Installing Debian

Well, Debian 3.1 (sarge) is up and running, with a dual boot to Windows XP Professional. This post is pretty long and detailed, so read more only if you want that kind of detail.

The Download
I started by downloading the Network Install CD Image and burning that to a CD. This quick download allows you to boot from a CD and start the installation, and download the rest from the internet as you need it. Then, I thought it would be nice to have everything I needed on DVD, so I used jigdo to download a DVD image. Maybe I was expecting too much from my cable modem, but I only expected it to take a few hours to download the 4.5 GB. I was really surprised when I came back 8 hours after it started and it was still running. I didn’t get an exact time on the download, but it finished shortly after that. On the positive side, that’s the largest download I’ve ever attempted and the fact that it completed successfully on the first try was impressive. However, that was only one of two disks — the second would have to wait until the next night. I burned the first do a DVD, then realized that the computer that would need it doesn’t have a DVD drive. I’ll guess I’ll have to spring for an upgrade at some point; for now I’ll stick to the network installation.

Windows First
I planned to use Partition Magic to manipulate my partitions, and Boot Magic to enable dual boot, so I started by installing Windows. That went well, but took a while to get it running and patched to SP2. For virus protection, I did a quick search for free antivirus and chose AntiVir.

Parting is such …
OK, so partitioning is no fun, but honestly Partition Magic makes is pretty painless. There may be other tools that do as good a job, but I got Symantec’s program last year and I’ve been pretty happy with it.

I allocated 20 GB for Windows, 30 GB for a shared data partition, and 30 GB for Linux. Actually, I did that with the setup program that came with the drive, but the options were pretty limited. And when I ran PM, I discovered that it had created the two 30 GB partitions as logical partitions within an extended partition.

I thought that would be fine, so the next step was to install Boot Magic. When I started the installation, it was going to install it to my data partition, which was the first FAT partition on the drive. I didn’t really like that idea, and I had also noticed something in PM that mentioned a 2 GB boot boundary and feared that the computer wouldn’t boot if Boot Magic were installed after the NTFS partition. So, I went back to PM and created a new 50 MB partition at the beginning of the drive. I did some additional reading about Linux partitions and decided to make a separate boot partition for Linux, which I positioned second. PM shifted the partition containing the Windows installation to make room for the new partitions. I installed Boot Magic and rebooted to check the boot menu (even though only one OS was displayed), and then it was time for Linux.

No magic?
Partition Magic has a wizard to help you install another operating system, but it assumes that you haven’t already created a partition for it. Since I had my partitions already, I skipped the wizard and simply rebooted from the install CD.

When it got to the partitioning step in the installation, I had to reconsider my earlier decisions. Several options were displayed, but the ones with a separate boot partition just didn’t look right, so I chose to use a single partition for most of the file system, along with a swap partition.

The installation also asked if I wanted to install the GRUB bootloader. It showed that it recognized my XP installtion, so I decided to give it a try. I knew I could run Boot Magic from CD to overwrite it if necessary.

Downloading, please wait…
The initial installation from CD is pretty quick, but after rebooting from the hard drive, the installation continues by asking what type of system you want to have. It had options like desktop, web server, DNS, database, and a few others. Something compelled me to select them all, at which point it started downloading the necessary packages from the internet. This took a while; I think I went to bed before it finished.

After walking through the rest of the installation today (and being asked some strange questions that I didn’t have the information to answer), I finally rebooted. But when it reached the login prompt, it flickered a couple times before displaying a message that it was unable to start the XWindows server. I decided to uninstall a few things by running base-config and focusing on the web server aspects. While it was uninstalling, I looked at the laptop and noticed that the screen saver was active, so I reached for the keyboard and hit ctrl-alt-del. Unfortunately, I reached for the wrong keyboard, and Linux immediately started to reboot. When it finished, I ran base-config again and discovered that the reboot had stopped the uninstallation in a state that could not be easily corrected, so it was time to reinstall.

Starting over
The second time through, I had to manipulate the partitions manually, to make it overwrite the partitions that were created during the first installation. Then, when it asked me to choose the system type, I thought I left them all blank, but I think it installed the mail server packages. The installation completed with little intervention, and I was ready to run.

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