HOWTO ignore the Debian installer [was Re: debian install abandoned]

Dan Shearer dan at
Tue Dec 10 17:55:19 CST 2002


I completely concurr that the Debian install procedure is awful. Once
installed however I find Debian is one of the top few operating systems I
know of in terms of upgrade convenience, especially for servers which
might be installed maybe once every 3-5 years. Some time ago I made sure I
knew how to drive dselect (so that I knew what I would be missing :) and
have avoided it ever since.

To get this in proportion: if someone dropped around with a laptop and
said 'quick, I need Linux running on this thing' I wouldn't even dream of
Debian or Slackware. SuSE/Mandrake/RedHat/Conectiva would do a much better
job in a fraction of the time.

Here is the only way I install Debian:

1. minimal base install (from a boot-floppies CD + very fast network,
often a mirror setup on the local LAN from the CD set). The menu-driven
installer is very basic, but gives more flexibility than any of them
except Slackware if something goes wrong.

2. then I either apt-get until I have the setup I want (pretty efficient
for a server, sometimes painful for a GUI workstation or a laptop), or

3. dpkg --set-selections from a list saved on another machine using dpkg
--get-selections (don't get the idea that this is a cloning operation; it
is only a clone in the sense that the package names are mostly the same, 
unless you go to extra effort.)

What this gives me is a no-fat system, ideal for reducing all kinds of
risk on a production server. I've got all the packages I want, and their
dependencies, and nothing more.

For a server, this procedure is also very quick. It isn't possible to do
just steps 1 and 2 with things like SuSE or RedHat unless I install
apt-rpm, and even then the base system is somewhat larger, the packages
are not of such a high quality and only a very small number of hardware
architectures are supported.

There is proof that even Debian die-hards realise that the installer is
horrible because there is an official project to fix it. There have been
several easier to use systems developed in the past including Progeny's,
but none of these have been adopted. I think the reason in each case had
to do with the software architecture not being quite right, which
demonstrates again the Debian project's technical stubbornness. They do
seem to care a lot about fundamental design.

Now, speaking of awful installers, we could talk about OpenBSD... :-)

Dan Shearer
Open Source Manager
Mob: +61 411 49 1800
Tel: +61 8 8130 3104
dan at

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