Debian is one of (if not) the oldest Linux distributions out there, being initially created in 1993 by a bunch of computer enthusiasts. Why Debian you may ask? I guess the major reason is because it is well know for its reliability and availability of applications. Second, it doesn't have a nice GUI instalation interface, which would automatically label it as “non user-friendly” by many people. That is when the challenging bit comes in. Granted the installation itself took me less than 10 minutes and automagically detected pretty much all of my hardware (except for my non-Linux compliant wireless card), you still have to know some important information about partitioning your disks and selection of kernels, etc… and I've been around Linux for some time now, making me a little bit more “seasoned” than someone trying Debian for the first time.
The first thing I did was browse through Debian's web site for the download section. Once there, I decided to try the net installation using the new, still in beta net-installer-rc2 (Release Candidate 2), found at http://www.debian.org/devel/debian-installer/. You should make sure you choose the appropriate version for the type of computer you have (Pentium users would select the x86 image). The net-installer comes in two different flavors: minimal or full CD images. Since I have a good internet connection I figured I'd try the minimal CD (download less for a quicker result) and then install any extra packages as needed. That is actually a good thing, for it will allow you to really costumize your computer, by picking and choosing what you want to be installed.
Well, 15 minutes after starting the download (I had a pretty good mirror to download from) I popped a blank CD into my burner and burned the fresh *.iso image into a bootable Debain CD. I checked my laptop for a second time to make sure I had backed up all my files and restarted it with the new CD in it. At the very basic boot prompt, you're greeted with a prompt that simply says “press for help or Enter to boot. If you like defaults, pressing Enter will start the initial install setup using a plain vanilla kernel image and assuming you have a “normal” computer that doesn't require any special attention. However, if you do experience problems after hitting Enter at the prompt, chances are some of your hardware is not being detected by the default setup. If this is your case, reboot your machine and this time around press the F1 key for a detailed menu of possible boot parameters you can start the setup process and hopefully detect all of your hardware. I actually typed expert26 at the prompt so that the initial setup used the new kernel 2.6.x (turns out it was 2.6.8 optimized for the 386 computers) and allowed me greater control over what was being done. Once again, the defaults should work for most people.
Assuming you get passed the initial boot process, from here on, you'll have to make several decisions, selecting your options from the screen (menu-based and not point-and-click interface) by using your keyboard keys. Use the TAB key to choose YES, NO, or CANCEL, and the ENTER key to make your selection. Toggle options on and off by using the SPACE key.
The following is a somewhat brief descriptions of all the questions I had to answer and what I chose to select from the available options. Since I'm writing this based off my mental notes, the wording will be different from the actual options displayed on your screen.
Since this will be a ONE operating system ONLY, I chose (a). If you're planning on dual booting with Windows, chose (b). Choosing (a) will give you the following screen:
The installer will partition the hard drive automatically, without the user's intervention. Here's how it will partition according to your choice:
I'd recommend newbies to choose (a) and continue. I actually chose (b) for personal reasons. Once you choose your file system and press Enter, you will be taken to the previous screen. Select “Finish partitioning and write changes to disk” and press Enter. The setup will warn you that all your data will be lost if you proceed and you'll just have to trust me and choose YES from the next menu.
I chose GRUB over Lilo. You do not want to chose both!!!
Remove the CD from the CD-ROM and choose to reboot the computer. We are almost finished with the installation now. This time around, when you're done rebooting, you are greeted with a new menu:
I chose “unstable"… Not for the faint of heart!!! Choose “stable” for your first time…
Here, the screen goes black, and APT starts checking the mirror for the Debian version you chose. Time for another stretch…
You are now taken to the console (black screen) with a debian login.
You'll be prompted to enter your login name (for me I'll login with gkemist) and password:
debian login: gkemist
… and the most beautiful thing will be displayed to you: The command-line prompt!!!
For my next article I will walk you through actually installing an x-window environment and getting some cool applications installed. In the meantime, enjoy the fact that you have come of age in the Linux world!!!About the author:
Og Maciel is a Visual Basic.NET and Oracle programmer by day for the Board of Education of NYC, and a huge Linux enthusiast/evangelist during his free free time. He first started using Linux in 1997 and have since fallen in love with the OS and community.
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