Howto switch from Ubuntu to Debian – My Experience – Part I


After long time I’m posting this. In this time, I got a fantastic experience of switching myself from ubuntu to debian. Reasons? may be silly but here they are,

1. From 8.10, I had a tough time with all the kernel’s ubuntu shipped and updated into my laptop, I was hit by a kernel acpi bug ( which still exists(in i686, not in x86_64). It pauses boot process when my laptop runs in battery and I need to press until init starts.

2. Nowadays, I hate the idea of ‘linux for everyone’. because ‘*nix’ systems are not for everyone. its for the one who like to learn computing.

3. My laptop lost DVD drive.

So I was in a mood to switch myself to something else. While surfing, I came to the debian website, their Installation guide explains howto install debian from a USB drive. Mine is Athlon64, so this time I went for x86_64. First I prepared my pendrive. For that we need to partition it using ‘fdisk’

$ sudo fdisk /dev/sdb

You can do this by running system->administration->partition-editor in Ubuntu. Once you created a new partition in your pendrive(/dev/sdb1), you need to format the partition as FAT32 using the following command

$ sudo mkfs -t vfat /dev/sdb1

Once you formatted, the next step is to install ‘syslinux’ into it, If your Ubuntu don’t have ‘syslinux’ command, install ‘syslinux’ package

$ sudo apt-get install syslinux
$ sudo syslinux /dev/sdb1

Now its time to download the installation files, I copied all the files from the following location and copied into /dev/sdb1. Finally the drive will look like this,

$ find /media/disk

And it is capable of booting using ‘syslinux’ bootloader. To use Graphical Installer, we need to modify ‘syslinux.cfg’ to look like this

default gtk/vmlinuz
append initrd=gtk/initrd.gz video=vesa:ywrap,mtrr vga=788

Once your pendrive is ready, unmount it and reboot the system, change the Boot order(In Compaq, press F9) and select the USB drive. The debian-installer will start asking questions, there on, its an easy ride. I didn’t install Gnome/Kde when the installer asked to choose one. I was interested in Xfce, so I postponed it.

In next post, I’ll tell you how I installed the 3rd layer(desktop).

will continue..


10 thoughts on “Howto switch from Ubuntu to Debian – My Experience – Part I

  1. You can have the Debian installer automatically install XFCE for you. Just go to “Other Desktops”. I had it install LDXE.

    • Yes, we can install through debian-installer itself, but just wana hangout in commandline for sometime, so I postponded it.

  2. Great article. I look forward to the next post.

    I admire Ubuntu. They’ve done a lot of good things, but I’ve it had with the bugs/regressions from the six-month release schedule. I’m going to switch from Ubuntu 9.04 to Debian Testing on my main machine.

    Is there a place to find info on installing Debian on really low-end hardware?

    I have an old laptop that I’d like to use with a lightweight WM and web browser — Pentium II 266 MHz, 192 MB, BX chipset, Trident 9397 video/4MB, RTL8139 ethernet. Can’t boot from USB, no CD drive, so I’d have to copy over the files with the currently-installed Damn Small Linux.

    • Its not a big task mate, because you have linux on it, so there should be a bootloader. Lets assume it has grub and contains atleast 1 USB port to insert your pendrive. All you need to do is this,

      1. From this link copy ‘vmlinuz’ and ‘initrd.gz’ files to pendrive. No need to make your pendrive as bootable. But it should be formatted. Pendrive is just a substitute to your harddrive for booting. You don’t need to mess with your main harddrive.

      2. Now boot the machine, when grub menu appears, press ‘c’ to go to ‘grub’ prompt.

      3. Type ‘root (hd1,0)’ to mount your pendrive,

      4. Type ‘kernel vmlinuz’. It means, load linux kernel which is inside (hd1,0)

      5. Type ‘initrd initrd.gz’. It means, load the initial ram disk into memory which is also available under (hd1,0)

      6. Type ‘boot’ to start kernel

      Thats all, you should be welcomed by graphical ‘debian-installer’. This is a simplified version of the details present here.

  3. Thanks for the tips & links, mohan43u.

    Since the machine can’t boot from USB and the BIOS doesn’t support USB, I believe I would have to slightly alter the procedure: boot (via GRUB) into Damn Small Linux, create another partition (hd0,2) on HD, mount the pendrive using the DSL USB drivers, copy the vmlinuz and initrd.gz files to the new (hd0,2) partition, and then update GRUB to boot with: ‘root (hd0,2)’, ‘kernel vmlinuz’, initrd initrd.gz’ and ‘boot’. [Currently, I have swap at (hd0,1).]

    If I have that right, I could dual boot into my DSL (hd0,0) and Debian (hd0,2). I could then continue with the debian-installer.

    • A small correction, If you are going for a new partition in HD, then forget about USB. Just copy the files to the new partition and configure GRUB to boot debian-installer from it. Thats all.

      • Thanks, mohan43u!

        That procedure worked great. I now have the Debian installer booting via GRUB. (Once I remembered add the “/” before vmlinuz and initrd.gz in menu.lst… ;-)

        I noticed that the installer appeared to add its own USB support, so next step is to make a pendrive for the installer to use.

        My old laptop will be much more useful with Debian.

  4. I decided to try two distros on the laptop to see which would perform best. I used the procedure, above, with the Debian Lenny network-install. Dead simple. Success!

    Also tried Arch 2009.8. Total failure to recognize the PCMCIA ethernet card (CardBus TI PCI1250, Ethernet Realtek RTL-8139/8139C/8139C+) Also had extremely slow boot due to UDEV timeout issues. Did a lot of research and I was surprised to see old, unresolved issues in Arch.

    Not only was the Debian install far easier, Debian has superior device support. Thanks again.

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