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TOPIC: The Pain of a Linux Newbie..

The Pain of a Linux Newbie.. 13 years 7 months ago #8661

  • TheBishop
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I wasn't going to post this as I thought it was rather long and I wasn't actually asking a question. However I shared it with Sahirh who thought it might be useful for those who want to get started with Linux. So, with apologies for the long post, here it is:

Remember a while ago we kicked around the idea of a Linux "newbie's guide" for the Unix docs section? At the time I
mentioned some of the pain and pitfalls that afflict us Window-heads when trying to de-program ourselves and party with the
Penguin. Well, that was before I fully went for it and decided to do a Linux install all on my own. I decided to document what happened in the hope it would point up any issues that could be distilled into the newbie document. Or if not, you'll have a good laugh anyway!

I just installed Slackware 10.1 onto a box and got it running. Big deal, you might say. But a while ago Sahirh was asking for comments on the kind of info Linux newbies would need, and my experience is a perfect illustration of some of the pitfalls. So here goes...

Decide to install Linux on a box. Research distributions on web, and decide to install the latest version of Suse. Go to the Suse site, find the download link to get the .iso.

Ah, Suse only give you an .iso to burn a single DVD of the install and I don't have a DVD writer. Scratch the green lizard...

More research - Ah, Slackware 10.1. Everyone says good things about Slackware... and you only need two CDs to do the install.
Slackware it is.

Download the two .isos and make the disks. Blow away everything on the machine and boot off CD1

I'm faced with a boot: prompt but at least they've told me on the screen what to do. So I do it, and I'm installing!

Now it wants me to create partitons and gives me a command prompt with a message telling me to use cfdisk or fdisk to do it. I was expecting this to be automatically driven from my menu choices or something. Never mind, "to boldly go..."

Run fdisk but quickly give up as the interface is just too arcane. Try cfdisk and that's much better, menu based.

Create my root and swap partitons with the correct types and make the root partiton bootable. Not too hard, pretty much like fdisk under DOS really.

When I exit cfdisk it tells me to reboot. I guess and type "reboot" at the command prompt. Which works. Oh I'm on FIRE here!!

System boots of CD1 and I enter the installer manaually again (Windows would do this automatically for you and pick up where it left off). I follow the instructions and accept the recommended options at each stage, including a full install of all software and modules. This takes a good 40 minutes to copy and expand around 3Gb of data.

Now it wants me to install a boot image. Hang on, I opted for an automatic full install. It's just copied 3Gbytes yet either couldn't be bothered to install this critical element with the rest of it or couldn't identify my hardware well enough to install the correct boot image automatically? Despite the fact it's already done this to boot the CD which I know containd multiple boot images?? Oh well, fair enough I suppose.

It gives me three choices: Load one off the installation floppy (which I don't have as I booted from the CD), use a boot image file already on disk or load one off the CD.
Ah, the CD! But when I choose this option it says it can't find one on the CD. But it booted from it?! This is inexplicable...

Er, allright then, good job I have a WINDOWS machine handy. Nip back on the 'net, find the Slackware boot disk images, download the appropriate one and Rawwrite.exe (none of which is documented at all on the Slackware install screens at this point). Do the Rawwrite thing and create a boot floppy. Insert that and load the boot image off the floppy. Reality check - I'm actually using a floppy disk to copy a critical bit of the OS into the installation because there seems to be no other way of doing it at this point. This is insane!

Okay, done that. After a few more obvious bits it wants me to install LILO and recommends I go for the automatic configuration option. I do - and it fails. Nothing to tell me why, just that it failed. Oh brother!

Go for the manual LILO install and fiddle about a bit with the options and choices but can't get the LILO install to succeed at
all. Ah well, leave that - at least I can boot it off the boot floppy and sort it later.

Make the boot floppy, then press on answering the last few questions and reboot.

"Boot failed" Oh great.
Insert boot floppy and try from that.
"Boot failed"

Boot off CD1 again, sucessfully this time, but try as I might I can't get it to run the system I've installed on /dev/hda1 - it can't see it but I know it's there, all 3Gb worth of it.

The Penguin is going down in my estimation and the sun did hours ago, so I leave it and go to bed.
Elapsed time so far - 5 hours.

After a good night's sleep and some more research I discover that the floppy disk I'd used to extract the Rawwrite image onto has corrupted itself. But the Slackware installer was quite happy to accept the corrupted boot image and install it without even sanity checking it! No error message, it just read what it could of the data and wrote it into the OS as a boot image!. It also says something about the wisdom of using a floppy at that point but I mentioned that before.

Right. Get new floppy. Make new boot disk using rawwrite.exe. Boot system off CD1 again and back into the installer. Skip all the software installation bits and go to Configure. Install boot image again off the floppy. Don't bother with the "automated" LILO install this time, but armed with an hour's research do it manually.

All going well until I inadvertently select the option to install at the root of the primary partition (last time I went for the MBR) even though the primary partition is the option the installer recommends. However, not noticing at the time, I press on.

LILO installs! Oh joy! I've never been so gladdened by success with an inflatable!

Finish up, reboot, and..

Boot fails with a message to the effect that the secondary bit of LILO is partially overlaying the primary bit, so "system halted".

