Text by Tim Hall
Screenshots by Guillermo Garronn, www.go2linux.org
A lot of people believe that installing and using GNU/Linux is a scary prospect, a system only usable by hardcore geeks. Considering the history of Free Software and the tone with which its use is sometimes advocated, often using complex and obscure jargon, it is not entirely surprising that many ordinary computer users are still wary of trying it out. With the advances in Linux's user-friendliness in recent years and helpful guides like this one, this is no longer the case.
GNU/Linux is something of a DIY system and does demand a little more of its users than proprietary operating systems. However, the rewards are a deeper understanding of the processes involved in computing, with a much greater scope for customisation and creativity. GNU/Linux has developed into an operating system for business, education, and personal productivity. It is no longer the sole preserve of UNIX wizards hacking at their glowing consoles into the night. Free operating systems provide much more control over your working environment and a far wider choice of approaches. For some, that can seem an overwhelming embarrassment of riches; for others, it is simply nirvana.
Part of GNU/Linux's uniqueness is that it is a free implementation of UNIX. It was and still is developed cooperatively by a group of volunteers, primarily on the Internet, who exchange code, report bugs, and fix problems in an open-ended environment. Anyone is welcome to join the Linux development effort. This method of development makes it much easier for ordinary users to suggest changes or improvements and become involved in the development process. This is quite different from the paradigm of proprietary software, where you often don't know who wrote the program you're running, and would have no idea how to go about requesting changes.
This guide is aimed at creative desktop users, people who want to make art and freely express themselves using all the available media of the 21st century. Free Software has taken its time to come up with stable multimedia applications but now boasts an incredible range of software, which covers 2D and 3D graphics including animation and scanning, Desktop Publishing, web design, audio and video editing - along with more standard office productivity tools such as word processing and spreadsheets, web browser, e-mail, IM and FTP, along with a powerful command-line interface. Forget DOS, this BASH comes with colour highlighting and auto-completion; it works so well that some people use it as their primary means of getting work done.
This all comes as standard when you install 64 Studio, but further software packages can be installed and existing ones easily upgraded using the built-in Advanced Package Tool system, or APT. Using a friendly interface such as Synaptic, it is possible to upgrade the entire system to the latest versions directly from the Internet in only three clicks!
The unique cornerstone of a GNU/Linux operating system is Free Software. Free software is licensed in such a way as to allow users the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, the term refers to four kinds of freedom for the users:
"Free" in this context generally refers to liberty, rather than price. Users are urged to think of "free" as in "free speech", not as in "free beer". We also think of Free as being this awesome human being who leads 64 Studio development and maintains our software repositories.
A program is free software if users have all of these freedoms. These freedoms are enshrined and protected in the various forms of the GNU GPL or GNU General Public License, the most popular of the many Free Software licenses available.
Although these freedoms may not appear to have such a great impact on the casual user, as soon as you start creating products, materials or new software the benefits of the free flow of information and the ability to interact with the development process start to make a significant difference.
What is the GNU project?
The GNU Project was launched in 1984 to develop a complete UNIX-like operating system which is free software: the GNU system. Variants of the GNU operating system, which use the kernel called Linux, are now widely used; though these systems are often referred to as "Linux", they are more accurately called GNU/Linux systems.
GNU is a recursive acronym for "GNU's Not UNIX"; it is pronounced guh-noo, like canoe. Geeks love recursive acronyms, they make them feel special.
First, back up any existing data or documents on the hard disk on which you plan to install 64 Studio. It is a wise move to back up all essential information that is on the target machine before you do anything else. It is likely that you will need to re-partition your disk to make room for 64 Studio. Changing your partitions around can result in accidental data loss, no matter what program you use to do it. This doesn't mean that we think there is anything wrong with the installation software, just that if you delete the wrong partition, it could be impossible to get your data back. Making proper backups is such a sensible idea that we will recommend it time and time again. Even after backing up, be careful and think about your answers and actions. Two minutes of thinking can save hours of unnecessary work.
If you are creating a multi-boot system, make sure that you have the installation media of any other present operating systems to hand. It is possible that you will need to re-install all or part of your old system in order to get it to work properly again if the install doesn't go smoothly. Better safe than sorry.
