Experiences with Debian 3.0

The following article was written a long time ago. I was discovering Linux for the first time. I had no experience with UNIX at all. Everything I knew was DOS and Windows. That my hardware was an antique Contura Aero laptop wasn't helping either. So see how I made a complete idiot of myself.

Ulrich, 11.12.2011

Preface 2:
The following comments were written more than a year ago and as a newbie. Of course I have now debian running on the aero and when I find the time I'll update the redhat 7.1 system I am currently running this site here to that debian woody system.

Debian is much easier to maintain than I thought in 2002 - and especially very easy to keep up-to-date.

Uli, 29.1.2004

These are my experiences with a harddisk-install of Debain "woody".

It was quite frustrating. Some people say Debian is not made for linux-beginners. Maybe they are right.

After all now I think the installation is hard but possible if you solve the BadRAM-problem as described in the next main chapters of my aero-linux-pages.

Good luck!
Uli, 31.11.02

Debian was very hard to install on the aero. Copying the installation CDs to a dos-partition on the aero's harddisk was not a good idea, because the installer couldn't find some of the requested directory-names. Maybe it uses symlinks on the cd. The installer also couldn't find the base system file, so you need to make a thirty-megs download which is expensive and takes time. Obviously the distribution is not intended for harddisk-installation, so without cd-rom (or plugging the aero's hdd into the desktop) you are lost. Sometimes the installation-procedure froze.

The documentation is not very helpful. There are only a few words about installing without cd-rom. The explanation about how to create boot-floppies for the install doesn't help at all, because all mentioned paths to the needed image-files on CD are wrong (maybe they are symlinks too). A tool for creating the floppies out of floppy-images is missing. As a linux-newbie like me you are completely lost with this documentation.

So I can not recommend the installation of debian on the aero when you are not already very firm with linux. It also took me much time.

So here we go:

Getting debian

I bought the complete release of debian Linux 3.0 in a package that contained 7 Binary Cds and one Addon CD (Open Office).

In debian you have to choose between four installation sets called "flavors" (who the hell invents these names?)

These flavors are

vanilla	(normal installation), 
compact (network installation),
idepci (kernel with only ide and pci devices).
I didn't choose this one, because I
had doubts about the aeros pcmcia-floppy. Also
the aero uses the ISA-Bus and has no PCI.
bf2.4 (experimental 2.4 kernel with USB-Support)

I took "vanilla" (seems that is what they suppose a newbie should do and prepared for installation.

I copied the whole content of the first debian cd to c:\debian\ onto my laptop.

I made two ext dos-partitions with partition magic 5.0 as drives:

e:	(1,6 GB) with ext2-filesystem for linux 
f:	(120 MB) as swap.


I first tried an installation from floppy but the system hung while installing so afterwards I tried the much faster installation from harddisk (see below). Here are some tips for starting the installation from floppy.

I made the installation floppys out of the bin-files from the cd.

The cd came only with rawrite1 and 2 - but I didn't get them to create floppys from the "*.bin"-files, they demanded .img files. In the installation manual they tell you to use rawrite3 - I had to download it from

So I tried to find the correct floppy files on the cd which wasn't easy because all links in the installation html-manual referring to the files on cd didn't work, at least from a windows pc. Maybe they are symlinks and they suppose you to run linux to be able to install linux. Hm.

At last I found then at:


and there was also a very useful installation guide:


The floppys have to be made from the files:


The first floppy for install is rescue.bin.
It demands the floppy root.bin afterwards.


This seemed good for aero users who do not have a floppy. The debian-makers provide that the complete installation can be managed from the local harddisk.

The installation directory can be found after a copy of the whole cd to c in


If you want to change to that directory after a clean dos-boot of the aero (no drivers loaded) the standard US-keyboard-driver is installed. So for non-US users like me some signs of the above mentioned path were hard to find with my german keyboard layout.

For the german keyboard you find

"\" at the key "#"
"-" at key "´"
"~" at the degree-sign right from BACKSPACE just beneath ALTGR.

After I found that out I could change inot the directory and start "install.bat".

Then I followed the instructions of the clearly written setup, I chose the keyboard, mounted the swap and the root partitions. Then setup asked from where to install and I chose "harddrive" and it presented all partitions on the disk. I selected hda1 dos/win95 partition. The setup then searched for the correct install directory and further installed all other files from there. So even the driver-x.bin floppies weren't necessary.

I didn't install additional driver modules. When configuring the pcmcia support for the model of the pcmcia controller I chose Intel i82365. (According to the Linux FAQ it is a VLSI 82c146 (which was not possible to choose, but like Ali Albayrak and Harald.T.Alvestrand write, it behaves like an Intel i82365, which is supported.)

My 3com pcmcia network-card was detected and configured without problems.


In the middle of the harddisk-install the setup software couldn't find the needed file "basedebs.tar" for installing the base system. I looked for it, but the base system file doesn't exist on any of the original CDs (although I paid 25 EUR for it).

So I downloaded the 28 MB from

and copied it to c:\debian

When setup asks where to search the file I chose Local Harddisk, hda1/Win95 and gave in the directory "debian" manually, which it accepted.

A little bit later the installation procedure hang again and could not be restarted. It simply refused to find my dos-partition again (where all the installation files were). So I broke off the harddisk install.

The bf2.4 version

Due to all these failures I gave the bf2.4 version (the one with the linux 2.4 kernel) another try which finally succeeded.

With the bf2.4 version installation it isn't possible to install debian completely from harddisk due an loadlin bug.

So I used the floppy install instead. Because the setup couldn't find the driver files in the directory c:\debian which held the complete copy of the original cd i also used the four driver floppys mentioned above.

The installation then run fine - the installer also used a graphical interface which was much nicer than that one of the vanilla version.

After the installation there was really nothing else installed than the base system. No midnight commander, nothing.

My msdos partition and was not mounted. I finally did mount it by using the (at this time for me very unknown and hard to use) linux editor vi. With vi I changed the file /etc/fstab

# /etc/fstab: static file system information.
/dev/hda6            /               ext2    defaults    0       1
/dev/hda7            none            swap    sw          0       0
proc                 /proc           proc    defaults    0       0
#I added the following line
/dev/hda1            /hda1           auto    defaults    0       0

I then had to make the directory /hda1 per hand by typing

mkdir hda1

and reboot the aero.

The msdos partition was then found and mounted.


I then tried installing packages with apt and the tool dselect.

Infortunately apt didn't find the needed "packages" info file in the correct directory. It searched it in the directory


but the installation cd had only the directory


So I had to change the directory name manually from "woody" to "stable" on my harddisk. Afterwards apt and dselect seemed to work.

I then experienced many system hangs with debian on the aero. They also were reproducable - for instance by changing to the directory "\dev" and typing the "ls" command. Sometimes the system hang itself up while booting or right after booting.

As I figured out now, this may be due to the badRAM-error of the aero and has nothing to do with debian. The problem so could be avoided by adding a line in lilo:


So debian would probably run stable until the BadRAM-problem is solved with the BadRAM-patch and recompiling the kernel.


Unfortunately I didn't know the details of the BadRAM-problem when I installed debian and thought the system hangs were all the fault of this distribution. After all the problems the installation made, I think you can understand this and my frustration. I finally decided to give Red Hat a try and didn't go any further with debian.


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