"For starters, there are now many computers without optical
drives, like netbook PCs or home media centres. The only way to
upgrade or install an operating system on these devices, short of
removing the hard drive, is to either install from a USB stick or
use the network boot method. And if, for whatever reason, your
system can't boot from a USB device then you only have one option
left. Aside from those cases, network booting is also a technique
that can help fix broken installations when hardware refuses to
work, or distribute an upgrade across a network of machines without
needing you to manually slot a disc in each drive.
"The ability of your machine to boot off another network device
is determined by what's termed the Preboot Execution Environment
(PXE). This is a capability of your system BIOS that enables your
machine to grab a network address and look for bootable code
without first checking local storage, or for available bootable
devices. If there are no such drives on your system, you might
notice PXE in operation as it searches the local network for a
bootable server candidate. It's this candidate that we're going to
install, configure and provide."
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