After Hubert Figuiere mentioned it a while ago on Planet Gnome, I found a cheap SMC2835W 802.11g card on ebay, and am relieved to find that it works. It's a lot better than my 802.11b ELSA Vianect MC-11.
The only trick is to copy-and-rename the /Driver/smc2835w.arm file from the supplied CD, to /usr/lib/firmware/isl3890 (on debian linux) or /lib/firmware/isl3890 (That l is an L, not a one) on fedora linux, and then use the Gnome or Fedora networking control panel to create a new wireless connection. Maybe that firmware file is online, but how the hell would you know which file to use? I could not find any way to identify the “version” (1, 2, or 3) of the card.
I really hope that some dbus/hal-type thing could prompt me for the firmware in future. Looking in dmesg, googling for some dubious forum messages, and messing about in the terminal, is not a great user experience.
I'm very pleased that this works, but so far it still seems that no 802.11g card that you can currently buy as new will work in Linux, without recompiling your kernel or using the windows driver via the ndiswrapper hack.
Ubuntu just works
I also finally got around to replacing my debian partition with Ubuntu Linux. I was amazed that the 802.11g card just worked without any setup whatsoever. They seem to ship the firmware for many cards, and I hope they can keep doing that.
However, I can't get my new printer (HP Deskjet 3650) to work in Ubuntu yet, and that worked (almost “just work”ed) in Fedora Core 3, prompting me when I plugged in the USB cable.
Ubuntu is worth the install just for the little drum beat that greets you at the login.
The disabled root / sudo thing feels a little odd, and I think they should make it easier to find out what's going on. I mean, if I do su then it shouldn't just ask me for a password when there's no possible correct answer. As far as I can tell, on Ubuntu the regular user has rights to do some root-like things, but sometimes the user is asked for his own (not the root) password again. And, because su does not work, you need to run commands as “sudo thecommand” instead of doing su and then the command. sudo will ask for your own password again. It doesn't feel quite right, but maybe I'll get used to it, and maybe it'll improve.