Installing Debian Linux on a Netbook

Donald Daniel, Apr 2010, revised May 2013

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If the lines of text are too long you can fix the problem with these instructions.

This article is about adding linux to windows on a netbook computer. The principles should apply to any netbook, but this installation was carried out on an Asus 1005HAB eeepc netbook computer. The instructions can also be used for putting linux only on, or re-installing windows. This is about the current version of Debian, "wheezy". At the end of the installation, you can choose whether linux or windows will boot by default, the other one requiring deliberate selection at boot. The method given will result in both windows and linux having both ethernet and wifi working. If you only have ethernet at home, wifi can be added inexpensively with a wifi router. The wifi signal can be secure so only you can access it. The WPA-PSK security mode is easy to set up and easy to use. If your computer is not a netbook, you might be better off following other instructions to add linux to windows found by clicking here.

It is required that you have a CD drive that you can plug in to your USB ports such as the Asus SDRW-08D1S-U DVD/CD drive, and a blank CD-R disk with case.

It is possible to install linux from a USB stick. This requires that the USB stick not be written as an ordinary USB stick, but rather as a bootable USB stick. Unfortunately, you can only write a bootable USB stick reliably from linux. It is so unreliable to write a bootable USB stick from windows that it is like trying to win the lottery. Therefore, this article describes installing linux from a CD, which can be reliably written from windows.

If you have one of the tiny netbooks with only 4G disk space, you will not have room for both windows and linux, and will want to install only a subset of linux as described here.

Your computer came with a windows CD for re-installing windows. For this CD to work, you need to make a tiny modification to the BIOS. When the BIOS is modified to allow booting from a CD, both windows and linux can be loaded from a CD. Since not everyone with this computer has the CD drive, another way of re-loading windows has been provided. In addition to the large partition on the hard drive that contains windows, there is a small partition that has the equivalent of the windows CD in it. Unfortunately, this partition also seems to have a program intended to defend windows from the addition of linux. I encountered this when I repartioned the windows partition to half size to install linux. When I re-booted windows, it seemed to re-flash the BIOS so that software could no longer be booted from a CD. If you have already installed the grub bootloader you could try to boot from the windows recovery partition, but DO NOT do this, it will make your system un-bootable to either windows or linux. If this happens you will have to re-flash the BIOS yourself as explained below in order to restore your computer to functionality. To avoid the problem it is best to remove the windows recovery partition as explained in the following procedure.

You will split the windows partition in half and install linux on the last half. But if windows files were scattered accross the disk this would loose some files. To insure that your windows files are not scattered accross the disk you could defragment windows, or you could re-install it from the windows CD. I chose the latter. When you load the windows CD, look for the "press any key" message. If you do not do this it will not load the CD, and will boot from the hard drive. This particular windows CD does not allow you the option of installing windows in a smaller partition, the only choice that works is install in the whole disk.

No matter what kind of netbook you have, the owner's manual that came with it will tell how to modify the BIOS, if necessary, to boot from the windows CD that was supplied with the netbook. For this particular computer, to prepare the BIOS so the computer can boot from a CD, turn the computer on and repeatedly tap the F2 key to get in the BIOS. If this does not work the first time, shut down and try again until it does work. When in the BIOS use the right arrow key to move over to "boot". Then go down to the quick boot and disable it. Then exit and save changes. Now if you have a bootable windows or linux CD in the drive, and hold down the "esc" key during boot, you will be given the the choice of booting from your hard drive in the normal fashion or booting from the USB connected CD drive. If the BIOS ever becomes corrupted and ceases to work properly, when in the BIOS, move over to "exit" and down to "load setup defaults", which will return it to its original state.

Windows needs some free software to be able to burn a CD from an iso file. The 1005HAB has been made with Windows XP and with Windows 7. This particular computer has a CPU that uses 32 bit machine words, so you need the 32 bit version of any software when given a choice, NOT the 64 bit version. Go to http://isorecorder.alexfeinman.com and click on the version that matches your version of windows. When asked to run or save click run. Pop up windows will ask if you really want to do this, you do. Now you are ready to get the linux iso files.

To get linux iso files which you will burn to a blank CD, go to www.debian.org. Now you have two choices for iso files to install linux. One is "CD ISO images", the other is "Network install". Network install is the simplest and quickest, so we will try that. After clicking on "network install", click on "small CDs". With my Microsoft Internet Explorer Version 7.0.5730.13 the choices were run together so you could not see which choice to make. With a linux browser I could see that the choices are: amd64, armel, kfreebsd-i386, kfreebsd-amd64, i386, ia64, mips, mipsel, powerpc, sparc. The one we want is "i386". Be careful, that is the second time "386" appears in the list, not the first. Click on it do download and save it. It took about 8 minutes to download at 325 kb/sec.

