Friday, February 27, 2009

Project: Building An All-Text Linux Workstation - Part 2

In this episode, we will choose the Linux distribution and perform the installation.

Choosing A Distribution

After some consideration, I selected Debian 5.0 for our workstation project for three reasons:
  1. Debian is fairly simple on a conceptional level. Good, straightforward design with good documentation. It's also capable of being installed on very small machines. Its minimum memory requirement is only 44 MB.
  2. Its package repository is huge. With over 22,000 packages, we are likely to find a good selection of text based applications for our project.
  3. It just came out and I wanted to play with it ;-)
Creating Installation Media

With that decision out of the way, we next decide on the installation media. I chose the "netinst" (also called the "minimal CD") option. This is a downloadable CD image that contains a minimal base system. Additional packages are installed from the Internet. The install image is 150 MB, much smaller than the full install CDs. To use this option you must have a working network connection. If you need other installation options, take a look at the Debian Installation Guide for guidance.

You can download the installation image from here.

The last step is creating the installation CD. I will assume that your present system, Linux or otherwise is capable of that and that you know how to do it.


With our machine ready, it's time to boot up with our install CD. After the CD boots you will receive an attractive Debian splash screen listing various install options. For our purposes, select "Install", not "Graphical Install".

The installer is pretty easy to use and in most cases the default selections are fine. The arrow keys move from selection to selection as do the tab/shift-tab keys. The space bar is used to toggle the contents of check boxes.

  • When the prompt appears for disk partitioning, select "Guided - Use entire disk" and "All files in one partition".
  • At the "Set up users and passwords" screen, you will be prompted to set the password for the root account. If you have been using Ubuntu up to this point, I have to explain that Debian, like most Linux distributions has a discreet root account rather than using sudo for everything as Ubuntu does. Much of the early work we will perform on the system will require root access. Choose a root password that is both strong, and one that you can easily remember.
  • Next, you will be prompted to create your personal account. In keeping with LinuxCommand tradition, I named my machine "Linuxbox" and created a user account named "me". You, of course, can use any name you like.
  • At the "Select and install software" screen you will be presented with a group of check boxes for different sets of packages to install. Using the space bar, select the "Print server" group and unselect the "Desktop environment" group.
  • If you have installed the system using the entire disk as suggested above, answer "yes" to the prompt on the "Install the GRUB boot loader on the hard disk" screen to install GRUB in the disk's master boot record (MBR).
The install should complete and prompt you to remove the install CD. Next, the machine will reboot and we should see the fruits of our labors.

A lot of boot messages should scroll by after the reboot and you will see at the very bottom a login prompt like this:

Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 linuxbox tty1

linuxbox login:

Enter the name root and then the root password and we will see a prompt like this:

linuxbox: ~#

Enter the command shutdown -h now and the machine will shutdown.

We're done for today.

Further Reading

Other installments in this series: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14