Linux. Do it your way!

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I like to think that Linux is about a flexible an operating system as you can find. But it can be easy to forget just how flexible it is. We can get ourselves stuck in our computing habits and stick with the old and familiar. And sometimes, just trying something new can sometimes seem daunting and just not worth the effort.

But I believe it is worth the effort. And by the end of the process, you will have probably learned something that you did not know already. One of the aspects of Linux that I would like to point out and focus on is the amount of different processes and methods of what can be used for Linux operating system installation.

Sure, we have fancy graphical installers such as Ubuntu’s Ubiquity and Red Hat’s Anaconda. But despite coming a long way in the last 5 years or more, they are still not the one-solution-for-all of installers that you might like to think. There never will be a one-solution-for-all installer that covers all architectures, methods and options.

Ubuntu provide an alternate (non-graphical) installer. And as great an option as the alternate installer is, it’s still not the only option available other than graphical installers.
As a side note; Red Hat used to provide a text-installer option on the Fedora discs which could be called upon when running the Live CD with a specific boot command. I have not tried this option for many years now and am still not too sure whether this is provided on the Live CD of Fedora. If someone know, feel free to email me and let me know.

What prompted me to write this is something I am currently experiencing with my own system. I can’t install the latest Ubuntu 12.04 Beta 2. I have no idea what is preventing it to boot into my system, but I have tried the Live CD, the alternate installer on both x86 and AMD64. Neither boot. And without going into any more specifics of that particular issue, it prompted me to look for different methods of installation other than the regular and obvious choices that 9 out of 10 of us usually go for, purely out of habit and convenience.

I decided to build a new Ubuntu system within Oracle VM VirtualBox, but I decided to stick with Ubuntu 11.10 x86 for stability. I will re-visit 12.04 once the final version has been released. Both the Live CD and alternate installers perform the full Ubuntu system installation, which I do not want to have installed. Yes, there is a Server option also, but is also too big and bloated for my needs. I wanted something very light, sleek and fast. I decided to install my new Ubuntu VM using the Mini ISO. Or otherwise known as a Net Boot Installer.

The ISO basically provides you with just enough support to get your network running and the rest is all downloaded and installed over your network. I have to admit, this was my first time doing this with Ubuntu. I have done many net installations with Arch Linux and Gentoo, but until this occasion I had no idea that Ubuntu provided the Mini ISO. Which I might mention weighs in at a mere ~23MB. So it’s super quick to download and boot into a VM.

The rest of the process really depends on your network speed and bandwidth capability and the mirror selected during the network setup. And also, a lot depends on your system specifications as to how fast the whole process will take. In my case, under a virtual machine environment, the process of Boot > Network and Mirror Setup > Download of base packages > Configuration and Installation of packages took not much longer than 1 hour. And that was downloading from the Official US based mirror. This could be a lot faster or a lot slower on your own system, depending on the aforementioned points that I have raised.

I found the whole experience exciting and interesting. And getting full control of what goes into your system from the very beginning can be very handy. Particularly if you are fussy like me and don’t use a graphical environment for your Linux systems. I just installed the base packages and no more. And it boots fast and operates fast due to the lightweight nature of the whole operating system. But of course, a graphical environment can also be installed if you wish. You can install whatever you like, it’s your system!

I have really enjoyed my latest experience of building an operating system from scratch. And I could not help but think about how flexible and versatile Linux is and has become. I just couldn’t stop my self from thinking, “Windows can’t do this”.

If you have never built a system from scratch using a Net Boot Installer, I highly recommend you try it. It gives you complete control over everything right from the very beginning.

So my advice is to all the users out there complaining that X Distribution is hopeless, or Y Distribution is not listening to what the users are saying, then get out there and explore Linux from a different angle and do something different. Take advantage of Linux from the initial installation process and do it the way you want it done. There’s no longer an excuse. And especially considering the now widespread usage of virtual machines with the use of Oracle VM VirtualBox and other virtualization packages. The choices are infinite and you can run as many Linux system as you want. (Or what your hardware permits). And also remember, there’s plenty of Linux distributions out there on the internet that allow Net Boot Installs. Just Google your favorite Linux distribution and the search term “Net Boot” and you should find what you’re looking for. Explore the options available. You might even find something new that you were not previously aware of, as I did with the Ubuntu Mini ISO.

Let us know what systems you run and how you like to install your own Linux operating systems.

chrisjones[at]unixmen.com

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