Next steps

Martin's Annual Linux Experience 2002 So I downloaded SuSE 8.0, and managed to get it up and running in a Virtual Machine. I had been planning to use this as a testbed for seeing how much work I need to do to to make it into a comfortable working environment, before rebuilding my machine with SuSE 8.1 when it arrives in a week or two.

Impatient little me.

I had intended to buy a small additional hard disk (8Gb or so), and do the install on that. But drives this small are actually quite hard to come by these days. On Ebay they tend to go for somewhere between £25 and £30. And when you can buy a brand new 80Gb drive for under £75, it seemed like a false economy to go for the smaller one.

So earlier this week I bought one of those big suckers. It now sits in the USB external drive enclosure we have, and acts (effectively) as Nearline storage. The external enclosure means we can easily swap it back and forth between Abi’s machine and mine, and means we’ll be more likely to take regular backups of our data. That’s pretty cool.

I’m keeping Windows XP on my 12Gb disk for now. In the 40Gb drive, which used to just hold data, I have now carved out a 10Gb partition for Linux. I had to whittle down the amount of junk data I was holding on the drive to do so (mostly downloaded software), but the Nearline means that I can offload it all very easily, but still have it quickly available. (I suppose I could just burn the lot off to CDs, but I’m finding CD burning to be quite tedious these days. Unfortunately DVD writers are still quite expensive. And sticking the big drive in our server would work as well, but a USB connection is faster than our wireless LAN.)

So if bringing up SuSE in a VM went OK, you’d think that installing it onto a real machine would be a doddle, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t. At least, it isn’t if you’re trying to install it from your own hard disk after downloading the whole 5Gb whack from one of the SuSE mirrors. Burning a CD image to boot from is simple. Getting through the next step is a little bit harder: you have to manoeuver through a fairly primitive menu system to tell the installer where to find the install packages on your hard drive. If you have the stuff on an NTFS partition, you have to make sure to load up the NTFS filesystem module as well. Not impossible, but somewhat less than 100% intuitive.

When you get through this part, you get into YAST (the SuSE graphical setup tool) proper. At this point, YAST knows where the installation packages are on your hard disk, and will happily allow you to select which of them you want to install. But if you want to proceed from that, it doesn’t work: “Could not mount the source medium.” This seems to be because in order to read the list of packages, it had to mount your hard drive, and when it tries to perform the install it wants to mount the drive again.

There seems to be a workaround available, but it involves coming out of the main install process, creating a boot floppy, mucking around with the partition tables and hacking several different config files. And I just can’t be bothered.

I know that the SuSE install process is relatively simple–provided that you’re using the pre-packaged CDs or DVDs. To comply with the GPL, SuSE has to make the source code for their distribution publicly available, but they are under no obligation to make the publicly available stuff easy to install. They don’t have to provide .ISO images on their FTP servers. They make their money off of the “free” software by charging for the packaging and convenient distribution media. This is the bst of both worlds, really: we get free and open software, and the software developer still gets rewarded.

Given that the entire distribution is available from their FTP servers and mirrors, I had been wondering whether to buy the packaged disks, or to just burn some broadband. Now, I think I’m pretty well decided that I’ll go for the package. The personal edition (3 CDs) is only £30 or so. Anything that’s not on the personal edition CDs I can download from the net. Overall, that sounds like a pretty good deal.

(Still…It would have been nice to have had something fired up this weekend already!)