Information is power
You will benefit from gathering as much information about your computer as possible and any needed documentation, before you start the installation. Make sure your hardware is set up correctly and that everything you are going to want to use (network, printers etc) is all properly connected. In many cases, the installer will be able to automatically detect your hardware, but it is worth knowing a few details, such as:
This information can be obtained from a variety of places; the manuals or documentation that came with your hardware, the BIOS setup screens accessible during the power on self test (POST) at boot time by pressing the DEL, F1 or sometimes CTRL+ALT+ESC key combination. The System window in the Windows Control Panel or separate diagnostic utilities. You should also check with your system administrator or Internet Service Provider for the settings you will need to set up your networking and e-mail, these may include;
If a DHCP server is available, you probably won't need this information. If you use a wireless network, you should also find out the ESSID of your wireless network and WEP security key (if applicable).
While you are at it, you may want to check whether your hardware is supported by Linux drivers. Most types of hardware should work out of the box, but there can be problems with hardware that is Windows-specific and some very new models for which Linux drivers have not yet been written. Check out the Hardware-HOWTO for further information. It may be worth checking over your BIOS settings to ensure that you don't encounter unexplained problems during installation.
It is commonly said that you only need to install a Debian system once. It is increasingly rare to ever find yourself in a situation that actually requires re-installation of the entire system, indeed it is much more likely that your system can be repaired rather than replaced if things go wrong. Upgrades certainly never require a wholesale reinstall, it is always possible to upgrade a running system. Similarly, most configurations do not require rebooting, and it is rare that rebooting will ever solve any problems - in fact, sometimes it can make things worse. Generally speaking, you should expect to perform repairs, upgrades and configurations on a running system once you have completed the initial installation.
A word about partitions
You may need to create some extra space for 64 Studio on your hard disk. If you already have another operating system installed, you may want to split the disk up, which will involve resizing your existing partition and creating a new one. Tools like Fdisk or PartitionMagic are usually recommended for this task, you may also find suitable tools in collections such as the Ultimate Boot CD. If your machine has more than one hard drive, it is a good idea to install 64 Studio onto the second drive. As a general rule, Windows cannot cope with multi-boot installations very well, so if you want both Windows and 64 Studio installed on the same machine, you should install Windows first, and let 64 Studio's boot loader launch Windows for you.
The partitioning tool that comes with the 64 Studio installer is powerful enough to handle resizing FAT or NTFS partitions, so it is entirely possible that you may be able to avoid this step altogether. You should certainly let the installer create any further partitions that are necessary for the 64 Studio install, as the Linux partitioning tools will generally do a better job. For this first step, you just need to make sure you have some free space for the installer to work with.
Download the installer
Now it is time to get the install disk and any specialised driver files your machine requires. Go to the download page and choose either an amd64.iso or i386.iso depending on the architecture of your machine. The amd64 image is for 64-bit x86 compatible chips from both AMD and Intel, which include the Opteron, Athlon 64, Turion, newer Sempron, Core 2 Duo and newer Xeon CPUs. The i386 image is for all older and low-power CPUs, including the original Athlon, the older Sempron, nearly all the Pentiums, the Via C3 and the AMD Geode.
You can download the image using your web browser or use a command line tool like wget; but it is usually faster to use a download manager, such as bittorrent or jigdo. Be sure to download the files in binary mode, not text or automatic mode. Next, burn the downloaded ISO on to a fresh CD. I used K3B, but you can use whatever CD burning software you have to hand, so long as it lets you burn an image directly on to the CD. This isn't data or an audio file, we want the burning software to make an exact bit for bit copy of the ISO onto the CD without adding anything or taking anything away. If you have problems, check that you have downloaded the image without any errors, by comparing the md5 sum of your download with that published on the 64 Studio site. If you still have problems with the installer, try burning the CD at a slower speed.
Minimum system requirements
You will need at least a Pentium II or equivalent to run the 32-bit build of 64 Studio effectively. It is possible to install on older hardware, but the machine will struggle to run the more CPU-intensive programs. Here are some suggested hardware minimums for music production work, which depend on the kind of applications you want to run:
If you have less resources than this, try using an external MIDI device to generate audio instead of a soft synth, or on a low budget, a Sound Blaster type card that supports on-board soundfonts. A good video card is also reckoned to be an advantage, as the on-board video chipsets use up system RAM.
