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Linux Installation Methods: Timing & Performance

 

In this second article of this Linux+ certification study series, Linux Installation Choices, the different choices of installation media, physical vs. network installs, were compared and contrasted. The choice of installation methods is another important decision facing either the new Linux user or the Linux consultant working for a client probably in the midst of trying-out Linux as a Windows replacement. Which method you use will have both time horizon impacts (time frame), and performance issues for both the installer and the ultimate end-user of successful Linux installation.

As mentioned before, the installation methods can be categorizes into 4 major categories:

 

Method 1:: Clean: installation that does not write to current OS storage media

Method 2:: Dual-boot: peaceful co-existence with current OS on same storage or VM environment

Method 3:: Replacement: overwriting of current OS with Linux on platform storage media

Method 4:: Upgrading/Recovery: enhancing or repairing current Linux OS installation

 

Reasons for Installation Method Choice:

For Todd, our fictitious Linux aspirant, to make the decision of which Linux installation is right for a particular situation, understanding the different choices is in order:

Clean: This is the simplest method of Linux installation allowing for near unobtrusive use and testing of almost any of the many Linux distributions that support a Live installation choice. The process is very simple: Todd downloads the *.iso file, burns it to a CD-R or DVD media disk using appropriate burning software making sure that he indicates that he is writing an ISO format file (this arranges the ISO files and places a boot-strap entity on the disk), and then uses the disk to boot the computer.

The major advantage of the clean method is that there is very little chance of risking corruption of the current installed OS environment since the optical drive is booted before the OS contained on the primary hard drive device. Your platform’s BIOS must be able to support optical drive booting in order for this option to operate. Changes to your BIOS to reorder the boot device list is necessary to ensure the optical or USB device containing the Linux distribution is booted first. Another very sound advantage for using a clean method if for Windows OS troubleshooting, but this will be covered in another article in this series.

The major limitation of this method is the very poor performance due to the optical drive or USB memory stick involved, and the inability to store data from one session to another without allowing use of the platform’s hard drive unless you are booting from a USB memory stick.

 

Dual-boot: this method can be accomplished in one of 3 ways:

1.     Normal dual-boot:: the platform’s primary hard drive is re-partitioned using the Linux distribution’s CD/DVD/USB/Network storage device partitioning utility. The current OS has its partition reduced enough to allow for the inclusion of an extend partition into which Linux is initialized, a new MBR (master boot record) is written to support a dual-boot controller to take over and offer the user a choice of either the current OS or the new Linux installation.

Advantages: higher performance, more reliable, supports near all normal Linux features and capabilities by allowing the two OS to peacefully co-existent.

Disadvantages: possible corruption of the current OS partition, loss of data during its downsizing, and it’s a bit more complex to remove if not useful.

2.     WUBI:: this method uses “virtual disks” to support an Ubuntu distribution (other distributions are working on their own similar option) within a Windows file that appears to the Linux boot up utility as a complete Linux filesystem from which it can run without impacting the current Windows OS environment. The WUBI “virtual disk” can even be removed via the Windows control panel “Add/Remove Software” applet leaving the Windows environment untouched.

Advantages: higher performance than an optical or USB method, simplicity of installation and impact on current Windows OS environment with ease of removal if not useful. Complete access to the Windows NTFS disks for data commonality.

Disadvantages: support for Ubuntu distributions for now, lower performance than the normal dual-boot method due to use of the “virtual disks.”

3.     VM-type:: the newest dual-boot method, the VM (virtualized machine) methodology uses the concepts of a virtualized desktop environment (VDE) that completely virtualizes a hardware platform and OS within the software and memory profiles of the hosting platform. There are several very capable “freeware” VM-type solutions from VMWare, Sun, Microsoft, and several others. This method requires that Todd installs one of the VM-support software packages that runs on top of the hosting machines hardware, or OS depending on the vendor’s environment. The software allows Todd to create a virtualized hardware platform insie the hosting machine’s software into which an installation of an OS is placed and operated such as Linux or OSX.

Advantages: Very flexible, clean installation method for a Linux distribution as if the entire platform was given over to the Linux distribution; support for many different OS not just Linux.

Disadvantages: requires the use of higher-end performing platforms (1-2 GHz CPUs, 2-4 GBytes of RAM, and 30-50 GBytes of hard drive space). Not all features of the Linux desktop are supported.

 

Replacement: Todd would use the replacement method once he has probably implemented one of the first two methods, and has decided that Linux is the long-term choice for his OS. Todd has decided that he no longer needs Windows or OSX and going “whole-hog” in favor of Linux. Using the Linux installation media of choice, Todd would select the re-partitioning option of his hard drive to overwrite his current OS environment thereby making Linux is primary and only OS choice.

 

Upgrading/Recovery: Todd would choose these methods depending on the needs of his current Linux OS environment. If he has been testing, modifying, or altering his current Linux OS he might have de-stabilized the installation where repair/recovery is necessary to restore full functionality. Else, Todd might want to upgrade his current Linux OS to a newly released, stable version of his chosen Linux distribution.

Resources from linux.com:

The linux.com site has several tutorials on the choices discussed in this article.

Accessing Windows Data from Linux

Switch to Linux

Linux: Kicking the Windows Addiction (linux.com group)

Once Todd has decided upon the installation method, he can begin to setup and configure his platforms to accept the Linux environment that meets his particular requirements.

 

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