Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Debian Etch: Custom Install

The following is a how-to that was on my original blog and also posted at www.debian-administration.org. It is the first I ever did, and as such has a few rough edges.

As a not completely new Linux user I have been frustrated over and over again at all the extra bloat and apps that I will never use that gets loaded onto my system when I do an install. Debian was the second distro that I tried and have used many others since, but I keep coming back.
With Etch I finally decided to get my system MY WAY(tm). No excess junk and no excess apps. After I had played for a little while I came up with the way to do it, and since I had found very little in the way of easily human understandable documentation I thought I would share the process.

Now understand that what we are going to do is start from where I changed the installation.

1: netinst CD and an internet connection.

2: start the normal install process and proceed all the way to where it asks if you want to use a network mirror.

3: select NO for network mirror (we will change this in a minute)

4: reboot and log in root

5: edit the sources.list

nano /etc/apt/sources.list

add these lines

deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian etch main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.debian.org/debian etch main contrib non-free

Then make sure to comment out the line with the CD in it with a # otherwise it will drive you nuts asking for that blasted CD that has nothing of anymore use on it.

Close and save the file (double check your spelling and make sure you didnt fat finger any keys like I constantly do)

6: type in the command

apt-get update

7: type in

apt-get install xserver-xorg-core xorg

There will be a few questions at the end, for now just go with the defaults.

8: while apt is doing its thing we need to make a decision.
Which login manager do you want to use? Unless you want to run as root all the time ( #1 bad idea by the way) we need a login manager. Here are the 3 I have used and comments on them.


smallest and works well to get you going on your way. Highly configurable.


easily configurable and adds libraries you need if you want to use the synaptic package manager. (also contains alot of the extra functions of xdm)


largest and bloated, I list it only because I know a few people who like it. (my opinion)

It honestly makes no differance to us which you pick. For ease of configuration I'd suggest gdm, if your just setting up a single user machine and will never change your desktop interface xdm might be the way to go. Your choice (thats what Linux is about right?)It doesnt matter which desktop environment you are going to use, any of them will fire up what ever you happen to have

So we

apt-get install xdm/gdm/kdm

9: Next decision, what desktop package to put in?


If you want Gnome you have just wasted time reading this, thats what you would have gotten if you had continued on with the installation normally.


very much like the operating system that comes from redmond, and nearly as bloated with worthless junk. I have this installed only because my wife likes it.


This is the one I use. Very small, fast, and configurable. Its a low frills let our programs use system resources instead of having the desktop environment hog it approach. Nor will this one load your system up with oddbits like Gnome or KDE, however both are integrated with it. So if you install your favorite Gnome app or KDE app it automagicly appears in your menu in fluxbox.

There are others you can use as well, if you have one you like instead, use it.

So we

apt-get install fluxbox/gnome/kde

9A: If you went with fluxbox because like me you wanted to control what apps are on your system instead of letting someone else decide what is right for you. Remember this, fluxbox doesnt ship with proggies AT ALL. so at the very least you will want to add a web browser.

apt-get install firefox

(my choice, again use what you like)

10: reboot and poof you should be up and running.

For those who are wondering this worked equally well on my desktop as it did my laptop. I hope this helps someone else who like me is still learning all the wonderful things that can be done with Linux, but needs a few pointers because face it, we arent all programmers and everyone has to start the process of understanding somewhere.

Since originally writing this how-to I have changed my minimal install technique, however since at this point I have stopped using Debian or Debian derived distros completely I doubt that a new how-to will be forthcoming any time soon.

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