[conspire] (forw) Re: install-a-thon

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Apr 14 12:31:10 PDT 2005

----- Forwarded message from Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com> -----

Date: Thu, 14 Apr 2005 12:24:46 -0700
From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
To: Keith Brentson <virtualkeith at yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: install-a-thon

Quoting Keith Brentson (virtualkeith at yahoo.com):

> Thank you for your reply.  

No problem.

> I also did a bit of research, and was surprised that other people with
> the same LAN as mine had no problem with the install.  What I have
> found since then, is that my ISP service has been intermittent due to
> an upgrade of some sort,  and it's possible that my problem was with
> that and not with Fedora Core.  I still am interested in doing an
> install.  I mentioned the peripherals I have,  and I realize that it
> can take some time to get all of those things going.  In the meantime,
> everything works with Windows,  so I at least have an up and running
> system.
> What do you need from me before I come to an installathon?  I've read
> the FAQ's and I'll try to be ready.  

Well installfest[1] locales divide into two groups:  those with Internet
access and those without.  The former have the great advantage that, at
the drop of a hat, you can if necessary borrow an available terminal to
search the Web and fetch any needed add-on drivers.  On the other hand,
if you're incredibly well prepared and/or reasonably lucky, your chosen
Linux distribution's installer will already include all the drivers you
need and will recognise all your hardware automatically without fuss.

SVLUG's new installfest location at Google in Mountain View, starting
this coming Saturday, _may_ end up having Internet connectivity, or may
not.  We don't know for sure, yet.  My own Linux user group, CABAL,
which meets at my house in Menlo Park on 2nd and 4th Saturdays (and
thus, e.g., a week from this Satureday) always has good Internet access,
because my house does.

Any given distro is more likely to have drivers for your hardware if it
is newly released relative to the age of your system's chipsets.  E.g.,
my old circa-1998 Dell Inspiron 7000 is dead-simple for _any_ (current)
Linux distribution to support fully without difficulty, at this late
date.  Also, as a further wrinkle on that, some distributions are more
militantly "free" (open source) than others.  The militantly free ones
(e.g., Fedora Core, Debian) tend to include _only_ genuinely open-source
hardware drivers.  The we-don't-give-a-damn ones that cater to corporate
users, particularly those that come only in retail boxed sets (e.g.,
Linspire, Xandros Desktop OS, SUSE Professional Edition, Novell Linux)
and aren't downloadable, tend by contrast to shovel into their
installers as many proprietary drivers as they can and that the law
permits (in addition to the open-source ones).

The "we-don't-give-a-damn" distributions tend, in general, to also have
really finely developed hardware autoprobing routines in their
installers (e.g., Xandros's).  Some of the freely downloadable
distributions, even if they're only somewhat militantly "free", also
qualify, e.g., Knoppix and MEPIS.  Anyhow, my point is that
distributions differ in the degree to which they aim to solve all
hardware problems without troubling the user.

Anyhow, if you have some time to kill and want to be super-prepared for 
doing any installfest, browse all the linux-on-laptops.net pages people
have posted concerning Linux on their Inspiron 8600s, and take note of
whenever they mention having downloaded and used a driver. 

Those driver downloads will divide into two categories:

1.  Proprietary drivers available only directly from a hardware
manufacturer's authorised download site.  These guys (e.g., ATI, Nvidia,
others) typically think that open-sourcing their drivers will give away
secret hardware information to their competitors, and so they're
unwilling to cooperate with the open-source community, and think they're
doing everything reasonable by releasing binary-only
proprietarily-licensed drivers separate from Linux distributions.

Most often, those drivers will really, really suck -- in part because of
the impossibility of peer review and maintenance by the community -- but
sometimes they're the only drivers available for particularly new or
unusually exotic hardware.  Over time, the open-source community tends
to independently develop _better_ open-source drivers by
reverse-engineering the hardware without manufacturer help, at which
point everyone gratefully forgets all about the proprietary drivers from
that point forward.

2.  Open-source drivers that are included in Linux distro installers,
but where you think there might be some advantage to getting the most
recent driver source code, where its driver version is likely to be
newer than the one provided by your distribution.  E.g. (to invent a
hypothetical), you read that the bcm44 driver provided by the Fedora
Core installer isn't quite recent enough to be fully reliable, but that
current source code downloaded directly from the driver author's ftp
site is.  You'll see mention of people doing this sort of thing, on some
of the linux-on-laptops.net pages.  (Don't assume that, just because
they did it, that it's necessarily helpful or necessary for you to:
They might have been installing an older distro than you will be, for
one thing.)

Fedora Core 3 would be considered to have pretty cutting-edge hardware
support, with some holes in coverage because it is militantly "free", 
and thus omits certain proprietary hardware drivers that could
theoretically have been provided in the installer.

Since you are (so far) leaning towards FC, you probably will want to
install FC3 rather than FC2.  FC3 is better in a significant number of
ways, not just inclusion of more recent drivers in a more-recent

You will _probably_ be able to borrow (if not copy) a set of FC3 CDs at
any Linux group's event that is focussed on installations.  That
definitely is the case at any CABAL meeting.  It probably will be at the
SVLUG installfest (and definitely will be the case if I'm present).

Anyhow, getting back to the point, if you want to be truly "loaded for
bear" in preparing for installation, read those Web pages and download
drivers that might be useful for your hardware.  Then, put those on a
CDR, a USB flash drive, or something like that, for safekeeping.  That
might end up being a waste of time, however:  With reasonable luck, your
distro already provides adequate drivers and related software.

You could also defragment your MS-Windows volume(s), because -- assuming
you intend to dual-boot instead of just creating a Linux-only system -- 
you'll be shrinking your system's NTFS volume(s) to make room for
Linux's filesystems.  Suggested tool:  Diskeeper Lite (downloadable).

Doing even that much will impress the hell out of the people running the
installfest.  If you want to absolutely floor them, then arrive with
your NTFS space (Windows's partitions) already reduced in size such that
at least a couple of gigs of disk space are unallocated.

Here's a FAQ that will help you with that:  

Notice that pretty much all modern distributions include NTFS-resizing
right inside the installer.  Fedora Core does, for example.

I hope to see you at one or more upcoming event.  You might enjoy CABAL:
We're very relaxed and tend to do barbecue and socialised while people
are working on their machines.

[1] The term "install-a-thon" is actually little used by the Linux
community; that's actually more characteristic of similar events run by
our elder BSD brethren (FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD).  For whatever reason, 
the Linux community tends to use the term "installfest", instead.  But
everyone knows that both words refer to the same concept.

[2] Just to be pedantic:  Some drivers are part of, and modules
pluggable into, the kernel.  Others are non-kernel userspace components.
The most obvious examples are X11 drivers provided as part of XFree86 or
X.org's X11 software, printer filters ("drivers") provided by any of
several filter sets, and various sorts of drivers for talking to digital
cameras over Firewire or USB.

Here's my link-farm page (mainly) listing pages where you can find out
about Linux driver support for major hardware categories:  "Help Resources"
on http://linuxmafia.com/kb/Hardware/ .  Note that it is nowhere near
comprehensive, if only because I made no effort whatsoever to chase down
proprietary drivers from hardware manufacturers.

----- End forwarded message -----

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