Now you must find where the "...netinst" iso file was downloaded. I found it by clicking on "My computer", "Local disk C:", then "downloads". Now put a blank CD-R into your CD drive. Right click on the "...netinst" iso file, then left click on "copy image to CD", then "next". When the writing of the CD is finished, the CD will eject. Do not disturb anything before it ejects.

Now we are ready to install linux. It can be installed over wifi or by means of an ethernet cable. It will probably not work on the wifi in most public places, like coffee shops, because they do not permit large downloads on their wifi.

The computer will have to be on to open the CD drive. Put in the linux CD, close the drive and shutdown the computer. Hold down the "esc" key and turn the computer on. A blue screen will appear with two boot choices. The top one represents the hard drive, the lower one starts "USB..." and represents the CD drive. Use the down arrow to select that and hit "enter". You should now see the debian install screen. Select "install", and accept defaults until you get to "configure the network". You will have a choice of ethernet or wifi. When you get to "host name" I shorten it to just "d". Leave domain name blank. When you get to "partition disks", slow down and be careful. Select "manual". You will see a large ntfs partition and one or more small partitions. The large partition contains windows. Only one of the partitions will have "B" in a column by itself. If, as was the case for my netbook, the large partition has the "B" then it can be booted and the other partitions are not necessary and can be deleted. If one of the smaller partitions had the "B", it could not be deleted or it would not be possible to boot the large windows partition. If a small partition had the "B", then the boot process would start there then jump to the large partition where windows is. Move down to each small partition that does not have the "B", hit "enter" and choose "delete partition". We are now ready to deal with the large ntfs partition. If we resize it, we can have both windows and linux on the computer. If we delete it, we will have only linux on the computer. Here we describe resizing. Then move to the large ntfs partition, hit enter and choose "resize partition". "write changes to disk" yes. Enter "50%". Select "guided partitioning", "use the largest continuous free space", "all files in one partition". Select "finish partioning and write changes to disk", then "write changes to disk". Now software will be loaded for a while.

When it asks for a proxy, leave blank. When you get to the choices of software, make sure these three are checked: "graphical desktop environment", "laptop", and "standard system utilities". Then the remaining download took 43 minutes on my network. At the end it asks "install grub?", select "yes". Then remove CD, computer will reboot. At boot you have a few seconds to choose between linux and windows to boot into.

When in linux click on "activities", "applications", "accessories". Then scroll down to the terminal icon. If you right click on the terminal icon and select "add to favorites" the icon will appear on the desktop and be easier to find. When you are on the desktop you may want to right click on some of the icons and remove them if you do not intend to use them, because the screen is so small. When the terminal window appears, click on it to make sure it is active.

The first time you boot windows after re-partitioning the disks, windows will do a file system check and reboot. This is as it should be, but it should not do this the second time you boot windows, it should only need to check the file system one time. Depending on when your computer was made, it may do something strange the second time you boot. The next time you boot windows it may present you with a choice to fix things or to do a normal boot. But if it can do a normal boot, why does it need to fix things? It does not want to fix anything on the computer, it wants to fix YOU! If you choose fix things, it will go into an endless fixing loop that will last until you shut the power down. On the other hand, if you choose normal boot, it will boot normally, work perfectly, and not misbehave again. The purpose of the endless fixing loop is to discourage you from having linux on your computer, and re-install windows without linux. But why is windows so afraid you will experience linux? It is because they see how good linux is, and they do not want you to see how good linux is. That should encourage you, not discourage you. Take heart! You should remember that the first netbooks on the market had only linux, not windows, because windows would increase the price too much. Then when windows was afraid too many people would experience linux, they offered windows free of charge to the netbook manufacturers. Now they give netbook manufacturers a special deal not available for more expensive computers provided they do not make linux available. And they add anti-linux software to the special discounted version of windows. The version of anti-linux software differs depending on when your computer was made.

There is more than one way to find new free software to install over the internet. The best way is to open a terminal window. Then enter "su" and your superuser password, then enter the word "synaptic" and hit enter. Click on "search". When the "find" window pops up, make sure the "look in" bar has "description and name" selected or you may not find what you are looking for. Sometimes the other choices will work better. As a minimum you will want "gv" to read pdf files. To see many other choices go to the debian site and look at the stable package directories. I also like "remind" for a calendar reminder. When finished choosing things, click "apply". When installation of new software is finished x out of synaptic package manager.

One application of a netbook is to make presentations to an audience with your computer connected to a large monitor or projector. Connect your computer to a monitor or television set with a VGA cable. The monitor must be turned on before the computer is booted up or the computer will not see the monitor. The monitor input select will probably have to be set to "PC" to see the VGA cable. When the computer boots up ou should see the computer display on the monitor.

If your are new to linux you should read my article how to use linux terminal. If you want to learn how to program your computer see how to program a computer.

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