Debian Linux Web Install I: Setting Basic Options

Debian is one of the oldest distros and has a reputation for not releasing an update until it is rock-solid stable. In the web install, a small image is burned to a CD and the bulk of the software is retrieved from the web, so that the must be connected to the internet. This post and the next one will walk step-by-step through the installation, with lots of pictures.

I decided to do this because I realized that many persons have never installed an OS; it’s easier than you think.

A Linux typically involves at least two and maybe three steps:

    1. Setting basic options.
    2. Partioning and formatting the hard drive.
    3. Installing and Configuring the System

(I know. I said that a Kubuntu install was next, but it was not to be. If you’re curious, you can see why at the end of the post.)

The computer is a Pentium III 1000 mHZ machine with 256 MB RAM that started its life as single purpose domain server in the early days of Windows 2000. When it was first sold, it had one SCSI drive. I’ve added two IDE drives; one new and one from my old Windows 98 box, long since departed this world.

The distro is 4 v. 5. 5 has just been released, but I haven’t gone after it yet. Knowing the philosophy, I doubt the installation process has changed significantly.

The computer must be set to boot from a CD before booting from the hard drive or it will never see the CD before it loads the existing OS. This may require changing a setting in the computer’s BIOS. When you first start your computer and it’s doing the memory check, you will often see something like “Press DEL (or F2 or some other function key) to enter Setup.” “Setup” in this context refers to the computer’s BIOS settings screens.

Here’s what the PIII’s boot options screen looks like in the BIOS:

Boot from CD settings

Step 1: Choosing Basic Options

When the computer boots to the CD it displays this screen:

Boot Splash Screen

Hit “Enter” to proceed. The Linux kernel and the installation program will load. There are a number of steps that follow; for most of them, you can accept the default choices, but it is wise the read the instructions on each one.

The next screen prompts you to chooses a language for the install.

Choose Language

Select the language you want and hit “Enter.”

Next, Debian asks which keyboard layout you are using:

Choose Keymap

The next series of questions involve your network settings. I have seen these questions asked at time of installation only by Debian and Slackware, but there are many distros I haven’t tried yet.

First, choose a computer name. If you are not sure, you can accept the default and change it later.

Choose Name

I chose “swordfish.” This computer has had that name through many permutations.

Next, Debian asks for a domain name. This has no meaning outside your home network (even if it is a network of one computer). If you are installing Debian on a business network,

    1. You probably aren’t reading this post, and
    2. Check with your network folks.

Choose Domain

Next: Preparing the Hard Drive.

This is the area which persons new to Linux can find most intimidating, so I am reserving it for another post.


Why not Kubuntu? My CDrom drive is going bad. Five CDs for three different Linux distros that all checked out in another computer failed at the same block and sector addresses. I picked up a used drive from my favorite second-hand computer store (thanks to Jeffrey for suggesting “used”), but Kubuntu will have to wait. Because the Debian image was much smaller–because most of the files are on the web, not on the CD–than the others, it did not reach the part of the drive that is going bad.)

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