Taming Hardware via Drivers

All operating systems (OSs) use drivers to connect hardware to software. Drivers enable an OS to provide a consistent set of software interfaces for hardware to user programs, thereby simplifying application design compared to a direct-access approach. By requiring user programs to go through the OS to access hardware, drivers also help to keep multiple programs from interfering with each other's use of hardware devices. Unfortunately, the plethora of hardware available for modern computers, particularly in the IA-32 world, means that a huge number of drivers are required. This in turn can cause problems because sometimes it's difficult to identify and install drivers. Fortunately, knowing a bit about the Linux driver situation helps immensely.

Note This section and its subsections describe drivers that are part of the Linux kernel. Some other devices—most notably video cards, mice, printers, and scanners—require driver support in user-space programs, such as XFree86, Ghostscript, or Scanner Access Now Easy (SANE). These drivers are covered in more detail in subsequent chapters of this book, including Chapter 3, "Using External Peripherals," Chapter 13, "Managing Printers," andChapter 16, "Optimizing X Configuration."

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