Realtek, Atheros, Ralink have so many chipsets so because one person isn't having trouble doesn't indicate anything.
Please don't blame Atheros as a whole company for the bad performance of just one chip of them. Most Atheros things work just fine.
And Ralink sometimes have conflicts between different modules claiming a card so they also aren't perfect.
I don't have any Realtek experience.
I am having good experience with Intel, and the Broadcom situation is improving by the time with their open-source driver for 4 chips in 2.6.39+. But indeed, there's much wireless hardware out with bad Linux support.
But do you know the situation of some years ago? More Linux users has improved the wireless compatibility much in my opinion. As Linux gains users over the years, the hardware compatibility increases. We're still some 1-2% at the moment, don't forget that.
Atheros WAS very good but now they have so many chipsets now. I still read in networking sections about people having problems. Intel seems like the only one that doesn't have so many wireless chips... yes, they have new ones but it just requires firmware and I suspect they have one or two cover a bunch.
If you can't have an Intel one, then Atheros is a 2nd choice. But, none of the other ones seem to work too well.
Doesn't matter much since Intel seems to be cornering the market on laptops these days anyway. But, if you only have an old laptop, pray you can change it to an Intel card.
If the laptop is older, it might have an older Intel or Atheros 5xxx which work fine. Or another good working card. If hardware is a bit old, there has been time to write a driver.
And nowadays HP, Dell and Lenovo test the Linux compatibility, that's a major step forward. The wireless problem on newer laptops is quite solved, at least on these three manufacturers, today's problem is hybrid graphics.
The number of Linux users is steadily increasing. More users means more coders and more interest, and hopefully better compatibility.
I guess I have to get a new laptop. This one has an integrated Broadcom card and I don't see any solution. I guess it's only good for Windows.
Yeah, OP, the linux desktop wasn't the wonder you make it seem. KDE3 might have been more stable than KDE4, but it looked like something from the CDE era. If you want stable FVWM is an option, but that also looks (and acts) like 1992 and that isn't going to win a non-hacker's heart that's for sure. Hardware support wasn't as good as it is today. Wireless support has improved massively contrary to what some people might say, although it is still one of the more troublesome areas, along with 3G modem support. However most wifi cards should work without any user intervention on recent distros. I'd say that right now we're in a transition stage from a not very attractive (in all regards) desktop to something with more broad appeal.