Friday 30th September 2005
Debian is one of the most common Linux distributions in the world. With a possible total of fourteen CDs, it is also one of the biggest. As you may have gathered from the fact that this guide exists, Debian is not the easiest Linux distribution. However, anybody that is relatively competent with computers should be able to use Debian (after all, I am!), and this guide is here to help you get started.
When you go onto the Debian website, you will find three possible versions you can install. At any point, there are three main choices: stable, testing and unstable. Stable is regularly released, with the packages staying the same throughout that particular release, apart from security updates. This is best if you want the versions of packages to be consistent and, unsurprisingly, if you want absolute stability. The current version is 3.1, otherwise known as Sarge.
Next up is testing. This next version is named Etch, and the packages within are regularly updated, and should be relatively stable - I use packages from testing, and my system never seems to crash! Finally, we have unstable, which is always called Sid. In case you didn't realise, these are all characters from Toy Story, with Sid being the 'unstable' kid next door. This guide is mainly concerned with Debian Sarge, although right now, the Etch installer is, to my knowledge, very similar.
To give you an idea of which of the three versions is best for you, knowing the relationship between the versions helps. New and updated packages are put into unstable. Once they have been there for a given amount of time, and have few enough bugs, they are moved into testing. They stay here until the next update of the package, or just before a new stable release. Before a new stable release, testing is frozen, and a bug fixing frenzy ensues. This results in the release of a new version, most recently Sarge. This guide is about Sarge since the installation shouldn't be changing anytime soon, and Etch should be pretty similar (for the time being at least).
Before we get going, there are a few things we need to do. The first is to make sure you have enough free space for Debian (or that you're happy to destroy a partition or two). I personally try and make sure that Debian has at least 10GB, although it's perfectly possible to run it on less.
Once you've found a spot for Debian, you need to start downloading Debian. At this point, you may start panicking about downloading fourteen CDs. Panic not! You only need the first CD to install Debian. This contains the most common packages, while the rest can be grabbed from the web. You can also download a CD for both stable and testing that contains only the basic packages, and grabs the rest of the packages from the web. It doesn't really make much difference which CD (or DVD) you choose, although I have the first full CD of Sarge so that I don't need to download packages repeatedly.
Once you've picked your CD (or DVD) and burnt it, you can begin. Stick the CD in the drive, reboot and make sure your CD drive is the first in the boot order. You should be presented with a black screen with a Debian logo, and the prompt:
Press F1 for help, or ENTER to boot:
At this point, we want to add an option to the standard installation. By default, Debian uses the 2.4 kernel, but I prefer to use the more recent 2.6 kernel. You can tell the installer to use the 2.6 kernel by typing
linux26 before pressing Enter. This is especially important if you more recent hardware, such as a SATA drive. You can still use the 2.4 kernel if you wish; if you're uncertain, try the 2.6 kernel, and if that doesn't work (although it should), you can try the 2.4 kernel just by pressing Enter at this screen. After hitting Enter, you should be off!