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debian install from USB floppy/network/existing Linux install

Hi there. Please accept my apologies for the rather long post; I'm keen to help get this sorted, and have invested a significant amount of my time in (hopefully) explaining what I'm talking about clearly. Also I'm not entirely confident this is the right forum for my questions; please let me know if I spoke out of turn.

First some background. I recently bought a Thinkpad s30, a one-spindle laptop (hard drive only). I'm going to install Debian on it, but have not found a straightforward way of doing this. There are several problems. Only some are directly boot-floppies related, but I'm going to put them all in this one email. If anyone thinks my concerns would be better addressed elsewhere please let me know!

The machine in question is an IBM Thinkpad, and it came with Windows ME installed (yeah, yeah). I rejigged the partitions with Partition Magic (draft doc available at <http://aglet.net/s30install.html> -- the screenshots will appear later) which went rather smoothly. After spending a fair amount of time trying to get network booting via PXE to work -- hosted on both Linux/x86 and Solaris/Sparc, with various DHCP servers & configs -- (PXE is probably still the ideal solution; if anyone has any experience with this I'd be delighted to work with you) I cracked and bought a USB floppy drive. I then struggled trying to make floppies suitable for installing Debian. After a couple of days-worth of time messing with initrd and an uninstallable woody boot-floppies package I gave up, downloaded the RedHat network install floppy and had a running RedHat 7.2 system within an hour.

Aside: I'm really unhappy with RedHat 7.2; frankly by far the best thing about it is the installer (for example: I still haven't managed to get a working gcc install, apparently due to dependency problems). The installer -- I used the single-floppy text-mode install - is so slick it's almost unbelievable.

As laptops increasingly move away from the legacy floppy drives (and I guess this will only intensify with the "legacy-free" desktop PCs) installation support for PCs with more varied boot methods will become more important. RedHat seem to have the lead over Debian in this respect, for the moment. This brings me to my questions.

** I gathered from my reading on the net that there is no easy way of installing Linux from inside Windows ME (due to the absence of any way to boot into proper DOS mode). First off, given the way I managed to get Partition Magic booted totally from floppy -- see the URL aboce -- I'm not sure this is true; anyone have any data either way? It seems to me that if I can get Partition Magic running from a floppy session that one should be able to dump base onto c:\, boot into DOS and take it from there. Can anyone confirm or deny that use of syslinux or similar is not possible in this situation? I have to admit that since the box came without any form of software recovery I was super-cautious; I definitely didn't want to make the machine unbootable at any stage.

** Is there any way currently to load the root disk part of the Debian install (second "root/bin" floppy) from a USB floppy? The BIOS supported the first boot, but the Linux kernel simply panicked when it came time to switch to the second disk. I tried replacing the kernel on the first floppy with a USB-capable statically-linked kernel, but still with no success.

** Now I'm getting desperate. I've installed RedHat into a primary partition on my hard drive. Cunningly (I hope) I put my swap file in an extended partition together with loads of free space. The MBR fires up GRUB, courtesy of the RedHat install, giving me a choice between Windows ME and RedHat 7.2. How can I get from this position into a dual-boot Windows ME/Debian install? My current partition table looks like this:

  Device Boot    Start      End    Blocks   Id  System
/dev/hda1   *         1      784   6297448+   b  Win95 FAT32
/dev/hda2          2280     2431   1220940   1c  Hidden Win95 FAT32 (LBA)
/dev/hda3           785      915   1052257+  83  Linux
/dev/hda4           916     2279  10956330    f  Win95 Ext'd (LBA)
/dev/hda5           916      980    522081   82  Linux swap

/dev/hda1 is the main (drastically shrunken) Windows partition.
/dev/hda2 is some kind of funky IBM recovery (or perhaps hibernation) partition at the end of the disk -- I've left well alone. If anyone knows what this is I'd like to know!
/dev/hda3 is / for my new RedHat Linux partition.
/dev/hda4 is is a big dirty 10Gb extended partition, containing --
/dev/hda5 a 512Mb swap partition (I have 256 Mb of RAM).

Note the enticingly large amount of free space inside the extended partition /dev/hda4 -- this is where I intend installing Debian. (in some more partitions). I purposely made swap really big in order to have enough space to put a temporary install there if necessary. How can I get Debian installed into /dev/hda3 (and a bunch of other partitions inside /dev/hda4?) Obviously I've got RedHat running in /dev/hda3 now, and can use /dev/hda5 for an intermediate install. I would like to leave the Windows partitions exactly as they are -- unfortunately I'm going to need to use it from time to time for the forseeable future.

** What can I do to help create better support for machines like mine before Woody gets released? Is anyone working on network booting? I have access to a fairly wide range of machines, and would be delighted to be able to help getting this working better than it is.

** Finally, and completely off topic, if anyone else has by some freak bought one of these machines I have a patch for xkeycaps to help you fix up that wacky Japanese keyboard -- email me for details.

Thanks for your indulgence; this email has turned out considerably longer than I originally intended.

Cheers, Robin

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