[CLUE-Cert] Impressions of installing various flavors of Linux

John Kottal jlkottal at americanisp.net
Mon Oct 23 12:53:56 MDT 2000

Hello Certers,

I keep trying to come to meetings, but every time something else
I'm told that the group is studying installations, so I thought I would
share my experiences. Mind you that these are my opinions
and experiences and so may not be the same as yours.

Over the past year, I have had a test bed machine to install various
flavors of Linux on. The flavors that I installed were:

Caldera Technology Preview (2.4 kernel, Xwin 4.0)
Corel 1.1
Debian 2.2
Mandrake 7.1
Red Hat 5.2, 6.1, 6.2 (including Custom, Workstation, and Server
Slackware 7.0, 7.1
SuSe 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 6.4

The system was a 233 Pentium MMX with 128 MB RAM and a 4 MB Matrox
Mystique video card. The hard disk was split between Windows 98 and
Linux, and for Linux, I set two up two partitions (a 1.5 GB / and 131 MB

swap) and then left them at the same size for each installation, telling

the program to reformat them each time. Installation consisted of
setting up the partitions, selecting and installing various packages,
making a boot disk, adding a root user and one other user, and setting
up X Windows for either KDE or Gnome. I also installed RedHat
6.1 and Slackware 7.1 on a Toshiba K6-2 laptop with a 4 MB video card
and once or twice used an existing NT 4.0 system with a dual boot
under Boot Magic.

All of the installation programs were functionally equivalent, i.e.,
they identified the hardware, then partitioned the hard drive, selected
and installed packages, setup networking and to some degree, Xwindows,
made a boot disk, and added users, both root and ordinary. There are
reviews on the web about the specific installtions, so I will not go
into these in any detail. I will however, give my impressions of them

Having the system lock up on me twice or so using the GUI installation,
I tried to stay with the text-based ones whenever possible. However, the

GUI installations for SuSE 6.4 and Caldera were quite nice and worked

The slickest installation was for Caldera. This was much easier than any

other installation program I have used, including several versions of
Windows, and I believe that it will go a long way towards making Linux a

home-based product. It used a graphical interface that completely set up

everything, including XWindows and networking. This was also among the
most friendly for help when asked, and took the time to explain in
detail at a novice level.

The other installations were not as friendly, mostly in the fact that
they did not explain well what needed to be known about a step before
choosing it. Of the package installation systems, the best was Debian,
as it gave great detail about each package when asked. Second best was
SuSE, but the help screens truncated before I could read them completely

and I often found myself wondering what the rest of the description

I found that the "stock" installations of letting the system pick the
packages under the "workstation" or "server" installations did not work
well, as they were always leaving something out that I wanted. For
example, the RH server selection did not install Xwindows, and trying to

get it to do this was so complicated that I finally abandoned it and
went with a fresh custom installation. For this reason, I recommend
using the custom installation option whenever possible.

One of the big problems was resolving package dependencies. Debian and
SuSE were very good about this, explaining what was needed and then
installing it automatically.

The fattest installation was SuSE, primarily because of its dependency
solving solution. No matter how carefully I tried to cut down on the
size of the installation, by the time it resolved all the dependencies
(and it
seemed that everything was dependent upon everything else) it seemed to
want to install everything and ended up about 1000 MB.  OTOH, with care,

Debian, Slackware and RedHat could be tailored down to about 400 MB.

The poorest installation was Corel. While it used a GUI, it was
confusing thoughout. For example, when it asked for a user name, there
was nothing
on the screen to indicate whether this would the root or an ordinary
as it turned out, it was the root user. At no time was one given a
chance to set up another user. This would lead me to believe that a
novice installer would end up running the system as root, except for a
glitch I will explain in a minute. The package selection was good --
basically check boxes, but there was little explanation of what each
was, and some of the choices were very limited. For example, the editors

package listed elvis and vim, but no emacs. Selecting the development
box did
not result in gcc or egcs being installed as near as I can tell because
I could not find either of them after installation. There were other
problems: after installing the packages, the program instructed me to
remove the installation CD and restart the system. When I did, the
screen showed all sorts of error messages, such as module not found,
device not found, etc. and finally booted into single mode, asking for a

user name, and giving instructions to boot into it to resolve problems
or to Control-D to continue. I found out here that the user name it was
looking for was the one I had entered early that turned out to be the
root user. Pressing Control-D then continued the installation and
ultimately led to a GUI log-in screen. But the number of error messages
on the screen as the system initially booted concerned me, and I
wondered what it would have done to a new user, not to mention the
choice of staying in single mode to repair the problems! How would a new

user know what this meant or what to do?

There were other problems with Corel. I like to boot into a console
based screen (usually runlevel 3) and then use startx to run the GUI.
Corel never allowed this; although upon bootup, there appeared a screen
giving several choices (GUI, console, repair) no matter what I chose, I
ended up with the GUI. Changing the run level in the inittab file did
not work, and issuing the telinit command did not change the run level.
Furthermore, choosing the console mode at the initial screen only led to

the display of the same error messages and warnings and then the boot
into single mode that I had seen earlier.

As far as speed of installation was concerned, they all took about the
time, around 45 - 60 minutes. The fastest seemed to be RedHat, and the
slowest, Debian. Some of this variation may be from the choice of
I made, but I basically tried to choose the base package, Xwindows,
Xwindows apps,
development, KDE (and sometimes Gnome) and networking. I usually did
not choose the LA/TEX packages, games or Gnome, and sometimes did
not choose the Python or Tcl ones.

Based upon my experiences, I recommend the following:

1. Use the text or console installation whenever possible.

2. Use the custom mode whenever possible to allow better control
over the selection of packages. The ready-build selections always
left something to be desired.

3. Before installing Xwindows, run SuperProbe to get graphics card
information, as probing for my video card did not always work, and
sometimes locked up the installation.

4. As far as ease of use of installation, all of them are about the same

and if the user has done another installation should not be too
confusing. The best installation program as far as ease of use and
completeness was the Caldera. If it was a 10, the others were about a 5,

except Corel, which was a 2 at best.

5. Partitioning the disk can be a bit of a pain. I prefer Disk Druid,
but cfdisk is OK and still easier to use than fdisk. One note is that I
do NOT recommend doing an installation that shares the same disk with
Windows. Several installations like this only led to problems down road.

I even tried using Partition Magic, but in every case the disk ended up
with cross linked partitions and on one occasion this led to the loss of

an entire Windows drive when it was changed into a 2GB swap file! Given
the low cost of hard drives today, if it is necessary to have a dual
boot machine, I would recommend buying a separate hard disk for Linux.
Once it is partitioned, it need not be again, as all the programs read
the FAT and honored the partitions there already.

6. I sometimes used Boot Magic for dual booting (especially on a system
with NT), but had no problems with LILO as the controller for a Window
98 dual boot, as long as it was installed first.

7. Allow about two - three hours for an installation. This will allow
time to partition the
disk, format it, and then install the program, and maybe have time for a

In the end, I conclude that if you have successfully done one
you can do any other, sometimes even without having to RTFM.

John Kottal

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