Clutch hands to head (both sides), lean back in chair and cry "Nooooooo!" Now lower head to desk and bang repeatedly.

Okay, I will not be defeated! Boot off the CD again, back into the installer, redo the boot image again (getting well used this floppy), redo the LILO setup, install LILO (I'm getting good at this now), finish up and reboot.

IT BOOTS!!!!!!

Wait a second - into singe user mode! Because it says the superblock on /dev/hda1 is corrupt. Penny drops about my earlier
faux pas with the LILO configuration option. But all is not lost, as there are various suggestions right there on the screen about command-line utilities to run that might fix it.

Okay, all is lost since none of them work - because the superblock is corrupt.

Expired time so far - 8 hours

Boot off CD1, delete all partitions using cfdisk. recreate them and go through the whole install process again, including copying all 3Gb worth of files. Go through the LILO config really carefully.


Elapsed time so far 9 hours 15 minutes.

Hang on - when I went through the installer it asked me what graphical desktop I wanted to start when I logged in. I chose
KDE. So how come when I log in I'm at the command prompt? Don't forget, I'm a newbie installing this thing to learn about it. Dumping me in the deep end is not the right idea. Imagine installing Windows 2003 server and on reboot being faced with a C: prompt at which you must type in some arcane command(s) that you obviously know in advance to get your machine to give you a GUI??

Try all the obvious guesses such as kde, initkde, startkde etc. Then give up and go back onto the 'net (via that trusty Windows machine again) to do yet more research. As a by-product of which I find information about X-Windows and decide to start that instead. So I type startx, and lo and behold, here comes KDE.

Now I didn't say all that to bash Linux (I actually quite like it) but to illustrate that those of us Windows-heads who try to get into the Penguin face some genuine issues here. The often-touted mantra is "The best way to learn Linux is to install it and start playing." Yes, but to do that you seem to need a fair degree of prior knowledge so which comes first, the chicken or the egg?
The installation process isn't exactly fully documented on-screen, and there were a few points in which I ended up way outside the script and if it hadn't been for some gems of prior knowledge I'd have been sunk and reduced to trawling documentation (again) or asking for help on the forums.
And as for having to install the boot image of a floppy - I'm sure there must have been a better way, but where was it and why wasn't I guided to it?
And I came to this expecting an automated install, or at least one where if you select all the defaults and let it run you end up with a working system first time. After all, that's what you get from a Windows product. I asked a Linux enthusiast I know and his excuse was "It's so flexible an OS and supports such a wide
variety of platforms and configurations that just wouldn't be feasible". Fair enough, but the bootable CD seems capable of
identifying my hardware at least well enough to run on it, so why couldn't it pass that through to an automated install?

Final elapsed time 10 and a half hours

Re: The Pain of a Linux Newbie.. 13 years 7 months ago #8663

  • DaLight
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But I bet you appreciate it more though!!!!

Re: The Pain of a Linux Newbie.. 13 years 7 months ago #8665

  • jhun
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great post theBishop....kinda reminds me of the time i had my moment with the was hard...difficult..and i struggled along the way...up to the point of almost giving up...but then when i finally made it run, it was the greatest achievement i've ever felt.. :lol:

yes, installing a penguin for us windows users is really a challenge but after installing it and making it run for the first time, you suddenly look back and appreciate the things that you have done to get to it that far and realize that the penguin just does not give you a free OS or app but it makes you learn along the way...inculcating in you the values of wisdom and knowledge so that in the end, a sweet taste of success is achieve... :D

Re: The Pain of a Linux Newbie.. 13 years 7 months ago #8672

Well i think i'll put my 2 cents into this post. I made the switch from windows to linux (on my laptop) in September. So i installed Suse which is a great distro for the newbie but as time passes and you start learning things Suse won't do.... Everytime i tried to compile something all these dependencies came up.....
So after using suse for about 6 months i decided to change my distro. After trying a lot of distros, including slackware minislack some debian variants etc, i came across ubuntu. In my opinion ubuntu is the best distribution covering from the linux newbie to the more advanced user. For an easy switch from windows to linux you have to pick a right distro, in the case of thebishop i believe that slackware was not a right decision since you need to be a bit familiar with linux in order to have slack running smoothly.
Well i might sound like advertising but i don't :) , try ubuntu and you won't regret it. (They even ship free cds)

distros 13 years 7 months ago #8673

  • TheBishop
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This is turning out to be a useful post! When I first emailed my saga to Sahirh he said exactly the same thing, that for a newbie to jump striaght in to a Slackware install was not a good idea. But, as I said in reply, that is yet another one of those facts that a newbie really needs to know up front but only finds out later

Re: The Pain of a Linux Newbie.. 13 years 7 months ago #8677

You are totally right. I believe that this is one of the weaknesses of linux in gaining a siignificant ammount of desktop users. Let's say a newbie gets a Gentoo CD and tries to install it, he wouldn't get anywhere.... I believe that ony by correctly promoting some distributions this problem could be solved. If you assure the user that all his hardware will work, he will have all the needed programs and so forth then he would choose this distro without looking around.
Still this is my opinion and what i've come up to by using linux and trying different distributions
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