Linked by Clinton De Young on Sun 27th Oct 2002 18:15 UTC
Debian and its clones After reading many of the posts regarding the recent OSNews story, "An Unbiased Review of Debian 3.0", I thought this article may be useful to those who would like to try Debian, but are a little intimidated by its installer. Several of the posts to the above mentioned story indicated that Debian's installer was a huge hurtle for many people, who would otherwise like to try it. I have found Debian to be the most useful flavor of Linux, so I wanted to write an easy, though somewhat long, walkthrough in the hopes of allowing a wider audience to experience first hand this stable and unique Linux distribution.
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The Devil Is In The Details
by László L. Orosz on Wed 6th Nov 2002 17:23 UTC

I have read both articles of "An Unbiased Review of Debian 3.0", and "The Very Verbose Debian 3.0 Installation Walkthrough". The first issue is their heavily Unix-biased nature. For one who comes from the Win-DOS world with great expectations, Unix is rather intimidating. The file system where you would expect common sense names like /sys for system, /cfg for configuration, /apn for applications, /prg for programming, /src for source, /math for math, is loaded with meaningless, or misleading names. The twisted logic of calling every peripheral hardware component a file, but without the proper drivers you cannot really do anything with them anyway, is not so easy to swallow. Well, and, that mounting and unmounting ... as if you regularly would unmount the tires of your car anytime you park it, and mount them, perhaps, before going anywhere regardless of location, and weather conditions! Also, the "seven bit clean" chauvinism is like a curse: it has made so much harm; yet, some daemon-worshipers try to keep it forever. It is time to get rational: the pun and fun time is over; we need a house cleaning! Well, issues touching the foundation, I know, are very hard to deal with; nonetheless, it would be rather naive to pretend that they do not exist.

But, now limiting the scope to the installation, I am not fully convinced that the presented very verbose walkthrough really alleviates all my uncertainties, and mitigates unforseen mishaps. The devil is in the details, and if you do not give all the details then surprises can be really nasty. I like to single out a few of them.

1) Partitioning should start with a partition plan. Hints and loose references to various partitions should be replaced with specific, practical values presented in a table for various scope and size of installations. The presented values should consider future expected expansion requirements, and space-demanding activities like burning CD's or DVD's. An installation can be completely spoiled by not mentioning, or just giving some unspecific hint of, key elements like the need of more than 1G'B for /opt alone, as is the case in some distributions. If Debian does not rely on /opt, it would be comforting to know it. On the other hand, if it uses /opt, then it should be stated clearly.

2) Monitor 'resolution' selections are not always foolproof. In one of my installations, the 1152x864 address space has resulted in an almost completely dark screen way out of shape. In another installation, selecting 1280x1024 has resulted in a perfect setting for that address space, and completely wrong for all the subsequent values of 1280x960, 1152x864, 1028x768, 800x600, and 640x480. Obviously, the writer of the auto configuration has forgotten about that the selected address space corresponds to a 5:4 ratio, whereas the subsequent values require the normal monitor screen ratio of 4:3. Applying the 5:4 ratio also to those values is most likely the cause of the undesirable result. In cases like these, the guidance should tell in which file what values should be adjusted, and for further details it should refer to the appropriate special HOWTOs.

3) By addressing only a broad band network configuration, the guidance leaves out in the cold 90% of the PC users, and likely close to 99% those who really need help. Most PC's come with internal modems, some of which are genuine hardware modems, and others are the so-called win-modems. Configuring them on Linux, both of them are rather problematic! The default settings are for external modems. (But, why?!) Some 'experts' prefer to write a million-line script instead of naming those few variables that have to be set specifically for these cases. Well, I would not even start installing such a distribution that could not assure that eventually I would be able to dial out!

4) Linux printer configuration is another spot of thin ice. Even if it gets through, most likely, the default setting is not what you would like to see, not to speaking about negligently wrong settings. I have not seen an installation guidance yet that would address the elementary parameter settings for margin, letter size, title, heading, frame, header and footer control. It is rather waxing that knowledgeable people are speaking about daemons, networking, who knows what else, but never about the printer located four-foot distance from the computer. I am not interested in sending my printouts to Manchuria, but I prefer to have a 1" margin on the left of the pages to have room for punching holes, and putting them in a binder. Some people in the controlling positions should recognize that one size does not fit all! Is it too much to ask to let the user decide about this and similar issues?

Well, I am sure that other people could add to the list. In order to write a good installation guidance, one, first, should compile such lists. Broadening the Linux base should not necessarily lead to some dumbed-down, automated versions of Linux distros. The new users should be looked at as intelligent, rational human beings, and common sense should gradually gain more room from the dark shadows of rigid, mostly outdated traditions. Installation guides are very important, but I prefer concise ones with the support of specific HOWTOs for partitioning, printing and other critical areas. These guides should be up-to-date and complete, with the emphasis on local usage, with meanigful applicable examples. A proper installation plan should perhaps also consider the intended usage of the system, but before addressing that we have left with some serious work to be done.