Installing Debian For The Faint Of Heart

In my never ending search for the ultimate challenge, I decided to remove Gentoo Linux from my trusty laptop and install something else that wasn’t as resource starving. Thus, Debian was selected.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 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.

boot: expert26

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.

    1. Choose your country or region: I selected United States from the list.
    2. Choose your keyboard layout (PC-style or PS2 connector): I selected PC-style
    3. Detect and mount CD-ROM: Here you just press ENTER
    4. Prompt for modules parameters: Just chose NO for now.
    5. Start PCI card services: Since this is a laptop I chose YES.
    6. Unable to load some modules: Don’t be alarmed by this message and just continue.
    7. CD-ROM DETECTED: Press Enter.
    8. Load Installer Components from CD: Press Enter.
    9. Installer components to load: Here you’ll have a list of optional components to chose from by I just skipped them all… Continue.
    10. Loading components… This should take only a few seconds.
    11. Detect Network Hardware: Press Enter. If you have a “normal” network card/adapter on your computer, this step should be faily simple. However, if you have some funky hardware or don’t have a network card at all, you’ll have to look up the documentation on their web site for I haven’t done this type of installation before…
    12. Modules to load: You should see the module for your network card here… Press Continue.
    13. Prompt for module parameters: Once again I chose NO.
    14. Start PC card services: For laptops, chose YES.
    15. Unable to load some modules: Annoying message… Just press Continue.
    16. Configure the network: Press Enter.
    17. Auto-configure network with DHCP: Chose YES.
    18. Hostname: Type in the name you want your machine to be “called.” I chose FRODO. Press Enter.
    19. Domain name: Type your isp domain, e.g. The installer should actually detect it for you.
    20. Detect Hardware: Press Enter.
    21. Prompt for module parameters: Chose NO.
    22. Start PC card services: Chose NO.
    23. Unable to load some modules: Don’t be alarmed and just Continue.
    24. Partition Disks: Press Enter.
    25. Here you’ll have 2 options:
    a. Erase entire disk (hda).
    b. Manually edit partition table.

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:


    a. All files in one partition (recommended for newbies)
    b. Desktop machine
    c. Multi-user workstation

The installer will partition the hard drive automatically, without the user’s intervention. Here’s how it will partition according to your choice:

    a. it will create a root partition and swap
    b. A root partition, swap, and /home.
    c. it will create the following partitions: /, /usr, /var, swap, /tmp, and /home.

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.

    26. Install the base system: Press Enter and get up to stretch a bit.
    27. Choose which kernel you want from the next dialog. I choose kernel-image 2.6.8-1-386 over kernel-image 2.4.27-1-386.
    28. Install the Grub boot loader:
    29. Install the Lilo boot loader:

I chose GRUB over Lilo. You do not want to chose both!!!

    30. A box will pop up asking you if you want to install Grub in the Master Boot Record (mbr). I chose YES.
    31. Finish the installation: Hell Yes!!! Press Enter.

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:

    1. Display Introductory Message: You can actually skip this one.
    2. Configure your time zone:
    3. Is the hardware clock set to GMT? Choose NO unless, you live in England or nearby.
    4. Choose your region time zone: Eastern for me.
    5. Is this info correct? Choose YES if you’re satisfied.
    6. Set up users and passwords:
    7. Enable shadow passwords?
    8. Root password: I recommend that you choose something very long, but easy to remember.
    9. Re-enter your password.
    10. Create a normal user account now?
    11. Enter a full name for the new user: I typed Gnu Kemist.
    12. Enter a user name for your account: I typed gkemist.
    13. Type a password for the new user: Once again, choose carefully.
    14. Re-type the same password.
    15. Set the hostname: This was already done before so just press Enter.
    16. Configure Apt: and choose FTP from the given list.
    17. Debian distribution to use:

I chose “unstable”… Not for the faint of heart!!! Choose “stable” for your first time…

    18. Use non-free software?
    19. Mirror country: United States.
    20. Choose the Debian mirror to use: I chose the one at Perdue University.

Here, the screen goes black, and APT starts checking the mirror for the Debian version you chose. Time for another stretch…

    21. Add another APT source? Not at this time…
    22. Use security updates from A resounding YES!!!
    23. Select and Install packages: Are you salivating yet???
    24. I Chose to install packages manually. For your first time you may want to chose the defaults for a desktop system.
    25. The application Aptitude will come up but I chose to skip this process for the time being. We will install packages very soon. Press the ‘Q’ key to quit
    26. Configure the mail transfer agent: For my laptop, the defaults were ok, so just press Enter for all the next questions.
    27. FINISH CONFIGURING THE BASE SYSTEM: Light at the end of the tunnel!!!
    28. Thank you for using Debian: This is it!!!

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

password: *************************

… 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.

If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.


  1. 2005-01-25 8:43 pm
  2. 2005-01-25 8:48 pm
  3. 2005-01-25 8:58 pm
  4. 2005-01-25 9:00 pm
  5. 2005-01-25 9:02 pm
  6. 2005-01-25 9:08 pm
  7. 2005-01-25 9:09 pm
  8. 2005-01-25 9:14 pm
  9. 2005-01-25 9:16 pm
  10. 2005-01-25 9:24 pm
  11. 2005-01-25 9:26 pm
  12. 2005-01-25 9:31 pm
  13. 2005-01-25 10:26 pm
  14. 2005-01-25 10:35 pm
  15. 2005-01-25 10:37 pm
  16. 2005-01-25 10:44 pm
  17. 2005-01-25 10:44 pm
  18. 2005-01-25 10:55 pm
  19. 2005-01-25 10:58 pm
  20. 2005-01-25 11:54 pm
  21. 2005-01-26 12:07 am
  22. 2005-01-26 12:19 am
  23. 2005-01-26 12:33 am
  24. 2005-01-26 12:46 am
  25. 2005-01-26 1:08 am
  26. 2005-01-26 1:16 am
  27. 2005-01-26 1:22 am
  28. 2005-01-26 1:22 am
  29. 2005-01-26 1:43 am
  30. 2005-01-26 2:01 am
  31. 2005-01-26 2:13 am
  32. 2005-01-26 2:37 am
  33. 2005-01-26 2:54 am
  34. 2005-01-26 2:57 am
  35. 2005-01-26 3:06 am
  36. 2005-01-26 4:35 am
  37. 2005-01-26 5:17 am
  38. 2005-01-26 5:35 am
  39. 2005-01-26 6:19 am
  40. 2005-01-26 7:09 am
  41. 2005-01-26 8:22 am
  42. 2005-01-26 9:26 am
  43. 2005-01-26 9:26 am
  44. 2005-01-26 1:00 pm
  45. 2005-01-26 2:09 pm
  46. 2005-01-26 5:43 pm
  47. 2005-01-26 7:09 pm
  48. 2005-01-26 7:18 pm
  49. 2005-01-26 8:50 pm
  50. 2005-01-27 1:27 am
  51. 2005-01-27 1:43 pm
  52. 2005-01-27 9:20 pm
  53. 2005-02-02 12:33 am
  54. 2005-02-02 12:43 am
  55. 2005-02-02 12:22 pm