Install GNU/Linux without a CD – using your internal hard drive

Note: This tutorial’s fraternal twin, Install GNU/Linux without a CD – using a liveUSB or external hard drive, is here .

Maybe you just don’t like to burn every distribution to a CD and fill the landfills with CD’s they only used once or twice. Maybe you don’t have a CD or DVD drive on your computer (e.g., if you have a netbook), or don’t happen to have any CD-R’s or CD-RW’s on hand. You may like the fact that installing off of a USB key or straight off a hard drive is considerably faster than installing from a CD. The USB key option also offers easier portability – if you happen to run into someone out there who would like GNU + Linux installed, it’s easier to have your USB key with you all the time than a CD.  Or you may have multiple computers to install to, and it’s faster to have them all pull the installation files from a central location than to burn a bunch of CD’s every time.

There are a few ways to go about CD-less installations, but I’m going to cover the 2 most common ones. One is by using an external storage device that plugs into a port, such as a USB key or external hard drive (shown on another tutorial). The other is by creating a separate partition for this purpose on your internal hard drive, the one that’s already inside your computer (shown on this tutorial). Here are some quick facts about both to help you decide which will work best for you.

external storage:

  • simpler setup
  • you can use it on more than one computer
  • won’t work on older computers
  • small portable devices are easily lost or stolen
  • an external device is one more thing to remember to bring and carry around

internal hard drive:

  • works great on older computers
  • it’s always with your computer; no worrying about loss, theft, or forgetting to bring it
  • usable only on the computer you’ve set it up on
  • less straightforward setup – especially if you’re not familiar with hard drive partitioning
  • more potential for messing up your existing data if you’re not careful – again, especially if you’re not familiar with hard drive partitioning
  • the hard drive partitioning part only needs to be done once, so you don’t have to do it again if you decide to change to a different virtual CD later

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Install GNU/Linux without a CD – using a liveUSB or external hard drive

Note: This tutorial’s fraternal twin, Install GNU/Linux without a CD – using your internal hard drive, is here .

Maybe you just don’t like to burn every distribution to a CD and fill the landfills with CD’s they only used once or twice. Maybe you don’t have a CD or DVD drive on your computer (e.g., if you have a netbook), or don’t happen to have any CD-R’s or CD-RW’s on hand. You may like the fact that installing off of a USB key or straight off a hard drive is considerably faster than installing from a CD. The USB key option also offers easier portability – if you happen to run into someone out there who would like GNU + Linux installed, it’s easier to have your USB key with you all the time than a CD. Or you may have multiple computers to install to, and it’s faster to have them all pull the installation files from a central location than to burn a bunch of CD’s every time.

There are a few ways to go about CD-less installations, but I’m going to cover the 2 most common ones. One is by using an external storage device that plugs into a port, such as a USB key or external hard drive (shown on this tutorial). The other is by creating a separate partition for this purpose on your internal hard drive, the one that’s already inside your computer (tutorial coming soon). Here are some quick facts about both to help you decide which will work best for you.

external storage:

  • simpler setup
  • you can use it on more than one computer
  • won’t work on older computers
  • small portable devices are easily lost or stolen
  • an external device is one more thing to remember to bring and carry around

internal hard drive:

  • works great on older computers
  • it’s always with your computer; no worrying about loss, theft, or forgetting to bring it
  • usable only on the computer you’ve set it up on
  • less straightforward setup – especially if you’re not familiar with hard drive partitioning
  • more potential for messing up your existing data if you’re not careful – again, especially if you’re not familiar with hard drive partitioning
  • the hard drive partitioning part only needs to be done once, so you don’t have to do it again if you decide to change to a different virtual CD later

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Verify the integrity of an ISO or burned CD

One very common process in the GNU/Linux world is downloading the CD image, or ISO, of a GNU/Linux distribution from the web and burning it to a CD.  One step too many people skip, unfortunately, is making sure that ISO actually downloaded as it should and that the CD actually burned correctly.  I can tell you from personal experience that this may lead to mysterious corruption, crashing, and glitchiness later – since you might manage to get through a full install but with major issues behind the scenes that rear their ugly heads later.  In my early GNU/Linux days I got “burned” this way, so to speak, several times.  Learning how to check the integrity of the ISO and CD in question, and doing it religiously every time I burn, has saved me from wasting countless hours troubleshooting a problem that wouldn’t have appeared had I been using a good copy of the install CD.  And it’s a shame that a GNU/Linux distro can get a bad rap for being glitchy when the real problem was corruption during the ISO download, a buffer under-run during the burn, a dirty or defective CD, etc.  When installing something so major as an entire operating system, and the large collection of applications that usually come with it, taking a few minutes to make sure everything’s correct is worth it.

Now, while the “Media Check” option provided with some GNU/Linux distro CD’s (for the same purpose of checking CD integrity)  is a good idea, it is possible for a CD to pass the media check but still fail other integrity checks.  I’ve had that happen a few times too, so I always use this other method to double-check it.  It’s an excellent and in-depth check, so if it passes you can almost always rest assured your copy is good.  By the way, this also works for DVD’s, in case you’re wondering.

I try a lot of different GNU/Linux distributions, and new versions are constantly being released. I don’t want to keep filling the landfills with CD-R’s or DVD-R’s every time I try something new. So I avoid using single-use discs, and instead opt for liveUSB’s (tutorial) or making live partitions (tutorial) as virtual “CD’s” when possible. Lacking that, I use rewritable media (CD-RW’s or DVD-RW’s). Given how increasingly hard it is to find CD-RW’s any more, you may find it helpful to know that you can also burn a CD ISO onto a DVD-RW. That’s another tutorial for another day, but once you’ve done it you can use this very same integrity check on the DVD-RW, just as if it was a CD.

