August 16, 2006

New installer gives Debian Etch an edge

Author: Joe Barr

The Debian Installer team has released the third beta of its installer for Etch, the next version of Debian. According to the announcement, there is now an optional graphical installer for the i386 and amd64 platforms, and you can now set up encrypted partitions during installation.

Not all features are present yet in this beta release and those that are may not be stable. In short, it's not yet suitable for doing installations in a production environment, but it's ripe for a test run.

I began by downloading the net installation version of the installer, then burned a CD from the ISO and threw it into my test box.

Default install

During the default, non-graphical install, I opted to supplement the barebones packages included with the net install version with more packages available on a mirror site. I also chose not to participate in the Debian Package Popularity Contest. My software selections were for Desktop Environment on a standard system.

The installer then got busy downloading the 600+ packages those choices required. Early on, the installer told me it would take about 11 minutes to get them all. That estimate turned out to be fairly accurate, and after telling the installer what type of mail server I wanted, it began to install the downloaded packages.

About 35 minutes after I slipped the CD into my drive, I was looking at a GNOME 2.1.4 desktop on Debian Etch. I felt cheated, somehow, as the dreaded Debian installation interrogation never occurred. So I decided to see if the GUI install would be a little tougher.

GUI install

This time around, when the boot process began, I entered "installgui" at the boot prompt, then hit the enter key. I accepted the default partitioning, but couldn't seem to continue past that point. Then I noticed that I had to click in a check box authorizing the rewrite of the partition table, and until I did so, the GUI wasn't budging. Tough install, indeed!

I took the same options as I did in the default installation, and once more was told it would be almost 12 minutes to grab all the packages. Again, the estimate was accurate. I'm not sure, but I think I had to answer more questions about dictionary language choices in the GUI install than I did in the default, but the total time required was about the same for both.

Since I took the default partitioning scheme for each install, I didn't set up encrypted filesystems during the installation. That's one new feature that will have to wait for next time.


Based on this beta, the installer for Etch is going to be the easiest ever for Debian. Not only that, the default option is just as easy -- or easier -- than the GUI. But don't evaluate this beta based on how attractive either works, because they are not things of beauty. That may change as the installer continues to evolve. As far as ease of install is concerned, however, it's already hard to beat.

If it's true that Ubuntu is a Swahili word meaning "user too dumb to install Debian," then I have to wonder if I'll still be running Ubuntu when Etch gets released, because even I can install Debian now. If installing Debian has intimidated you in the past, keep an eye on Etch and its installer as they get nearer to launch time. They won't intimidate you.


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