Splatter – December 2007

The number of applications for Linux numbers in the thousands. Consequently, most distributions of Linux now come on DVD disks (Mandriva is still available as a 3 CD set). If your computer doesn’t have a DVD drive, what are your options:

  1. The CD versions of the various distributions are now Live/Install CDs, and usually just a single CD. The difference is that the CD edition contains a much more limited set of applications. You will need to download additional application packages from the various repositories, as discussed in the last article.
  2. Most newer machines have network, or PXE (Pre-boot Execution Environment), boot as a boot option in the BIOS. All Linux distributions have a PXE boot for GRUB (Grand Unified Boot Loader). Building a PXE server is not a trivial exercise. The following articles are an excellent starting point for learning how to build a PXE server:
  3. If the BIOS on your system doesn’t have a PXE boot option, you can create a CD that installs from a local FTP (File Transfer Protocol), HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), or NFS (Network File System) server.
  4. You can also install from a USB memory stick, thumb drive, or DVD drive, by building a special CD. Installing from a memory stick, thumb drive is not without its complications. The device must be able to hold the 2 gigabyte plus DVD image (4+ gigabytes for openSUSE), and the target machine must have a USB port that supports USB 2.0. These USB devices uses Microsoft’s vfat file system, which has a 4 gigabyte limit for file size. The openSUSE image actually exceeded this limit. There are a number of articles on USB installation that guide your through this alternative:
  5. openSUSE offers a network install alternative that requires a mini-CD (73 megabytes). All applications are then downloaded from the specified repositories. While you can use the Internet repositories, you can also create a local repository. For the more experience Linux user, this is a viable option. No fancy graphics with this install.
  6. You can also use Mondo Rescue ( a great package for making backups ) to build a CD image of a machine that you wish to clone to other machines. When installing packages, just search for mondo. When you install mondo, the system will also install mindi, as mondo depends on mindi.

If you are installing Linux on a single machine, then the fastest option is to get a CD version for the distribution. As long as you have a high-speed Internet connection for downloading additional applications, this option works just fine. For the adventurous, you have the option of the mini-CD from openSUSE.org. For those that want an identical image on multiple machines, you have the choice of building a custom distribution for your environment.

What was my final solution for dealing with all my machines that don’t have DVD drives, or the DVD drive no longer can reliably read a DVD? With multiple Linux systems, I didn’t want to beat my Internet connection to death. I made one machine an NFS server for the install. It was then just a matter of creating the CD for each version of Linux that I wished to install. openSUSE made it easy, as I just downloaded the iso for the network install CD.

In Linux, there is always a solution. It just takes a little work to find it, and the learning never stops. I was searching for alternatives that would work for any distribution of Linux. Consequently, I ignored choices like openSUSE’s autoyast.

As a side light, there is an excellent how-to article for installing openSUSE on systems with less than 256 megabytes of memory: http://en.opensuse.org/Installation_with_Little_Memory. It even explains the kernel panic that may occur when installing on systems with very little memory, and what you need to complete the install. If you are running with less than 256 megabytes of memory, I would stick with text mode. While command line system management is fine for servers, a graphical desktop needs more than 256 megabytes of memory.


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