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feedback wanted alternative Debian installation system

[Please note the Mail-Followup-To header.]

Hi folks.

I sent an ITP about this package, but thought I would do a more proper
announcement now that it's in auric's queue/new.

One thing that Debian routinely gets dumped on about is its installer.
One thing that Progeny Debian got postitive reviews about was its

Because of that, some of us at Progeny have spent some time whipping the
installer we used for the Progeny Debian product into something that
could be useful to Debian.  We decided to call it "PGI", which is short
for "Progeny Graphical Installer".  I pronounce it "piggy", but you can
pronounce it however you want.  :)

The current version is, and I'd like to solicit feedback from
Debian Developers to help us determine what needs to be done with PGI
to make it worthy of a 1.0 version number.  PGI is in a late-beta stage
and has been successfully used to install woody systems many times.

Currently, PGI supports the i386 and ia64 architectures.  I personally
am very interested in seeing it support other architectures as well.

Note that PGI is not intended to supplant any other Debian installers,
but rather to present an alternative to them.  I'm especially thinking
of it as something that independent CD vendors can use to boost their
Debian sales.  If people are intimidated by the reputation of Debian's
standard installer, perhaps we can get Debian into more people's hands
with an alternative installer that uses X.

Also please be aware that even though Progeny developed PGI, it is now
just as much a part of Debian as any other package with an external
upstream (or, it will be as soon as it's approved by the archive

Until katie has processed the pgi package, you can review the current
package at the following URL:


To give you a better idea of what PGI is supposed to accomplish, I'm
attaching a feature list.  I have a large personal investment in this
project, so I'm very anxious to hear what you guys think of it.  Until
PGI gets its own BTS page, please feel free to mail me privately with

G. Branden Robinson                |    Somebody once asked me if I thought
Debian GNU/Linux                   |    sex was dirty.  I said, "It is if
branden@debian.org                 |    you're doing it right."
http://people.debian.org/~branden/ |    -- Woody Allen
1.1. Features

   PGI implements several existing technologies to ensure that it is both
   flexible enough to deal with a broad range of hardware, and compatible
   with the official Debian installation system. The latter point is
   important because it should not matter how the user gets Debian
   GNU/Linux onto his or her computer; what is important is that the
   resulting system is compatible with any other Debian GNU/Linux system
   at the infrastructural level.

     * PGI uses debootstrap, Debian's official means of retrieving and
       installing the core components of a Debian GNU/Linux system. Stage
       1 of PGI (see [23]Implementing the Second Stage) be thought of as
       a "wrapper" around debootstrap; PGI gets the system into a state
       where debootstrap can be run successfully.

     * PGI features both text-mode and graphical user interfaces. The
       latter uses version 4.1.0 of the XFree86 X server, supporting a
       wide variety of video hardware at reasonable color depths and
       resolutions. In cases where the graphical interface is not desired
       or unsupported by XFree86, the text-mode interface is available
       and provides the user with the same functionality.

     * PGI's graphical user interface autodetects most pointing devices
       (mice, trackballs, etc.) and video hardware. In most cases, it is
       not necessary to answer any configuration questions to use the
       installer's graphical interface -- it "just comes up". In
       situations where manual configuration is necessary, only a few
       easily-understood questions are asked of the user, to give GUI the
       "push" it needs to get going. Alternatively, you can run the
       graphical interface even when the target machine's video hardware
       is not supported by the XFree86 X server; simply set the display
       boot parameter and run the installer on an X server elsewhere on
       your local network[24][2].

     * Even when the X Window System is unavailable, PGI's text mode
       spares the Linux novice the intimidation of a shell prompt. The
       dialog utility is used to provide a friendly,
       menu-and-button-driven interface to the text-mode installer.

     * PGI is largely independent of the Linux kernel version. PGI may be
       built around an extremely broad variety of kernels; only a few
       kernel configuration options or mandatory for PGI's proper
       operation (see [25]Kernel and Module Selection). You can create
       lean-and-mean kernels for use with PGI, or large, featureful
       kernels for use on a range of hardware. You can also use PGI with
       the latest Linux kernel[26][3], or your own specially-patched
       version, in the event that the target hardware for installation is
       not supported to your satisfaction by the stock Debian kernel.

     * PGI uses Progeny's Discover hardware autodetection system to
       automatically detect the correct kernel module or XFree86 server
       driver to use with PCI, AGP, USB, and PCMCIA devices.

     * PGI provides and uses the GNU Parted library and utility for
       flexible and featureful disk partitioning. A graphical partitioner
       based on Progeny's Python bindings to the Parted library makes
       partitioning easy and intuitive[27][4].

     * PGI is architecture-independent. PGI has been designed for
       portability. In its first release, it supports the Intel x86 and
       IA-64 architectures. Hooks are in place for developers on other
       architectures to add support for their platforms without having to
       make infrastructural changes to PGI.

     * PGI is flexible. Not only are many aspects of its behavior
       customizable at build time (and even run time), but PGI supports
       the simultaneous development of different "profiles", which are
       referred to by code names that you select. You can choose between
       these profiles at build time with a command-line option. For
       example: you're a computer lab administrator at a university. One
       lab is for general undergraduate use, so you want the machines to
       have a desktop environment and a large array of applications, like
       Mozilla, Gnumeric, KWord, Gaim, and Kontour. Another lab is used
       only by CS students taking Systems Programming courses; some of
       these guys eschew all windowing systems[28][5] and want to get
       straight into their text editors and debuggers. For this audience,
       you might not ship the X Window System at all, and ensure that
       Vim, Emacs, Gdb, and User-Mode Linux are present. Once you have
       set up the profiles for each, you can switch back and forth at
       will without needing to shuffle files around in between.

     * PGI is network-enabled. For GNU/Linux users in general and for
       Debian users in particular, the days of being restricted to
       installing your system from a fixed, physical medium and then
       having to hurriedly upgrade to the latest patches from your vendor
       are fast becoming a memory. debootstrap itself is network-aware,
       and can retrieve the base system from a local disk, a web server
       internal to your home or office, or directly from an official
       Debian mirror on the Internet. PGI goes still further, however.
       Only the earliest phases of installation (the booting of the Linux
       kernel, loading kernel modules necessary to support the target
       machine's hardware, and configuration of the network interface)
       need depend on the installation medium (CD or DVD). NFS can then
       be used to mount the "live" filesystem inside which the installer
       proper runs. This greatly obviates the needs for vendor updates to
       PGI-based installers to be deployed to end users via replacement
       installer disks. Instead, you can simply direct your users to your
       Internet site.

     * PGI is boot-loader agnostic. On the x86 platform, PGI uses GNU
       GRUB for a friendly, menu-driven boot loader. GNU GRUB also
       supports a powerful command-line interface at boot time, if the
       user elects to use it. On the IA-64 platform, elilo is used, and
       the Linux kernel's interface to EFI variables are used to update
       the boot menu in the system firmware.

     * PGI can generate ISO 9660 images that contain only a PGI-based
       installer, images that contain only the packages needed to support
       your installation profile, or a complete snapshot of the Debian
       package archive. Multiple ISO images are generated as needed.

     * PGI-based installers are more than just installers. The installer
       can also be started in a system rescue/recovery mode, which loads
       the live filesystem and provides the user with a shell. The live
       filesystem can be configured to contain practically anything
       desired, from network diagnostic tools to a full XFree86
       installation and even a web browser[29][6]. The PGI installation
       medium can also be used a simple boot disk, loading the kernel and
       getting out of the way, transferring control to the specified root
       filesystem device.

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