Still very cool: Debian floppy install

Say what you like about Debian or Ubuntu, but I think the floppy installation option was the coolest thing ever. I might be alone in that assessment, but I’m a bit sad that it doesn’t seem to be around for newer versions. (Tell me if I’m wrong, please.) I’ve done two or three installations with Etch, and then jumped up to stable or testing, when I felt daring.

I’ve only run into a few problems, and most of them were hardware-related. The network card I used for the installation is the axnet-cs-driven card I’ve mentioned in the past, but I realize now that the card itself is untrustworthy. Pressure on the tip causes the plastic shell to gape, which in turn causes the connections to jitter and break. That can be a problem when you’re floating through the installer program, waiting to download the core packages that will get your system on the drive.

The other was some sort of inconsistency between the default Etch kernel and the hard drive controller in this Pentium; I was seeing strange DMA error messages that caused the system boot to be delayed by a minute or two. Those errors disappeared with a kernel upgrade, so I’m guessing the issue was solved somewhere between 2.6.18 and 2.6.26.

Compared to Ubuntu, Debian boots slower, taking more than a minute to finish between Grub and the login. I know that Ubuntu hotwires the startup process though, so that is something I expected. While it’s up, the computer doesn’t feel any faster than Ubuntu, or for that matter Slitaz or maybe even Crux, if we’re counting console-only systems. Really though, at the console, things are pretty much going as fast as they will.

I like Debian for being somewhere in between a beginner’s distro and an advanced distro. Many of the high-end, menial chores required by Crux et al. simply evaporate in Debian, and at the same time Debian doesn’t seem to “push your face in the plate” like Ubuntu sometimes can. You’re still responsible for managing a lot of what happens with your system … kind of like Arch.

If only it would run on less memory, I would have it first in line for the 560e. Which is in a holding pattern right now, while I solve yet another hardware issue: How to either (a), cram an old-style, slightly thicker hard drive into the contemporary-size bay on another laptop, or (b), figure out how to hijack the Debian floppy installation long enough to get me online, download the smallest Slitaz ISO available, save it, mount it and install it to the hard drive.

These are the things that keep me awake at night. šŸ™„


18 thoughts on “Still very cool: Debian floppy install

  1. Peter

    Just realised that was not the thread to which I meant to link… and I can’t find the one I to which I wanted to link, still I’ll keep looking and report back when I do find it.

    1. Peter

      ok still not found it but the gist of it was that when booting Debian goes through everything sequentially but there is some bit of software in the repositories that will manage this process and start stuff in parallel (if I remember the thread correctly this mysterious package is used by default in Unbuntu)

  2. steve

    Nice to see you giving Debian a plug šŸ˜‰

    I use it exclusively and found your advice of having a seperate /boot partition sped up my boot times by 20 seconds! This is on a P3 with 512MB of RAM but the “populating dev” part used to take ages, but now it boots from grub to usable cli in ~20seconds. Starting fluxbox still takes an age tho, but for pure CLI operations, it’s actually worth switching it off again.

    Thanks for all the tips etc, they have been very helpful in my own Linux adventure šŸ™‚ Cheers!

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Wow, a 20-second boost is really dramatic. Are you sure there’s nothing else going on there? Seems like a 20-second delay would indicate something odd is going on. …

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  4. charleshbaker

    The floppy install is what made me switch from Red Hat, or Red Hat derived distros way back at Red Hat 5 or 6. I bought a used Dell XPi laptop (133 MHz) and it had no CD. I tried Red Hat, SuSe and Mandrake none of which identified or used the network card. Finally tried Debian which I had zero experience w/ and it worked like a charm. Used minimal floppies, identified pcmcia network card and installed majority of distro via ftp over the Internet. I was sold!

    I do have to use RHEL at work, but on my personal machines it has long been either Debian or a Debian derived distro like Ubuntu, CrunchBang or Mint.

  5. Pingback: Still very cool: Debian floppy install | - Your one stop for news about Debian

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  7. Mike Harden

    The reason for the lack of floppy media is that the current linux kernel doesn’t fit on a floppy disk anymore. So unless someone created a paired down kernel just for floppy install, then it won’t work. Debian doesn’t do that because they don’t want to limit hardware detection.

    If the machine has a CD drive but just can’t boot from CD, you can try using PLoP or Smart Boot Manager on a floppy to boot from a CD.

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