Wireless-Only installs with Debian, Crunchbang and Kali Linux – Missing Non-Free Firmware

Wireless Network
I changed my entire network over to wireless and my router is now fixed to the wall, 25 meters away from my office, in my lounge. The wireless from my office reaches ok, and means we have a stronger signal from the lounge where we have our XBMC media center and everybody connects with their smart phones.

Wireless PCI/USB cards and Non-Free Drivers
Due to the fact that some manufacturers won’t release the source code for their drivers (Thank you Broadcom and Ralink!!) we still have a bit of a hard time, even though Linux geniuses have reverse engineered and hacked practically all of them for us so we can load wireless modules from the kernel.

Politics and Freedom
Some distros willingly provide non-free drivers right from the get-go, others are more conservative and stick to Stallmanesque non-free restrictions. Debian does this…. still…. in 2013.

Debian Live Builder
I’ve built my own Debian based distros, and like other distros which are built with this system, mainly Crunchbang and just recently Kali Linux (The New “Debian-Based” Backtrack).

Live Yes – Install No
I recently got a bit of a surprise with some Live installs, as I found that when running both Crunchbang and Kali live, my Ralink wireless USB firmware was loaded and allowed me to connect to the internet, but when I went for the install, at the network configuration step, I was told that the firmware was missing!!

When this stage happens:
1. Take a picture of the screen on the Debian Installer which tells you which files you need from /lib/firmware. In my case “rt2870.bin” and “rtl8168e-3.fw”.

2. Insert a blank USB Pendrive
3. Reboot the Live CD to get to the Live Session
4. Copy the two needed files from /lib/firmware on the Live CD to the Pendrive
5. Reboot and run the installer

The Debian Live installer will detect the firmware on the Pendrive, load it, and allow you to choose your wireless ESSID and WPA key, and continue the install.

There’s no time like now for the old adage “You learn something new every day”.

May all you fellow wireless-only users, now be able to install any Debian-based distro without being put off by this minor freenoyance.


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