Web camera support in Linux - popular distros reviewed


Updated: November 12, 2008

If you're using Internet, there's a fair chance you're using some sort of instant messaging, voice, video - or both - telephony or other communication tools to stay in touch with people all over the world.

Web cameras play a big part in Internet communication. They allow us to see the other side, thousands of kilometers away. Definitely an important part of our Web life. Web cameras can be bought and installed as peripherals - or, like in the case of most laptops, they come integrated, built into the screen casing. The crucial question is, can you use these devices on your laptops, should they have Linux installed on them? This article is a quick review of web camera support for some of the most popular distros today.

Please note this is not an comprehensive study of hardware support - just a bit of fun testing of what you should expect if you run a Linux distro on your machine and fancy a screenshot of your own features. All testing was done in live sessions, without any installation and extra tweaking. The goal of the tasks was to see how easy it would be to configure the web cameras.

Fedora 10 Cambridge (Beta)

At the time this article was written, I tested the functionality on the Beta version. Nevertheless, it worked - and it worked great. Excellent.

I tested the web camera support using the Cheese Webcam Booth, an application that offers instant, plug-'n'-play support for web cameras. The weapon of choice was a Lenovo T61 with integrated hardware. Below, you can see my stylish haircut and the dusty, mold-eaten cover of the F-16 Combat Pilot simulator, a 600KB DOS-era CGA beauty created in 1989.

Fedora webcam

For a full review & tutorial on Fedora 10 Cambridge, you may want to read my article Fedora 10 Cambridge - Review Tutorial.

Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex

Ubuntu does not have a one-click button that takes you to your web camera. So I tested the functionality using a third-party tool: Ekiga VoIP and video conferencing software.

After briefly configuring the tool while running in live CD session, I had my web camera working and staring at me. Again, I used pretty much the same theme for this screenshot.

Ubuntu Ekiga webcam support

For many more details about Ubuntu 8.10, including Wireless and Bluetooth support, multimedia support, installation of popular software, and much more, you may want to check my article Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex - Review & Tutorial. OK ... So far so good. Both Fedora and Ubuntu offer flawless web camera support even in the live session.

gOS 3 Gadgets

We have already seen and talked extensively about gOS Linux (version 2 Rocket) in my article gOS Linux - a very good OS - Overview & Tutorial. The latest release comes with improvements in usability and looks. Web camera support is one of them.

I used Skype (which is included by default) to test the camera. The camera worked without any problems. But when I tried taking screenshots as a proof using the screenshot capture utility, the video output showed as a blue rectangle. I have no idea why this is, but it somewhat reminiscent of the problem you may have if you try to screenshot Windows Media Player. Nevertheless - the most important thing - the web camera works.

gOS webcam

However, nothing could stand in the way of my digital camera - forgive the ugly looks:

gOS webcam digicam

We will have yet another gOS review here on the website quite soon.

Distros that would not let me ...

Note: this does not mean web cameras cannot be configured in these distros. They can. Maybe. It's just that I did not manage to find out how to do this in less than 60 seconds. Which is about the average time a user named Ludwig von Windows will spend deciding whether to use Linux or not.

Do not be angry if you see your favorite distro in the below list. Remember, I was testing a single machine, live CD only, simulating the average patience and average skills of an average computer user - the one who only wants to downloads movies and pictures and chat with friends.

It is not really representative - and yet, it is.

Here's the list (in no particular order):

Sabayon Linux (release 3.4)

While it offers Compiz Fusion and NTFS support out of the box, Sabayon did not offer me anything I might use to test my web camera.

Puppy Linux (release 4.1)

Puppy will give you anything you need, including Flash and MP3 playback, Samba sharing, and Wireless support while still being smaller than an average Powerpoint presentation, but I did not manage to get the web camera running.

PCLinuxOS (release 2007)

This fine distro allows you many things, like sharing your resources with other (Windows) machines without touching the command line even once, but when I tried using Kopete, the Video configuration menu was empty; my camera was not recognized.

Linux Mint (release 4.0)

Although Ubuntu-based, Daryna comes with no video conferencing software that I could test my web camera with. It would probably work after the installation, but this kind of test was beyond the scope of this article.

Dreamlinux (release 3.5RC)

One of the more beautiful distros with simply the best multimedia support around, it gave me no easily visible option of getting the web camera to work. This is the first hitch regarding anything to do with sound and video that I encountered in Dreamlinux.

SUSE 11.0

SUSE was the first Linux distro I've written about on Dedoimedo, more than two years ago, back then at version 10.1. The latest SUSE release seems to offer interesting new features. Unfortunately, powering up Kopete and trying to configure the video devices yielded no success. We'll have a full review of SUSE 11 soon.

Conclusion

If my count is correct, out of 9 distributions tested, only 3 offered very simple and easy access to the web camera device, whether because there was no need to mess up with the drivers or simply because a convenient application has been included in the distro allowing me to quickly test the feature.

So, if my test is in any way even slightly representative, this means that you have approx. 33% chance of getting your web camera working in Linux distributions released in the last year or so. HOWEVER ...

Notice that it DID work in three distros only recently released - or about to be.

This means that the Linux world is moving at a healthy pace toward increasing support for the gadgets that people like, be they Wireless devices, Bluetooth, cameras, palm devices, and whatnot. It will be most interesting to see how the tested distributions will fare once again in about half a year so, the average cycle life for most.

The winners of this humble contest are: unsurprisingly, Ubuntu, which aims to be the friendliest Linux distro, and gOS Linux, which aims at young Web-oriented users; and surprisingly, Fedora, which most pleasantly elicits the user. I'll be looking forward to seeing the improvements in the upcoming releases.

Stay tuned and ... Cheers!

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