That said, for purposes of this tutorial, I’ll refer to CD-R’s, DVD-R’s, CD-RW’s, and DVD-RW’s all as CD’s.

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Installing UNetbootin

I realize it’s a bit backward to have posted my remote Linux installation attempts without a howto on installing UNetbootin, so here it is.

UNetbootin can be used to install Linux without a CD.  You can also use it to install Linux to a USB drive, if the distro in question doesn’t have a built-in utility to do so.

Before you can run UNetbootin with full functionality, you need to install these packages:

mtools
p7zip-full

Usually this can be done through your package manager, which varies depending on which Linux distro you’re using.

Then go to http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/ and download UNetbootin.

You will need to make the UNetbootin file executable.  To do this, you can right-click on it and select Properties, then go to the Permissions tab and mark the checkbox for Allow executing file as program.  Or from the terminal, change directory (cd) to where the file is and use chmod +x .  For example, with UNetbootin 3.13 located on the desktop:

g33kgrrl@home:~$ cd Desktop
g33kgrrl@home:~/Desktop$ ls
System.desktop
unetbootin-linux-313
g33kgrrl@home:~/Desktop$ chmod +x unetbootin-linux-313
g33kgrrl@home:~/Desktop$

Now you can click to start UNetbootin, or enter ./ in front of it at the terminal:

g33kgrrl@home:~/Desktop$ ./unetbootin-linux-313

Here you can choose to do an automated download or point it to your pre-downloaded ISO file, and where to install.  Enjoy!

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Dual-booting guide

Dual-booting is often a great first step for someone who is new to Linux and wants to try it without giving up their Windows installation. (Or, less commonly, someone who wants to use 2 different versions of Windows or 2 different distributions of Linux.)

Switching “cold turkey” to a new operating system (OS) is not an appealing idea for most people because they won’t know how everything works yet in the new OS. This will prove frustrating if they just need to get something done quickly but can’t figure out how to do it, yet there’s no way to go back to the old OS where they know how to get it done.

Dual booting allows you to try a new OS, with the knowledge that you can always go back to the old one if you get stuck or just want to be back in familiar territory.

Here is an excellent set of articles on dual-booting, tailored for beginners, complete with screenshots and illustrations. It covers various combinations of booting Linux-Windows, Linux-Linux, or Windows-Windows.

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Madwifi on Ubuntu / Kubuntu

I’m preparing for a presentation on Madwifi that I will be giving at the next LinuxChix meet. Our faithful leader will be using Ubuntu, not SuSE 10.0, so I figured I’d better check that I know how to set it up under the distro of choice.

Couldn’t figure out for the life of me why madwifi compiled fine in SuSE 10.0 but not Kubuntu 5.10 . Gets a bunch of (to me) utterly meaningless errors and fails right away during make. Turns out you can’t just use gcc ; you have to use a specific version of gcc … the same version that Ubuntu and Kubuntu 5.10 default kernel is compiled under – version 3.4 . …And yet, K/Ubuntu’s package manager installs version 4.0 by default. Arghhh!!

All right, here goes my attempt at a simplified set of directions, given that the steps kind of have to be patched together from 3 different locations [1 2 3] graciously provided by the authors, and then some, as it exists now. Thank you ever so much to those who took the time to provide them. I spent a lot of time trying to figure all of this out, and thought it might be helpful to someone here, to have everything in a linear order and all in one place.

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Victory is mine!!!

I’m writing this from GNU/Linux with no wires!! I finally got madwifi to play nicely with wpa_supplicant. Now it auto-starts beautifully when I boot up. WOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOO!! W00t!! There’s nothing lovelier than a secure OS running on secure wifi.

This marks the end of a major roadblock I was experiencing getting everything ported over to GNU/Linux. A couple of years ago I resolved to familiarize myself enough so that I could dump Windows by the time Vista is released. It looks like I am now much closer to that goal, and I am just elated at the beautiful, powerful, malware-free operating system I’m using instead. I’m constantly amazed to learn more of the awesome things it can do.

And incidentally, speaking of Vista, did you hear? Microsoft has ALREADY released a security patch for Vista. No, I kid you not. It was posted on Slashdot under the title “Pre-release security vulnerabilities are inspiring” department. And you wonder why I will not be upgrading!

Anyway, it’s worth mentioning that due to very persistent (and intensely frustrating!) random BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) problems caused by the Atheros drivers for Windows, I seriously considered returning these otherwise wonderful Fujitsu S7020D notebooks. If we disable the wireless, everything works fine, but as soon as we enable it we get random blue screens complaining about an ar5211.sys file followed by a sudden reboot. Sometimes they don’t happen for days, and sometimes they happen twice in 5 minutes. If you install the driver but don’t install any Windows security updates (very hazardous, as you may know), it doesn’t happen either. So apparently one of the Windows updates has broken their driver, and nobody for the life of them can figure out why. It has taken months of troubleshooting by upper levels of Fujitsu’s support team to find what they “think” will fix it. I have tried many solutions of my own and many of their suggestions now, and up until about 2 weeks ago their efforts were as futile as mine. Finally they have what so far may be a workable solution but I’m not entirely convinced… because while I didn’t actually witness another blue screen, the system did reboot while downloading overnight through the wireless (ironically, the download was a SUSE [GNU/]Linux 10 iso), and Windows displayed the usual “serious error, would you like to report this to Microsoft” message that it gets when this happens. I want very badly to keep these laptops because they’re otherwise just awesome. Exceedingly well-designed, nice and lightweight, and kickin’ hardware. How poetic that the best solution of all for this problem was to switch operating systems. But for the benefit of others who may be in the same boat, here are BOTH my GNU/Linux and Windows tips.

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