AMD chips are preferred to Intel CPUs by some 64 Studio users. AMD invented the 64-bit extensions to the x86 architecture, so these AMD64 chips have been supported under Linux for longer than their Intel equivalents. For maximum performance, a dual CPU or dual-core system is a great choice, although it may use more energy, require more cooling, and therefore be noiser than a single-core system. Some audio problems have been noted with cheaper VIA and SiS motherboard chipsets in the past.
Now you are ready to put the new disk into the CD drive and reboot your machine. This should present you with the friendly graphical screen for the Debian GNU/Linux installer that 64 Studio uses, and the boot prompt.
Unless you know you need special boot options hit enter and wait for the selection screen with the blue background to appear. If the CD doesn't boot, check your BIOS settings. You may need to change the boot order so that your computer attempts to boot from CDROM before the hard drive. Information on available boot methods and on boot parameters which might be useful can be found by pressing F2 through to F7. If you add any parameters to the boot command line, be sure to type the boot method (the default is
install) and a space before the first parameter (e.g.,
Sometimes this part of the process can bring other hardware issues to light:
"...This didn't go at all smoothly, and I found my problems with my CD player were getting worse in a kind of randomly degenerating manner. I got so sick of listening to my CD player thrashing about and generally not doing as it was asked, The rather arcane error messages I'd been receiving didn't make an awful lot of sense, but it was clear that my CD player wasn't able to receive the control messages it needed, so I thought I'd take a peek inside the case (again) just to see if there was anything completely obvious that I'd missed.
I noticed that the Hard Drive and CD were plugged into the same IDE port, I mean I'd noticed it before and wondered why the other one didn't get used and assumed blondly that there must be some good reason. Well, I guessed it might not hurt if I tried plugging the CD player into the second one and Joy of Joys, my BIOS instantly recognises what I've done and prints an understandable message. Hooray!"
Selection of installation language
A stripped-down version of Linux is loaded into memory and various bits of information will scroll past the screen. You probably won't need to worry too much about these messages, unless your machine mysteriously fails during the process. Eventually you will be presented with a simple blue screen, from which the installer will prompt you for various bits of information:
Activating the Ethernet network connection
Once you've chosen your language, the installer will scan your system for information about your hardware, check the CD for packages and load additional components to facilitate the next stage of installation. In this stage the installer attempts to find your network hardware and configure it using DHCP. If you do not have DHCP on your network, you can configure the network manually after installation (System > Administration > Network in the Gnome menu).
The installer will go on to detect your disks and other hardware.
The next stage of the installation is titled 'Select drive to install on.' Up to this point we haven't installed anything permanent yet. Now we are approaching the only scary part of the process. Getting your partitioning scheme wrong is one of the few reasons you may ever need to re-install. You backed up all your data already, right? So you've nothing to fear.
On Linux, disk drives correspond to files in the /dev directory, and are referred to like this:
SCSI and SATA devices are listed differently. They are usually
/dev/sdb, etc. If you have installed Windows on this machine,
/dev/hda will usually be what Windows refers to as the
It is best to choose Erase the Entire Disk here, or use the largest continuous free space if you want to keep any pre-existing content on your drive. If you are planning on dual-booting 64 Studio with another operating system, it may be wise to install Linux on a separate hard drive, although it's not strictly necessary. If the available space is larger than 40GB you may want to further partition the space in order to give you more flexibility later on.
If you have no idea about this, or a really small hard drive, you may be better off choosing All Files in One Partition. However, the choice of separate
/tmp partitions can help increase security and stability. If you are installing into 20GB or more of space, this is a good option. Check the suggested partitioning scheme, the guided partitioning usually does the right thing here. If you choose manual partitioning, you can use the installer to re-size existing FAT or NTFS partitions to create room for 64 Studio.
Select the partition you want to change using the arrow keys on your keyboard, and hit Enter. You will be presented with a list of options. Most likely you will want to re-size the partition, if anything. You will be prompted to write out the partition table first and then be prompted to input the desired size; you can enter this either as a percentage of the available free space or as a fixed amount of Megabytes.
Next, the system will set set up the partitions and then perform the resizing operation. Remember, you must assign at least one partition for swap space and one to mount a partition on
/, the filesystem's root. There is a useful help file available from this screen, which is well worth reading for additional information. Select Finish Partitioning and write the changes out to disk.
WARNING: This action is not reversible. It is worth making a note of the partition table using a humble pen and paper while you're doing this, it may save an awful lot of faffing around later.
That's it, you are now committed to installing 64 Studio, this is the point of no return. The installer will now create the filesystem for you and set up the clock.
