I have only previously played with ubuntu using virtual machines with VMware Fusion. So everything just sort of worked. I've never had to install any drivers. I'm considering putting it on some real hardware and using it as a media center. What should I be looking for as far as checking hardware compatibility? How does installing drivers work? Any quick and easy recommendations / guides?
- Nvidia drivers are better than Radeons, and works VERY well, including 3D!
- Some new audiocards are sometimes not detected automatically, but it's a rare case.
- Currently, there were no Wi-Fi issues noticed. Networking was always the strong point of all *nix systems :)
- Hewlett-Packard has very nice *nix support. All other printers work without any issues using CUPS. See the list here
- Scanners are also ok. Here's the list of devices supported by sane
For a Media Center specifically:
- Use a motherboard with an integrated Intel GMA chipset for graphics. Yes, the memory will probably be shared, but you won't notice it with a media center. Intel GMA is well supported because the driver is open source.
- Use Hauppauge SD cards. I don't believe the HD cards work yet. The PVR-350 comes with a non-Windows branded remote.
- My experience with wireless (802.11x) cards has been frustrating. Wireless cards in laptops work well. I bought a wireless -> Ethernet bridge for my media center. Onboard LAN cards work great.
- Mythbuntu worked right out the box for me. The drivers stuff was automagic.
- Browsing here is where I go for my media center questions, including hardware compatibility questions. Obviously this is just for MythTV and not any other Linux Media Centers.
Bottom line: Almost everything work with Linux now. The question is how much pain you want to deal with. The above is my recommendation for a minimum pain system. You're interested in stability with a media center, not bleeding edge features, latest drivers, etc...
If you're really cautious, you could look for a pre-built system that is sold with either Windows or Ubuntu, but the same hardware. Then you know all the pieces should work with either.
Dell had some like this when I bought my computer. I wiped their pre-installed version of Ubuntu to set it up the way I liked it, but I didn't have to worry about hardware compatibility.
See the wiki
You can do some research on the Hardware Support section of the Ubuntu Wiki. It doesn't cover everything, but whatever you learn, you can contribute back.
Check out the UbuntuHCL.org hardware compatibility database.