Short Debian Introduction

Short Debian Introduction

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This is a very short introduction into "what is new / different in Debian" compared to other Linux distributions such as e.g. SuSE. This intro consists of six sections: installation, upgrading, search/find/install software, installing rpm-packets, links to init scripts, and kernel-upgrades.

1. Installation of Debian

When installing Debian for the first time, you may experience lots of difficulties, should you want to install 'Woody', the current stable version of Debian. We recommend, to install 'Sarge', the testing version of Debian. There is a quite easy to install installer-version available today.
We have two descriptions on how to install Debian on our webpages: A description for installing Sarge, which I recommend primarily, and another one describing how to install Debian Woody and then upgrading to Sarge.

However, the great experience will be made after having installed Debian Linux: You will not rely on a company, on which software is provided on the installation CDs or DVDs. There may be up to 2'500 software products on their CDs or DVDs, but with Debian, you have access to more than 8'700 software packages available today. Furthermore, you will never again have to make a difficult and often cumbersome 'upgrade' or 'new install' of your Linux. There are very simple commands available, to keep your system up-to-date.

Using Debian Linux is in principle just the same as using any other version or distribution of Linux. However, updating your system is much, much more easier.
One word before everything: Debian Linux is fine, as long as you have a fast internet-connection; whether permanently or (with a laptop) from time to time. It may well be, that after one month you will have to download up to 300 MB of new software and this will take - even on a relatively fast connection - about 30 minutes!

2. Keeping your system updated

Update the list of software-packages: apt-get update
Upgrade your system: apt-get upgrade
Now you are done! All of your software is up-to-date !
One more hint: From time to time you shou should enter the command
apt-get clean
in order to remove the *deb-packages acumulated so far - this will free a lot of disk space on your PC!

The commands above will verify, what packages are available from the servers you have specified in the file /etc/apt/sources.list . The entries there vary from country to country. In our case (Switzerland) we have the following entries in /etc/apt/sources.list .

3. Search, find, install (and remove) software

Should look for a software to handle e.g. your webcam, simply enter
apt-cache search webcam
and you will see an entry like: webcam - capture and upload images
So now we want to know more details about this software and we enter:
apt-cache show webcam
Please note, that while with the command apt-cache search keyword you may also give just parts of the string you want to look for (e.g. keywor), this is not possible with the command apt-cache show keyword; in this case (using the 'show' option), the correct 'keyword' must be used.

Should we now want to download and install this software, we simply enter:
apt-get install webcam
and then we have a look at its man-page:
man webcam

Should we not like the software, we remove it by entering the command:
apt-get remove webcam

Should we want to know, whether the software 'webcam' is already on our system or not, we simply enter:
dpkg -l | grep -i webcam
(Talking about 'webcam': you might be interested in our
webcam with Linux webpage.)

4. Installing software available as rpm-packet only (not as a Debian packet)

Should we have a software (such as VMware), which is only available as a rpm-packet, such as VMware-workstation-4.5.2-8848.i386.rpm , we cannot directly install such an RPM-packet into our Debian system. However, there is an easy way to do this, using the program 'alien'. Should you not yet have installed this program (see: dpkg -l | grep -i alien), then you simply install it with apt-get install alien and then you enter the following command:
alien --to-deb VMware-workstation-4.5.2-8848.i386.rpm
This will produce a package called 'vmwareworkstation_4.5.2-8849_i386.deb', which then can easily be installed into our Debian Linux system by entering:
dpkg -i vmwareworkstation_4.5.2-8849_i386.deb

5. Runlevel and links to the init scripts

While e.g. SuSE (at least up to version 9.0) uses runlevel 5 as default runlevel (with network and X server up), the default runlevel in Debian Linux is 2.
There is also a difference between the location of the runlevel dependent links to the init scripts (those scripts, which are startet at boot time or when entering a specific runlevel, respectively): While the runlevel specific directories (such as rc2.d, rc5.d, etc.) on SuSE are located in the same directory as the scripts themselves, in /etc/init.d, under Debian these directories (e.g. rc2.d) are located directly under /etc .
While under Debian it seems, runlevels 2, 3, 4, and 5 are all the same, I found it useful, that SuSE makes actually use of the different runlevels, as e.g. Hewlett-Packard with his HP-UX does it as well.

6. Kernel upgrades

Should you install a new kernel (e.g. actively via apt-get or passively with 'apt-get upgrade', there may be new parts of the kernel being installed on your system (such as kernel-headers-2.4.26-1 or kernel-image-2.4.26-1-686). In this case, you may have to re-compile some kernel-modules in order to be ready for the new kernel. In our case, this typically affects the modules of VMware, vpnclient, and NVIDIA.
- However: please note, that the kernel sources under Debian are being downloaded as tar-ball compressed with bz2. Therefore the following is necessary each time you have downloaded new sources of thge kernel:
cd /usr/src
tar xjvf kernel-source-2.4.26.tar.bz2
And make sure you have symbolic link 'linux' there, pointing to e.g. kernel-source-2.4.26 .
- Should the command vpnclient connect ethz not work properly, you need to re-compile the vpnclient software: cd to the vpnclient directory and enter: ./vpn_install (see also: for the installation under Debian (Sarge).
Here, I should say word about possible overwriting of the file ethz.pcf ...)
- Should VMware not work properly, you may have to enter (as root): in order to re-compile the VMware-modules.
- Should you have difficulties with your NVIDIA-graphics-card, you will have to install a new driver: sh

And here is the way, how we upgraded from Kernel 2.4.26 to Kernel 2.6.8:

apt-get install kernel-image-2.6.8-1-686 kernel-source-2.6.8 kernel-headers-2.6.8-1-686
cd /usr/src
tar xjvf kernel-source-2.6.8.tar.bz2
rm linux
ln -s kernel-source-2.6.8 linux
Attention: the 'vpnclient' from Cisco did not work for Kernel 2.6.8 - however, with kernel 2.6.7 we had no problems at all!
Of course we had to re-compile kernel-modules for 'vpnclient' and 'vmware' (see above). That's cool, isn't it? It's so easy with Debian Linux!

So, please do not be discouraged by initial problems while installing Debian Linux; rather look forward to the great wide world being ahead of you, once you have installed Debian!

Last Update: 27Mar2005 uk   -   Created: 16Jul2004

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