Next you will be prompted for:
* Root password
Root is the system administrator. Even if only one person uses the computer, you still need a separate password for this user.
* Main user name, and password
Choose your password sensibly; make sure it is something you will remember, and be aware that all passwords are case sensitive under Linux. Short passwords or dictionary words aren't very secure.
With all that out of the way, the installer will begin actually installing the Base System; this can take up to ten minutes or so. Next the installer will select and install all the rest of the software you will need. The length of time this takes depends on your system. It took me about 45 minutes on a 1GHz Celeron. Now may well be a good time to make a hot beverage and grab a bite to eat. The process of unpacking and configuring the rest of the software doesn't require any user intervention.
If you get especially bored while this is happening, it may amuse you to know that you can access two other screens during the installation process:
CTRL+ALT+F2 will give you a command line, which hopefully you'll never need at this stage
CTRL+ALT+F4 will show you a blow-by-blow account of what is happening during the install process
These messages can also be found in the file
/var/log/messages. After installation, this log is copied to
/var/log/debian-installer/messages on your new system. Other installation messages may be found in
/var/log/ during the installation, and
/var/log/debian-installer/ after the computer has been booted into the installed system.
Installing a boot loader
In order to let you choose whether to start up 64 Studio or any other system next time the computer boots, GNU/Linux takes control of loading the operating system, using a bootloader known as GRUB - the GRand Unified Bootloader. Check that the following operating systems have been discovered on your computer: includes any other operating systems you have installed. In which case, it is safe to say
yes to overwriting the Master Boot Record. Next time you boot, GRUB will take over the boot process and offer you the choice of booting into 64 Studio or your other systems.
The installer will complete the installation once this is done, and eject the CD. Remove the CD from the drive and reboot. Assuming all has gone well, you have now completed the installation and are ready to use the system. Well Done!
If all hasn't gone so brilliantly, then you will need to get down and dirty, and do a crash course in GNU/Linux troubleshooting. GNU/Linux will often refuse to do anything meaningful unless it is configured correctly. While this can provide a bit of a headbanger for the new student, the payoff in system stability means it is well worth persevering with. Crashes and failures can often provide us with useful clues, and it is a good habit to copy or write down the error messages you get, verbatim, in case you need to search for further help on the Internet.
The Appendix pages provide trouble-shooting advice if your system refuses to boot the installer, and some guidance on what to do if you can't get a login screen immediately once you have completed the installation. We have also provided some links to various useful HOWTO guides and other resources mentioned in this text. Follow the instructions carefully and precisely, authors usually mean exactly what they say - trying to futz it from the bash prompt when you don't know what you're doing can often equal another few days of scorched frontal lobes. The good news is that you are far from alone, and there is a wealth of help and advice available - that said, it can be very useful to have access to another working computer that can access the Internet, especially if this is your first time installing GNU/Linux.
The graphical interface fails to start
This is probably due to your video card not being properly detected. You may need to search the internet to find out if your video card is supported by X.org, and which is the right module (driver) for it. Note also that some NVidia and ATI cards need proprietary drivers to work with 3D acceleration, which you will need to install once the system is running.
Normally, after X setup has failed you will get a screen telling you that X failed to start and the option to view the error logs. Look for the lines marked 'E' - copy them out verbatim in case you need to search the internet for further clues. X.org can be reconfigured from the command line; you will need to log in as root, using the password you chose during installation. If your system is really wedged, you may need to reboot into rescue mode from the GRUB boot screen in order to do this. From the root prompt (
#); issue this command:
# dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg
The configuration file is located at
/etc/X11/xorg.conf - read this file well, you will probably need to modify it manually at some point. Also remember that if something has been modified manually you will then need to run the following commands in order to prevent your changes from being automatically overwritten by dpkg-reconfigure:
# cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf /etc/X11/xorg.conf.custom
# sudo sh -c 'md5sum /etc/X11/xorg.conf > /var/lib/xfree86/xorg.conf.md5sum'
# sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg
64 Studio cannot detect my DVD or SATA drives
This can happen with some DVD/RW drives and SATA hard disks. Check the settings in your BIOS; some people have found setting the SATA mode to "enhanced" instead of "auto" helped. Some BIOSes can be set to auto-detect your disks, you may also find setting the second IDE to "auto" rather than "CDROM" helps with DVD drives.