[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their
own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today.
We've all heard the stories about how difficult Linux is to
install. Over and over and over again. I recently had the chance to
install both Linux and Windows98 on the same machine and I think a
side-by-side comparison might be interesting.
First, the machine in question:
ASUS P2B-F Motherboard
128MB PC-100 SDRAM
Celeron 366 PPGA w/Asus slot370 to slot1 converter card
Asus V3400 (Yes, I like Asus products)
Western Digital 13GB Hard Drive.
Creative Labs Soundblaster Live! Value Edition
DLink PCI Ethernet Card
Generic 28.8 ISA Modem
Panasonic ATAPI DVD-ROM Drive
Second, the brain in question:
I've installed Debian before using their net installation; I had
no prior experience installing Windows 98 (or 95 for that matter).
I have never installed any operating system on a bare machine
before. I'd peg my Linux and Windows expertise level at about the
same place: Smart User.
Operating Systems Installed:
Debian GNU/Linux 2.1 4 CD Set ($20 from www.chguy.net;
price includes taxes, shipping, and a $3 donation to FSF). 2 CDs
are binaries, 2 CDs complete source code;
Windows 98 Second Edition Upgrade Version ($136
through Megadepot.com, price does not include taxes/shipping).
Surprisingly, no source code is included.
Getting The Installation Started:
Insert 1st CD of Debian binary set. Turn computer on. Make sure
BIOS is set to boot from CDROM. Installation process starts.
Insert win98 CD, turn computer on, ensure BIOS is set to boot
from CDROM. This fails.
Read documentation, realize that system must be booted via some
other method and the file setup.exe run manually. Documentation
helpfully provides a pointer to a section called "Creating a
Windows 98 Startup Disk" which, unfortunately, only provides
instructions on how to create a startup disk from within Windows
Go to old computer running win3.1, format a dos bootup disk,
download appropriate CD-ROM drivers, create autoexec.bat and
config.sys files, reboot with bootup disk, run setup.exe on the
Installation process starts, then aborts, informing me there is
not enough room on drive c:. Seeing as drive c: isn't really
partitioned yet, I get confused. Remember that Western Digital
drive documentation referred to ezdrive software, which is
necessary to prepare drive for OS installation. Return to old
computer, download and run ezdrive, which formats another floppy,
which is to be used to format and partition my drives.
Return to new computer, and reboot with ezdrive floppy. Ezdrive
wants to see my system disk for the OS I wish to install. As the
only system disk I have handy is the DOS startup disk, I feed that
into the floppy drive. Ezdrive informs me I'll only be able to use
8GB of my 13GB drive, and I'll have to partition the 8GB into 4
separate 2GB partitions. I let it do this, it copies over system
files and I reboot.
The CD-ROM drive now fails to initialize as there are not
enough drive letters. Go back to the old computer, copy fdisk.exe
to a floppy, return to the new computer, run fdisk, delete 2 of the
4 2GB partitions, reboot.
Run setup.exe from the CD-ROM drive. Installation has
Running The Installation:
A simple character based application gathers information about
my system, asks a few simple questions (color or monochrome,
keyboard type, etc.), then asks me to partition the disk. I create
one large partition and one swap partition.
All is now ready to install the kernel and necessary modules,
and I'm presented with a myriad of choices of media and
installation options. I, obviously, choose CD-ROM, tell the program
where the CD-ROM is (a strange step considering the program was RUN
from the CD-ROM, but there you go) and things whir away.
As I don't have to add any special modules (which I would need
if I were installing via a network connection), I can safely skip
ahead to Installing the Base System, which proceeds successfully.
I'm now asked if i want to make Linux bootable directly form the
hard disk, which I do. Now, a boot floppy is made in case something
goes wrong.[*] [*] Something always goes wrong. Always make boot
Time to reboot. I remove the newly made boot floppy and the
installation CD-ROM and restart. Linux start successfully and I'm
prompted for a root password, then to create a normal user. Despite
my firmly held belief I'm not really _normal_, I create a user
account for myself. I'm prompted to enable shadow passwords (yes)
and to remove PCMCIA (yes).
Now, it's time to Select and Install Profiles. Debian provides
thousands of binary packages to install, and choosing which ones
you need would take hours and likely be a bewildering task for the
newcomer, so they've provided several different Install Profiles
that install sets of packages based on the use the machine will
see. They also provide task sets such as "HTML Authoring" if you
want finer-grained control over what is installed. I choose the
"Desktop Machine" profile, which promises to eat up 500MB of space
while providing me with everything, including the kitchen sink
(that is to say, emacs).
Debian trundles away as my disk space is steadily eaten up.
Eventually it finishes installing programs, and begins configuring
them. This step, which as far as I know is a peculiarity of the
Debian Linux system, requires you to acquiesce to interminable y/n
questions that you still feel the need to pay close enough
attention to that you don't end up posting to alt.2600 saying
"YOU'LL NEVER HACK MY 3L3373 COMPUTER D00DZ!!!!!!!!!" complete with
credit card information and home phone number.
