work in Ubuntu – maybe three commands in terminal to install some driver at least? I plugged the USB cable in and the little blue light came on, I moved the stylus to the tablet and to my astonishment it worked perfectly. Well, not perfectly – I had to change the settings from right to left handed (as I am a lefty) and that was it, the tablet works perfectly. Once again absolutely no work was required by me whatsoever.


Linux/Ubuntu gets a bad rep for having poor driver support. I have to say that time and again I am finding that the driver support is far superior in Ubuntu than it is in Windows. Don’t get me wrong, Windows drivers for peripherals are probably far more apparent than their Ubuntu counterparts but the sheer ease  of which Ubuntu installs devices is much superior to that of Windows.

It’s now plainly obvious that the vast majority of new hardware that is produced works perfectly well in Ubuntu and most of the time, all you have to do is plug the device in. So simple, who ever said that Linux is only for geeks? It’s just not true any more.

So, if possible driver restrictions are preventing you from migrating to or even trying Ubuntu then don’t let it, driver support in Ubuntu is excellent. Besides unlike Windows you can “try before you buy” (not that you have to buy of course) with Ubuntu by way of a live CD/USB. So you can then see if all of your hardware will work with Ubuntu without making a single change to your machine.

Windows Vs Ubuntu – Driver Wars
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  • Linux Rants

    Excellent article. I’ve had similar experience with Windows vs. Linux on driver issues.

  • Yuri de Groot

    Scanning is _still_ hit and miss. I’m using Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu. My networked multifunction device (Samsung SCX-3400) prints fine but won’t scan over the network. It needs the USB cable attached in order to scan. In Windows it scans fine over the network using the drivers on the CD (which can be found on their website in 30 seconds). The _only_ time I boot Windows is for annoying compatibility issues like this one.

    • Kev Quirk

      I didn’t even know that Samsung made MFP’s. Samsung clearly haven’t written any kind of drivers for scanning in Linux unfortunately. What you could do is have a windows VM but set the NIC to bridged mode instead of NAT. This will mean that your VM can talk on the network and should be able to scan. You can then used a shared folder between your VM and host transfer files.

      That’s what I used to do with my old Epson. :)

  • Ankur

    Thats good to hear that new hardware are working flawlessly with ubuntu .

  • Patrik

    Very good article! i have the same trouble with USB-Serial adapters, they work in linux out of the box but in windows you end up searching for drivers all over the net…

  • shadowguy14

    I really hate Windows for not having an easy way to download Drivers, but I using Drivermax is makes up for that. Ubuntu is so easy to use when it comes to this, and I’m so glad for that :D

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  • Brian Kanto

    My experience matches your exactly Kev. My HP 8500 was plug and play.

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  • Charlie Barkin

    very nice indeed. and excellent story of your Ubuntu experience. I am a full time Ubuntu user. So far, I got no problem what so ever about drivers except for my Nvidia graphics card. But the rest are all working well for me. Linux makes setting up a PC much easier. My only wish is that Ubuntu remains to be a faster, more stable and easier OS for people to use. I been using it my whole life. For 3 years I run Ubuntu as a stand along OS on my laptops and desktops. I begin to love the Unity interface. Even though it sucks a lot. Maybe I need to get a tablet too myself or make my desktop touch screen. :D But for all it’s intensive purposes, Ubuntu is a good OS for what you plan to do with your PC.

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  • Somewhat Reticent

    Much of the drivers issue is a vintage question – certain vintages of a distro work with certain combinations of hardware, just as a dated Windows setup disc doesn’t have newer drivers – unless you added them to the setup, that is. It’s really wiser to try before you buy, to assure what you need will work.