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Re: [VA-Debian] Comments from a first-time Debian install.....

I'm going to reply to relevant bits of this email, hopefully not being
too redundant.

As Joey already pointed out, we've stepped back, looked at our
installation system, and decided to throw it out and start from
scratch.  Well, Joey's doing that, and I'm the schlub who has to
maintain the old system until the new one is ready.

So my concern, therefore, is in making incremental improvements where
they can be made (given very very scarce resources, esp. since most
everyone is off working on the new system) and basically maintenance.

Joey Hess <joey@valinux.com> writes:

> Ted T'so wrote:
> > Another UI point.  With three choices in the first few screens, it
> > will make it much more obvious which button is selected.  Because the
> > background around each dialog box is blue, with blue meaning
> > "highlighted" and "red" meaning not highlighted", it's not clear which
> > is which.  For a while I thought "red" meant highlighted....  

Yes, this is very true.  I think this is a newt bug or something,
which is already filed.  It really needs to be improved.

> > The first time I did an initial install, PCMCIA was not configured
> > properly.  I have a Vaio 505TX, and this kind of PCMCIA CD-ROM install
> > has been problematic before with other distributions.  It was able to
> > boot from the PCMCIA CD-ROM; that part worked fine.  However, it
> > bombed out trying to find the kernel and modules.  I tried for a
> > while, but it appears there's no way to support that directly from the
> > CD-ROM given my hardware configuration.

Well, as you probably already know, since the PCMCIA subsystem is by
definition in the form of kernel modules, the only way to solve this
would be to put cardmgr and the pcmcia modules on the "root"
filesystem, so you don't need to load it subsequently.

> >  So I booted back into
> > Windows, created a scratch partition, and copied the entire Debian
> > Potato 2.2 Binary-i386 R0 CD-ROM into that scratch partition and then
> > tried again.

Ah.  You probalby could have gotten away with just putting rescue.bin
and drivers.tgz there, but no harm.

> > The second time I tried, I was able to load the kernel modules.  This
> > screen here really needs simplifying.  There's no reason to make the
> > user decide which modules should be loaded on a full system at such an
> > early point in the install.  Regardless of where you fall on the
> > "modules should be dynamically loaded" versus the "modules should be
> > statically loaded at boot-time" argument, at the initial install time
> > only those modules which are desperately needed to install the system
> > should be asked for.  If nothing else, deferring this means that the
> > installation system may have more resources at its disposal to provide
> > a more friendly interface to the user.  

Well, for instance, even with booting with the 'compact' set, which
has a lot of ethernet cards included, on my system at home, I need the
3c509 driver installed.  So, if I want to install the rest of the
system over the network, I need to load the module here.

I guess I should try to clarify in the UI that this step is for
loading modules which are needed for the installation process.

> > On this second install attempt, for some reason PCMCIA wasn't happy.  I
> > did try to configure it, but it failed for some mysterious reason.  It
> > didn't give any clear indication that PCMCIA had failed until later,
> > when the second install bombed out and I started investigating...

Yes, that's a good point.  Failure in the PCMCIA subsystem, e.g. not
able to load a card driver for an inserted card, isn't really sensed
well.  Hmm.  Not even sure how I could go about fixing this.

> > However, because it bombed out, it wasn't able to find the CD-ROM
> > automatically.  So the system went into what I later discovered was
> > apt-setup, where one of the questions it asked me was whether I wanted
> > the non-free software or not.  I said yes, but given that CD-1 (which I
> > had copied onto a spare partition) doesn't have non-free software, the
> > debian configuration system bombed out that that point ---- no obvious
> > way of restarting it, and nothing on the system except the base system.
> > I fiddled with it a while, and finally decided I was wasting my time, so
> > I rebooted the system, and reinstalled a third time, blowing away
> > everything from the 2nd try installation.
> I suppose you told apt-setup to use a mounted filesystem as its access
> method?
> Apt-setup should be more robust than that -- it should notice apt has
> failed and tell you and let you correct it. I'd like to try to reproduce
> this problem.

Yes, we should track this down and get a bug filed.

> > Networking was not set up automatically for me.  The fact that I was
> > using a laptop with a PCMCIA networking card may have caused this; I
> > don't know if a system with a hard-wired networking card would have
> > fared better.  I'm surprised that some kind of dhcp client isn't
> > suggested by task-laptop.
> There is a dhcp client in the installer itself, and it's supposed to ask
> you about using dhcp when you set up the network.

It does ask you.  Works fine for and most users.  On the 'configure
network' step, it asks if you wanna use a DHCP server.  The default is
yes, and works well.

> > As a Linux expert, lots of packages I take for granted aren't
> > installed.  For example, I had to manually apt-get gpm and strace.
> > (Or if there was a magical task package that would have found them, it
> > wasn't obvious from the install.)  That's fine if the machine is on
> > the network, but it gets tiresome pretty quickly if you're not on the
> > network (or you're fighting to get on the network and you need why
> > various networking tools are failing....)

A harder question to answer. Debian has the "standard" priority for
packages which are standard on any unix box.  Gpm has always been
installed for me, since it is priority "standard", so that is some
sort of bug that ought to be tracked down, e.g., why you didn't get
this.  'tasksel' is the package in question, that bugs should be filed

> > It would also be nice if it didn't
> > bomb out of non-free or contrib weren't present.  A simple "they weren't
> > there, so I can't give you that part of the distribution", would have
> > been fine.  (And would have saved me from having to do a complete
> > reinstall of the base setup from scratch, since at the time there was no
> > obvious way to restart the Debian system configuration script.  See
> > above.)

Yes, could you or someone file a bug against apt then?

> > However, there's still a lot of work to be done towards making the
> > install more simple.  Debian is at the point right now where I still
> > can't recommend it in good conscience to a non-technical friend or
> > relative.  The problems remain the same; most Debian developers rarely
> > install systems from scratch, and when they do, they're familiar
> > enough with the system that parts which are non-obvious to newcomers
> > don't bother them.  (Ironically, if the upgrading required going
> > through the installation process, as it does with Red Hat, I'm sure
> > that people would have spent a lot more time making the process
> > smoother.  The fact that Debian's upgrade process is so nice means
> > that the flaws in its installation process are masked to a certain
> > extent.)

Well, I don't think it's really valid that the reason the installation
is so hard is because Debian developers never use it.  In fact, I use
the installation system all the time, as do most Debian users (as they
get new machines and such).  It's true that such re-try users tend to
lose their perspective on the problems of the process.

However, the real problem is two-fold: the current installation system
is a hack of nasty C code, shell scripting, and tons and tons of
interdependancies.  For people to improve the system is a rather large
curve, and it's quite easy to break things without realizing it.

The second reason is simply that it's a volunteer project, and the
volunteers in question (debian developers) don't tend to work on, or I
guess prioritize, the installation system.  This is probably quite
related to the first problem.

We do realize as a whole that the curve for installation is higher
than other systems.  In fact, I'd go futher and even state that folks
who don't know Unix or Linux at all should probably start with another

Hopefully Joey's replacement system will solve all this, will come in
soon, and I won't have to spend my volunteer time maintainer a
basically unmaintainable code base for merely incremental improvements
when it's obvious a gut overhaul is needed.

> > Anyway, that's my perspective from doing a new Debian Install.
> > Perhaps some folks will find this useful.  The intent was for this
> > document not to be a rant, but to be constructive criticism.
> > Hopefully it will be taken this way.


.....Adam Di Carlo....adam@onShore.com.....<URL:http://www.onShore.com/>

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