Originally Published: Tuesday, 18 May 1999 Author: Michael J. Wise
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Installing and Using Debian GNU/Linux 2.1

This article discusses my experiences when I installed Debian 2.1 (slink) and what I encountered there. I have had previous experience with RedHat and have actually installed Debian 2.0 (hamm) on a 386 laptop before....

This article discusses my experiences when I installed Debian 2.1 (slink) and what I encountered there. I have had previous experience with RedHat and have actually installed Debian 2.0 (hamm) on a 386 laptop before.

Acquiring It

Unfortunately, I'm stuck with a modem, so downloading from the Internet is out of the question. I picked up the Debian 2.1 4-Pack of CD's at Cheapbytes for $7. Debian is also available from a variety of other vendors. It does not yet have the widespread commercial availability in regular software stores.

The Install

My install was on a brand new 10GB hard drive, so I didn't have to worry about making room on existing partitions. FIPS, a non-destructive partition editor, could have made room on my existing disks if needed.

Since I have a fairly recent vintage machine, all I had to do was make a change in my BIOS settings, put the CD into the drive, and booted straight off of the CD, no floppies required. Floppy images are available for downloading and are also on the CD if you cannot boot off of a CD.

Debian's install is quite good. It gives guidance to those newer Linux users who may not know the exact steps to follow, while keeping the installation process completely configurable for the expert.

The Debian install asks the normal sort of questions, such as keyboard mappings and partitioning. Debian includes both the traditional fdisk along with the easier to use cfdisk. Then you choose the source media for your install. Many choices are given besides CD-ROM, including floppy, network, and hard disk installs. Unless you're installing from floppy, the base system install only take a small amount of time to complete.

The most fundamental difference between installing Debian and installing RedHat (and other distributions) is that Debian only installs a base system during the first boot, while, with RedHat, you have to make your choices about your initial package installation during the actual install. However, with Debian, the system reboots into the base system and you continue installation from there. After the reboot following the install of the base system, you get taken first to a PPP configuration program, pppconfig, if you need to use it. It is quite simple to use and has a clean interface. You're final stop along the journey is dselect.

dselect is a rather maligned program in the Debian world. It's considered by many to be antiquated and, is, in fact, in the the process of being replaced by apt, which is also included with Debian 2.1. I'm sorry to say my initial experience with dselect wasn't exactly positive either.. First, you give dselect a source for packages -- and this is where the problems started. I chose the 'multi-cd' option and dselect proceeded to interrogate me about the location of a number of different Package files. At first, I was completely confused, but I managed to find the location of the required files by switching consoles and going through the CD manually. Then, a file was completely missing ('available') when I tried to Install, and I had to manually 'locate' that file and put it into the correct directory. While I personally had no real problems figuring what to do once I found out what the problem was, I do not know if a less-experienced user would know what to do.

After this you are asked to, give create a user account, which I find to be a very nice procedure. Too many new Linux users do all their work from root, and that often leads to complete destruction of a Linux system. One mistake, and poof, there goes your system if you're root.

Beyond Installation - X and So On

The ncurses XF86Setup program nicely sets up X with only a few problems. However, being the X masochist that I am, I prefer to use the text-only xf86config. Using that as a base, I usually hack together an XF86Config file.

apt-get is a blessing. You need only type 'apt-get install program', and, in every case I've used it, apt-get finds the correct package, downloads it, installs it, and sets it up. The best yet is 'apt-get dist-upgrade', which will upgrade your ENTIRE distribution on the fly. Apt is due to completely replace dselect at some point in the future, and I'd have to say that I won't be sad when dselect goes.

Debian adheres rather strictly to the new arrangement of the file systems. This is quite nice as it makes it easy to find the software and files I need to use. This also helps eliminate file system clutter and confusion.


I'd have to say that I find Debian more useful *to me* than RedHat. RedHat is geared more towards beginners, while Debian seems to be aimed towards a more advanced audience. This is not to say that beginners should not use Debian, or that advanced users shouldn't use RedHat. Both are excellent choices and have their uses.

I wholeheartedly recommend user of other Linux distributions to try out Debian.I encourage the rest of the community to give it and other distributions a try. I have used Debian and have been fully satisfied with it. I hope you will be too.