Rough ride installing Debian

Help with issues regarding installation of Debian

Rough ride installing Debian

Postby avidscavenger » 2020-02-04 23:16

<vent>

After having had a rather unpleasant experience installing Debian I feel compelled to vent a bit on this forum.

Let me begin. I've been a faithful Debian user for more than 20 years and feel some loyalty. However on one occasion I installed U****u on an old Acer Travelmate, and it worked 100% on the first try. But then I had an urgent need to repurpose the hard drive, and when I came to set it up again with a different hard drive I decided to go back to Debian.

So, first of all, I needed some firmware files to use the wifi network interface. No problem, I put them into the firmware directory on the installation media and... they didn't work. So I put them in the root directory (instructions indicate that either location is OK) on the installation media and they still didn't work. Eventually by trial and error I found that I could install them manually when asked by the installer whether it should install them by moving to a different console, copying the files to /lib/firmware, then going back to the installer console, saying 'Yes' I wanted the installer to install the files (if I clicked 'No' then they wouldn't work even though I had in principle put the files where they needed to be).

OK problem one solved. Next it turns out that the BIOS on this machine won't read GPT partition tables so I need to use a DOS partition table. OK so I can do this manually, and I mean fully manually (partition sizes, types, mount points, bootable flags all had to be done by hand). Why on earth can't the installer's partitioner let you choose a DOS partition table but then do the rest of the process automatically, or at least suggest suitable defaults? And (hey here's an idea!) why not keep a database of BIOSs that can't read GPT partition tables and nudge the user toward a DOS partition table if appropriate?

Last and not least, the installer fully hung the machine at the install bootloader stage. Interrupting it (by hitting reset, the only thing that would work), and the Debian installation was useless, wouldn't boot manually. Probably could have been repaired but beyond by pay grade. So I went back to square one, and skipped the bootloader installation. Strangely enough, after manually booting the installation, there was no issue whatsoever installing GRUB and finally I had a working Debian installation.

So all in all what I expected to take about half an hour took more like half a day. Each of the manual steps had to be re-done each time I retried the installation. Instead of around 1GB of download it ended up doing closer to 5GB. (This is an issue for me with the high cost of Internet data in my locality.) And really if I hadn't been quite persistent and had a somewhat more than beginner's understanding of firmware files, partition tables and boot loaders I would just have given up. This is really not what I have come to expect from Debian. And I haven't forgotten how smooth the U****u installation process was on the same machine.

</vent>
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Re: Rough ride installing Debian

Postby Cyborg » 2020-02-04 23:40

I had the same experience with the nonfree firmware when installing Debian (bug #740503). Thankfully it's a one-time thing, but yes, it can be a bit daunting for a newbie. I ended up using the iso with the nonfree firmware included.
As for your other issue, I did not encounter it.
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Re: Rough ride installing Debian

Postby sunrat » 2020-02-05 08:03

Everyone should use the "unofficial" non-free installer with firmware unless they know they don't need/want it. Would save quite a few help questions!
It's unfortunate you seem to have quirky hardware. Most recent computers can use GPT, especially if they have UEFI rather than BIOS. Your bootloader issue may be related to that.
But you got it working and learned things, that's a win-win any day! :mrgreen:
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Re: Rough ride installing Debian

Postby trinidad » 2020-02-05 14:10

The net-install ISO non-free firmware version in text mode will install to just about any hardware except very new OEM stuff, and its biggest advantage is that user intervention is possible during the install and after a broken one often making re-installs unnecessary if something goes wrong. Aptitude can really help. On the other hand the Ubuntu installer either works or it doesn't. It's not designed for simple user intervention and there's no guarantee re-installs will work. If it crashes on the first try, it will probably crash again. I hate those kinds of ISOs and installers and even though Ubuntu seems to have high success rate problematic hardware is easier to work with on Debian.

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Re: Rough ride installing Debian

Postby Head_on_a_Stick » 2020-02-05 17:42

avidscavenger wrote:I feel compelled to vent a bit on this forum

Please don't. There's enough noise here as it is.
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Re: Rough ride installing Debian

Postby avidscavenger » 2020-02-05 21:46

Everyone should use the "unofficial" non-free installer with firmware unless they know they don't need/want it.


OK that's interesting. I've never heard of this unofficial net installer. I don't see any mention of it on the Debian installation guides.