Eventually, installation and configuration is complete and I'm
dumped down to the login prompt, and I can get on with
post-installation tasks like configuring X-Windows and setting up a
First, I have to prove I'm eligible for the upgrade version of
the software, so I have to dig up my WFWG 3.11 disks and feed a few
of them into the computer.
I'm asked where I want to install Windows, and I choose the
default of c:\windows. [*] [*] Always choose the default in
Windows, unless you really want your operating system to be
confused.[**] [**] You don't.
I'm now given 4 choices of what to install: typical, compact,
laptop, and custom. I choose custom, and select nearly everything,
including a frighteningly large selection of `Desktop Themes'.
Windows trundles away, detecting hardware and installing the
OS. It reboots a couple times. The progress meter and "Time
Remaining" counter prove handy distraction from the descriptions of
OS features that are popped up selling me on a product I've already
After a final reboot, Windows 98 begins in earnest. I'm
prompted for a password, which is optional. Time for
post-installation tasks like installing the provided drivers for my
spiffy new hardware and setting up a net connection.
First things first, get the net connection going. That's easy,
of course, just run ppp-config. I run ppp-config, save the
configuration file, run pon. (I have, of course, given my user
account the correct permissions to do so; in Debian this means
adding myself to the `dip' group. ILA[*].) The modem clicks, but
doesn't dial out. Error messages in the logs are unhelpful.
[Several hours of unproductive cursing, reseating of modem card
and spelunking in the BIOS ellided.]
FINALLY, reading the Serial-HOWTO (helpfully installed with
Debian) twigs something and I realize the on-board serial port must
be disabled so the modem card serial port can do its thing. One
more reboot, a tentative pon and the modem dials successfully and
makes a connection. I am connected! [*] I Love Acronyms
I can now download the updated version of XFree86 I need so X
can run at a decent resolution and color depth with my video card.
wget is a great program, by the way. Once that is safely installed,
I run XF86Setup and I now have a GUI running! I log in and start
playing with GIMP, which was tortuous to run on my old 486.
I realize I should probably set up email, so I quickly setup
fetchmail and have it run. Problem: fetchmail fetches and hands it
off the the local mail system, but it doesn't deliver. I recall
seeing some discussion of this problem on the Debian-user list, so
I fire up lynx and check the archives for "exim fetchmail" and
discover I need to have localhost inserted in the appropriate part
of exim.conf. Once inserted, mail starts being delivered.
I now consider the installation complete; the rest is fiddling to
make things work the way I like them.
I have multiple vendor supplied CD-ROMs to install to get
various bits of the system in working order. Video card
installation goes smoothly, requiring a single reboot. (Make snide
comment to my wife about how I didn't have to do this w/Linux.)
Sound card installation goes smoothly once I realize documentation
is inaccurate - it tells you to insert the CD-ROM and then open up
My Computer and click on the cd-rom drive and run the setup
program, which is already running at this point because there is an
autorun.inf file on the CD-ROM. Once I stop reading the
documentation and just click on OK when prompted to everything goes
smoothly, with only one reboot required. (Make snide comment
Time to create a net connection. Double click on Internet
Explorer and it prompts me through the steps for a net connection.
I'm online quickly, downloading the updated drivers for the video
card, requiring another reboot (Make snide comment etc.)
Time to start downloading mail. I double click on Outlook
Express, and am prompted through creating an account. As my ISP
mail server supports IMAP, I select this protocol and create the
account. Outlook Express then wants to refresh my folder listing
and asks permission to get this from my server. I acquiesce and it
starts downloading EVERY SINGLE FOLDER on the mail server. I cancel
this after a few minutes and check the properties for the account.
Under advanced setting I specify INBOX as the folder it should
check for my mail. It is now able to download my mail.
I now consider installation to be complete.
Installation of both Linux and Windows 98 had their good, bad,
and ugly points. Getting the installation started for Windows 98
was ridiculous, while some of the finer points of the Debian
GNU/Linux install were flawed - having to approve configuration
questions for hundreds of programs during installation is, in my
opinion, not a good way to do things. I certainly wouldn't expect a
non-savvy person to be able to install either successfully.
On the one hand, they probably wouldn't have been able to get
the Windows 98 installation STARTED, while the Debian installation
required several steps that required a great deal of background
knowledge (e.g., knowing that the server would have to be upgraded
to support the video card being used and knowing where to get the
appropriate files, knowing where to look for mail delivery
solution, etc.) Both systems required significant knowledge about
the tasks being accomplished.
Stilwell is a 27 year old living in Vancouver, British
Columbia. He works for a public library as an administrative
assistant and spends way too much time fiddling with his