Installing Debian Linux (3.1)

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Debian Linux is what you might call very, very flexible because it runs on nearly any hardware configuration, from Motorola chips to PowerPC to the x86 structure. So whatever your machine is Debian Linux can most likely run on it. However, because installation is so different between different setups, this tutorial is only going to concentrate on one chip: the x86 chip. How do you know if you have the x86 chip? That's pretty easy; if you are already running Windows then you've got an x86 chip. Other clues are if you see an Intel Pentium or AMD sticker on your PC. Most computers are x86, the only exception are really old Macs which use a totally different processor.

OK, you can start things off by figuring out how large your hard drive is. For the full Debian install you will need 4 or 5 gigabytes, but a basic install will only need about 100 megabytes or so although you will be operating at a text-prompt, with no graphical user interface. If you've got Windows, you can figure out the size of your hard drive very easily if you don't already know it. Open "My Computer", and you should see one or more hard drives. Right-click on the one that you want to install Debian on, and choose "Properties". You will see a pie graph showing how much space is left on your hard drive, and how much is used. You need to decide what you plan to do:

  1. Install Debian, let it take over the whole hard drive, and never see Windows again (this will erase all the data on the hard drive, so if you have any documents that you want to save, backup!)
  2. Install Debian, but only install it on part of the drive, and dual boot (Dual booting refers to giving the option of which operating system you want to use when your start up the computer)

If you choose the first option, you need only to write down the size of your hard drive ("Capacity" in the properties box displays the size of the drive). If you want to leave Windows on part of the drive, you will need to write down the following data that you see in the properties box:

  • File system
  • Used space
  • Free space
  • Capacity

If your computer is incapable of booting from a CD, you will need to make a boot floppy. In the tools section of the Debian CD, there should be a file called Unzip it, and use it to write the following image to a floppy disk: (replace D with the letter of your CD drive) D:\install\floppy\boot.img. That should set you up.

If you chose to remove Windows and let Debian take over the entire drive, you might want to backup your documents if they are important to you. Next, you need a Windows boot disk. This is because, to make things easier, you are going to remove the Windows partition before you start the Debian install. You can't wipe the drive while Windows is running, so you need a boot disk. Rummage around in your floppy disk collection, and if you see a disk labeled "Windows boot disk" or something similar, you can use this disk to boot your computer. If you don't have that disk (or can't find it), you will need to create a boot disk. Go to the Start Menu, choose "Settings" -> "Control Panel". Open "Add/Remove Programs", and navigate to the "Startup Disk" tab. There will be a button called "Create Disk", so insert an unused floppy disk into the drive, and then click this button. The system will format it and put the files needed on it to boot the system.

Reboot your computer, with the boot floppy in it, and follow the on-screen instructions. After you are done, you should be presented with a C:\ prompt. Type "fdisk" and press return. You should be presented with the fdisk screen. You might be asked something about "Your computer has a disk larger than 512 MB". If so, choose yes. You will now be given a menu with 4 options. Choose option 3, because you want to delete the Windows partition. You will now be given a sub-menu that gives you another 4 options. Choose number 1, as the Windows partition is a primary DOS partition. You will now see another screen, asking which partition you want to delete. Enter your choice, then enter the volume label, and then confirm your choice. Congratulations, Windows is no more. You can now quit fdisk and shut down your computer. You're now ready to install Debian.

If, on the other hand, you are planning to install Debian and still leave Windows on the drive, you need to keep in mind several quite different things:

  1. Your Windows partition needs to be resized to make room for Linux. Normally, the Windows partition takes up the whole drive, so you will need to do this.
  2. Remember those notes that you took about the hard drive in the previous section? Those will come in handy right now. You need at least 2 gigabytes of unused space on your hard drive.

Decide how you are going to resize your Windows partition. Now would be a good time to refer to your notes. What did you write under "File system"? If it's "Fat32" you can use the popular FIPS program to resize your hard drive. Ensure that you read the documentation or else you could end up erasing your hard drive, and back up your hard drive if your documents are important to you. If your partition is not Fat32, you will need another partitioning program like Partition Magic, there is a free trial version that you can use if you will only need it once.

Now that you've managed to resize your Windows partition, you might need to get rid of a partition now. Without meaning to confuse, here is how shrinking a partition works: when you "shrink" a partition, you really split it. That means that if you had 1 Windows partition, you will now have 2. So you will want to delete the one that does not contain your data on it, and be sure you have room to install Linux. Start up Windows, choose Start -> Programs -> MS-DOS prompt. Type in "fdisk" to start the program. You might get a screen that says "Your computer has a disk larger than 512 MB". Just accept it and choose yes, and then you will be presented with a fdisk menu. Choose option 3, because you want to delete a partition. You will be presented with a sub-menu. Choose option 1 again, and you will be given the choice of the partition you want to delete. Be very careful! You should see 2 partitions and the one that says "C:" or whatever letter is your hard drive. You do not want to delete this one, because this is the one that has Windows on it. Delete the other one!

Now that you've set up your partitions, you are ready to install Debian Linux. The first step is to boot your computer, either with the CD-ROM, or with the floppy that you made in the previous chapter. If you are booting from a floppy, you will need the CD-ROM inserted in your drive as well. If everything goes well, you will find yourself looking at a prompt. Type "boot" to start the install process.

There is no need to go through everything here as the onscreen instructions explain things pretty well. However, it is wise to think a little about the partitioning. You will get a screen that lists the partitions for which you should choose "Free Space" and hit return. Next choose the automatic partitioning option, and let Debian install everything on 1 partition.

Also worth mentioning is the boot loader, which you will need if you want to have Debian and Windows existing on the same drive. When it asks where to install the boot loader, choose the Master Boot Record (MBR). The reason you do this (even though Debian says it's a little risky doing it) is that if you ever decide to remove Debian then all you have to do is wipe the MBR, and then Windows will act as if Debian had never been installed.