I presume https://cdimage.debian.org/cdimage/unofficial/non-free/images-including-firmware/10.2.0+nonfree/amd64/iso-cd/firmware-10.2.0-amd64-netinst.iso is the one I want to replace https://cdimage.debian.org/debian-cd/current/amd64/iso-cd/debian-10.2.0-amd64-netinst.iso?

But you got it working and learned things, that's a win-win any day!


Yes-no. One of my goals in life is to convince others that Linux isn't just for enthusiasts. Experiences like this do not inspire confidence.
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Re: Rough ride installing Debian

Postby Chrisdb » 2020-02-06 11:28

avidscavenger wrote:OK that's interesting. I've never heard of this unofficial net installer. I don't see any mention of it on the Debian installation guides.

See: https://www.debian.org/releases/stable/amd64/ch02s02.nl.html
From the GNU pages [https://www.gnu.org/distros/common-distros.en.html]:
Debian's Social Contract states the goal of making Debian entirely free software, and Debian conscientiously keeps nonfree software out of the official Debian system.

Debian advocates the use of free software, but gives the user the option to install non-free software.


https://cdimage.debian.org/cdimage/unofficial/non-free/cd-including-firmware/ is indeed the correct place.

avidscavenger wrote:One of my goals in life is to convince others that Linux isn't just for enthusiasts. Experiences like this do not inspire confidence.

There are many great distros out there and many of them are more user friendly than Debian. Debian is aimed at more advanced users IMHO.
I believe Ubuntu and Linux Mint were created for this purpose.
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Re: Rough ride installing Debian

Postby avidscavenger » 2020-02-07 00:36



Wow, talk about burying the info. I was thinking it might be somewhere like here: https://www.debian.org/distrib/netinst

Chrisdb wrote:There are many great distros out there and many of them are more user friendly than Debian. Debian is aimed at more advanced users IMHO.
I believe Ubuntu and Linux Mint were created for this purpose.


Yes, and I support the principle of keeping non-free stuff separate, although a bit more helpful documentation would be good. And if a bug has been flagged about the failure of the installer to load firmware files that have been provided then no doubt that will get fixed at some stage.

But I remain unconvinced by the user unfriendliness of the partitioner, and of course whatever made the installer freeze my PC. I'll file feature request/bug reports when I find the time.
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Re: Rough ride installing Debian

Postby p.H » 2020-02-08 08:35

Replying to the original post.
avidscavenger wrote:I needed some firmware files to use the wifi network interface. No problem, I put them into the firmware directory on the installation media and... they didn't work. So I put them in the root directory (instructions indicate that either location is OK) on the installation media and they still didn't work.

Did you use "loose" firmware files or .deb packages containing firmware files ? You may have better luck with the latter.
After some testing and reading the installer firmware loading scripts, I came to the conclusion that it is broken by design and won't work in many cases. I cannot believe such a huge bug has been left unfixed.

The script responsible for loading missing firmwares is /bin/check-missing-firmwares. It will only look for the missing firmwares in the first "suitable" drive or partition found by another script, /bin/mountmedia. For loose firmware files, "suitable" means mountable (i.e. FAT or ISO9660). For firmware packages, "suitable" means mountable and containing .deb or .udeb files. Obviously if the missing firmwares are located in another drive or partition, the script won't find them.

avidscavenger wrote:Next it turns out that the BIOS on this machine won't read GPT partition tables so I need to use a DOS partition table.

The BIOS does not need to read the partition table. It only has to load the boot code contained in the MBR. Even the GPT scheme has a protective MBR. Some BIOSes wrongly require that the MBR contains a DOS partition entry with the boot flag set, but this is not specific to GPT.

avidscavenger wrote:Why on earth can't the installer's partitioner let you choose a DOS partition table but then do the rest of the process automatically, or at least suggest suitable defaults?

IIRC, the Debian installer creates a DOS partition table when booted in BIOS mode and guided partitioning using a whole disk is selected, unless the disk size is beyond 2 TiB. But I am not very sure as I always use manual partitioning.

avidscavenger wrote:Last and not least, the installer fully hung the machine at the install bootloader stage.

I have seen such system hang on a couple of machines (not mine) when installing in EFI mode. I believe this is triggered by some bug or incompatibility with the UEFI implementation when registering GRUB into the EFI boot variables.
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Re: Rough ride installing Debian

Postby Prairie » 2020-02-11 06:20

[/quote]
https://cdimage.debian.org/cdimage/unofficial/non-free/cd-including-firmware/ is indeed the correct place.
]
Thanks, didn't know this existed. It will definately make my next installation (if/when required) go easier. Probably would have saved me a lot of headaches too.
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