Getting older, not necessarily wiser!
In this post I will be walking through a Debian GNU/LINUX installation for the Average Computer User. For this installation tutorial I will be using the K.I.S.S. principal. While there are numerous much more politically correct less offensive definitions, I prefer the one I initially learned many years ago. Keep It Simple, Stupid!
The assumption for this post is you have a slightly older computer (no more than 10 years old) using main stream hardware, who’s current Operating System (OS) version is no longer supported, and your hardware will not support any newer versions of said OS.
In this sort of case you may have a few choices; Upgrade hardware, purchase new if budget allows, do an unsupported install of the newer OS version, or switch to a different OS. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages. But lets assume for the moment you chose to purchase new.
Odds are you are not going to get a trade in, so you now have a perfectly good computer that can actually be put to use. Surprisingly switching the OS is probably the cheapest and easiest way to do this.
So without any further ramblings on my part, lets get too it.
It should come as no surprise that you will have to answer some questions, no mater which OS you chose to install. So it is better to collect the information up front. You can search on line and find out what questions you will be asked during the install by a specific OS. Below, I have put together a short list that should prepare you for any install. None of these questions are difficult and it should only take a few minutes to run through them.
I know I have left a several things out, but we will deal with them during the install by providing a specific choice to remove any confusion about how to complete a step.
This is going to be one of the harder parts of the install. This will be true of any OS you chose to install. There are three things to accomplish; acquire an OS installer, get the OS installer onto a USB stick, and boot the computer from the USB stick into the installer.
Since I have chosen Debian as the OS I will use, what we do with Debian 11 (code-name Bullseye) will be slightly different than what we will do when Debian 12 (code-name Bookworm) is released. Don’t worry, it gets simpler with Bookworm.
With Debian Bullseye, you will want to download the installer from this link,which includes propitiatory drivers in the installer (this is not a feature of the default Bullseye installer). Once Debian Bookworm is released, you can download it straight from the “Getting Debian” page, as proprietary drivers will be added to the installer at that point.
Note: Do not just copy the file to USB, as this will not work. You will want a USB stick of at least 4GB with no personal files, and that you are not worried about erasing.
You need to use a program like etcher or rufus to install the file on the USB key. Both programs are fairly simple to use, and there are plenty of tutorials out there, so I am not going to repeat them here.
Note: In this example the installer will wipe and reformat your internal drive. Make sure you have backed up any important data.
Most computers have keyboard hot keys/shortcuts to enter setup or boot menus. The problem is finding them. Many times they are displayed at boot up but you need to be quick to catch them as they are not displayed very long.
Another possibility to get this information is to search the web for <manufacturer> <model> number bios boot menu. Fill in manufacture and model with your computer information, For example on a second generation NUC computer I would search for the following.
NUC DC53427HYE bios boot menu
The first link talks about troubleshooting non boot issues, but points to the F10 key as the one to press to enter the boot menu.
If worse comes to worse, you can try all the function keys, the esc key and the del key.
Once you know what key or key combination you need, power down your computer, insert your USB with installer, and restart. Then start pressing the required keys until the boot menu appears. At this point you should chose to boot from the USB stick you just made.
A reminder, this installation uses Debian 11 Bullseye. While other OS’s may be similar, there will be differences.
Upon boot up we will be presented with the installer startup screen. Because I am trying to stay away from command line stuff, I will be using the Graphical Install option.
The first things you will be prompted for is to select your language, location, and keyboard layout. These are presented in a list. You select the correct one and click continue.
After this, the installer will load the installer components it needs to complete the installation. A progress bar will be displayed showing how far along the task is.
Another progress bar will be displayed for the network configuration. Once the network is configured (it will use DHCP by default if available), the installer will move on to the host name. This is the place you can get a little creative if you want.
Next you will be asked for a domain name. If this is a home computer, then you probably do not have one, so leave this blank and hit continue.
Root Account Setup
Next the installer will ask us for a root password. The root account is the super administrator account. Enter the administrative password you decided upon ealier.
Note: You have a few options here, which are important enough to add some explanation. The big difference is what password you will enter to perform administrative actions. If you chose to enter no password for root, then the root account will be disabled and a program called sudo will be installed to allow normal users to become temporary administrators, using their password. If you enter a root password the account will not be disabled, sudo will not be installed, and administrative actions will require the root password.
Normal User Setup
After this, you will be asked some questions about setting up a normal user account starting with full name of user, username, and password. The full name of the user can be anything you want. Usernames must be lower case and start with a letter. Both Full User name and username can be the same. And I am not going to rehash secure passwords here.
Now we come to disk partitioning. To keep it simple select “Guided – use entire disk” (I can already here some of the experts groaning and pulling their hair out).
The installer will create two partitions. A primary one, taking up most of the drive, where everything will be installed and a smaller swap partition. If this is correct, select “Finish partitioning and write changes to Disk”, then select continue.
Loading the Base System
At this point the installer will put up another progress bar and start loading the base system. How long this takes will depend on the speed of your internet connection. Then the package manager will be configured.
A list of relevant time zones, based on earlier choices will be presented. Chose the one that applies to you. If none are applicable, you may use the “Go Back” button to change Language or Location. Once the correct time zone is selected, click continue.
Once your location and time zone are set, the installer will display a list of package repositories. Select one that is geographically near to you, as this may increase download speeds.
You will be asked for an http proxy. If you are on a home network you probably do not have one. You can leave this blank and continue. If you are on someone elses network, ask their administrator about it.
Finaly, you can chose to participate in the “popularity contest”. This sends information about what packages you are using back to Debian. The default radial button is set to “No”. Click Continue.
If asked about scanning additional sources, select “No”
You should now be at the software selection screen. package. You will now be presented with some additional software options to pick from.
How fast the additional software loads, will depend on your Internet speed.
After all software has been loaded, it will be time to set the system to automatically boot.
Debian uses the grub boot loader, so make sure the “Yes” radial button is selected and click continue.
You will be asked to select your boot device. This is the drive everything was installed too. Click Continue.
Once the grub boot loader is done the installation is complete. You will be instructed to remove your USB stick. Then click continue to reboot.
When your computer reboots, it will display a graphical login terminal. Go ahead and enter your username and password.
In this post we covered installing Debian as the OS on a computer. While the write up might seem a little long, if you have a decent internet connection the total install should take less than half an hour.
Depending on your previous OS, you may see performance increases under Debian.
In other posts we will take a look at what is available on your system.