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Installers for Debian vs Ubuntu

June 29, 2016 — BarryK
Today I installed both Debian Jessie 8.5.0 and Xubuntu Xenial Xerus 16.04 on my laptop hard drive. Incredibly divergent experiences using the GUI installers.

Debian Jessie
I downloaded the "net install" ISO, 247MB, and dd'ed it to a USB stick.
At bootup, chose the Expert GUI installation.

In expert mode, this is a very nice installer. Very logical, with all required choices. In particular, I wanted the option not to install a boot-loader, as I already have one and wanted to do it manually -- the installer gave me that choice. Very good!

Xubuntu Xenial Xerus
I downloaded Xubuntu ISO file, about 1.2GB.

The GUI installer came as quite a surprise to me. I haven't used
Ubuntu installer for 4-5 years, and I was expecting it to be very polished. However, it is awful.

I wrote some notes, but I need to make a general observation. There is a sloppiness in the thinking of whoever has developed the installer. My notes don't cover everything that I found wrong, or confusing, or misleading. But here they are...

There is no real "expert mode". There is an option to manually choose partitions, which is what I selected.

First off, I was alarmed that my internal Sata hard drive showed up as /dev/sdb, and my external USB drive as /dev/sda.
My confidence in the installer wavered then. In all the years that I have owned this laptop, this is the very first time that any tool has identified my internal drive as anything other than /dev/sda.

When I selected a partition to be "/", after hitting the OK button, a message came up that had, amongst other things "Please note that the resize operation may take a long time".
I had not chosen to resize the partition, only reformat as ext4, so this message was disconcerting. That is, after I had chosen not to resize the partition, after clicking the OK button, the next window had that string. This is what I mean by "sloppiness", which I encountered at various places in the installer.

Unlike the Debian installer, this one insists on installing a boot-loader. To get around this, I plugged in a USB stick and chose to install the boot-loader to that. The installer came up with a message that installing grub to the USB stick had failed, and the window offered to continue installation without installing the boot-loader. I chose this option, clicked OK, and the system hung.
Had to push the power button to force a shutdown.

Despite hanging, it had fully installed, and I was able to edit my 'menu.lst' file for grub4dos and boot it.

However, when I booted my Quirky Linux, I found that the time was wrong. The Ubuntu installer had changed the hardware clock to UTC, without even asking me!
The Debian installer on the otherhand, had asked me whether I wanted the hardware clock set to UTC or local-time.
Annoyed, yes I was.

Furthermore, Xubuntu has no GUI tool to change it to local time. When a distro lacks such basic out-of-the-box functionality, I get even more annoyed. Of course there is the 'hwclock' CLI utility, but I expect a GUI tool.
I was able to fix the hardware clock in Quirky, which does have such a tool, in the 'Desktop' menu.

Out of curiosity, I reran the Debian installer, this time choosing to install the boot-loader to a USB stick, and it worked.

This is how I manually configured grub4dos:

title Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial Xerus amd64

uuid 6cdaf68e-9214-4c21-9b77-8ba77b841f3e
kernel /vmlinuz root=UUID=6cdaf68e-9214-4c21-9b77-8ba77b841f3e rootwait rw
initrd /initrd.img

title Debian Jessie 8.5.0 amd64
uuid 152dd9f7-bc90-4215-ac30-92470174d7e9
kernel /vmlinuz root=UUID=152dd9f7-bc90-4215-ac30-92470174d7e9 rootwait rw
initrd /initrd.img

The uuid is obtained by running blkid, for example "blkid /dev/sdb2".

The Debian installer has been developed by people who are clear, logical thinkers.


I need to add, regarding the Xubuntu installer identifying my internal drive as /dev/sdb. The Debian installer identified it as /dev/sda.

The hardware was identical in both cases. I even booted off the same USB stick -- having used 'dd' to copy the Debian .iso to the stick, then later copying Xubuntu .iso to the same stick.

It persists. After booting the installed Xubuntu, the internal drive is still identified as sdb.

Tags: linux