Everybody's first meeting with a new linux distro is the installation, which has particular meaning to me as my job is to be an installation developer.
The UL beta comes on 2 package CDs and one source CD, which I didn't even bother to download.
The first CD is bootable, and it boots straight into SVGA graphics with mouse support. And here came my first surprise: it's graphical but it's not Caldera's/SCO's Lizard, it's SuSE's YAST. I have used all the Caldera Linux distributions since OpenLinux 1.1 Lite, and I really like Lizard. On the other hand, I have some prejudice against YAST and expecially the SuSE X11 configuration tool SaX, as it failed to detect the correct parameters for video cards on all the PCs I ever tried to install SuSE 6.0 or 6.1. My prejudice was unjust as we'll see later, but I was still right to miss Lizard.
First a disclaimer appears about the Beta-ness of the product I am about to install, where I have to click on "Accept" if I want to continue the installation. Next I select the language for the installer. After investigating the system and disks, it detects my existing Linux partition and offers the options "New installation", "update an existing system", "boot installed system" and "abort installation". I chose the first option.
It scans some more, and presents a screen that fools me into thinking that it already formatted the disk and started instaling packages without even asking! However, that's not the case; the screen rather presents a list of proposed installation changes, which you can modify by clicking on various categories presented as hyperlinks. These categories are Keyboard layout, Mouse (I was a bit disappointed, as it didn't have my PS/2 Logitech wheelmouse in the list, so I just accepted the option it detected: "IntelliWheel" on AUX port), Partitioning, Software and Booting. Partitioning deserves a paragraph all for itself: it's really very powerful, and for brevity I will list just some of the features I found. ReiserFS is the default Linux filesystem, but you can also choose among EXt2, Ext3, JFS, XFS and .. FAT! It even recognized my BeOS partition! Woohoo! First linux distro to do so, ever! It selected my windows partitions and made really good (IMHO) mountpoints for them: /windows/C and /windows/D. The "fstab options" button allows to mount a filesystem by using the disk's UUID or volume label instead of the device name. It is possible to edit other mount options like readonly, no access time etc. The "file system options" button allows to change the blocksize in bytes, bytes per inode and even the stride length (in blocks) and the percentage of blocks reserved for root. You'll find an "encrypt filesystem" checkbox, too.
Other interesting buttons, rather vital for a pro application or fileserver are "LVM", "RAID" and "Expert". I'll dwell only on "Expert", where I found a very useful option "Import mountpoints from existing fstab".
Leaving the Partitioning and entering the Software category: I was very satisfied with the few options for package selection that were presented: "minimum system", "minimum graphical system (without KDE)" and "default system for UnitedLinux". This last option actually includes almost all the packages, but you can, of course, add the others by "refining" the selection on a package-by-package level. The package selection style is the one from YAST, so oldtimer SuSE users will feel right at home.
Finally, the Booting category deserves a special mention for the fact that lilo is not used: GRUB is the only bootloader supported out of the box.
Ah, I almost forgot: there is the Timezone category, too. And the Languages category, where you can select the locales you want to install.
After you confirm that you are ready to install and configure your system, the package copying begins. No tetris or pacman, sorry! This is the professional, coldblooded YAST where the package installation meter is your only amusement.
After these packages have been copied to my hard drive, I was given a warning that although an Nvidia RIVA TNT2 ULTRA has been detected (nice!), it can not install 3D accelerated drivers for it due to licensing issues, so only a software OpenGL driver will be installed.
So, now a new batch of settings commences, which is a bit annoying (better would be to make all the necessary settings at the beginning and then let the system copy the packages and reboot). You are asked whether you want "text mode only" or "graphical desktop environment". I selected the second option and thus the graphical hardware is detected and presented. My monitor, correctly detected by Caldera's Lizard is wrongly detected by SAX2, but there is no problem to change that setting. SAX2 uses a hardware-tree kind of representation, but I don't think this would confuse anyone.You'll be probably interested to know that XFree86 version 4.2.0 is used, and that there seem to be a minor bug that doesn't allow for the starting resolution to be smaller than the highest supported resolution. Once you have tweaked these settings you can click on "Finalize" and at this point you can test how it works. A nice touch is that when you click on "Test", the XFine2 utility starts, where you can center and resize your screen.
After this you can detect any local printers, but I skipped it.
Next are the "Network interfaces", where I have to select manually my NE2000 compatible card. I didn't know the io port address by hart, so I decided I'll provide the correct data later. The NE2000 driver is a kernel module called "ne", and it gets bound to eth0 by YAST, while you configure the ethernet interface's IP parameters (address, netmask etc.). I also set the hostname, name resolution information and routes.
You can also configure any modems and linux-supported ISDN adapters.
Once you have done all this, the system reboots, and at that point it asks for the second packages CD.
- "The System, Networking"