Debian Installer - Beta 3 - Usability Review


The main reason for me writing this text is that  I tried the new Debian Installer Beta today and was quite pleased. It is a good way to set up my favorite distribution. Nonetheless I stumbled over a few usability things and thought that it might be a good idea to write a walk-through from another point of view:  Bob User

Bob is the guy most of us target at in order to get him to "switch". The "Windows Power User" which knows Windows from the beginning, knows how to keep his system clear and safe.  He is quite unhappy with Windows for the obvious reasons. But he is used to the "reboot-solution" and doing everything without a manual, not even really knowing what is going on.

Bob heard some of his geek friends talk about something like Debian, which has a rich repository of easy to install software, can be bleeding edge if he wants and has all the other features of  a common Linux like stability, safety, reliability and freedom.

He had a look at this Knoppix thing and found it quite impressive, now he wants to do more, he wants to install Debian...

The Beginning

Bob grabbed a bunch of CDs from the newly released Debian Sarge and put the first CD into the disk drive of his old test computer which used to run Windows 98.

Debian Installer first Screen

"Huh" he thought and was pleased to see this nice graphics. The main problem that he had was that he had to think twice what to do next. He was given two options  which didn't fit. What he wanted to do was to actually install a Linux, he didn't need any help and wasn't quite sure what "boot" would do. As an average windows user he just hit ENTER and awaited the things to come.

Language selection

This seemed to be the right step. Some funny lines ran over his screen and a few seconds later he was confronted with a nice screen that asked him to  "Choose language". The screen told him that this also affects his default locale and his location. He knew of the powers of Linux but was quite sure that this wouldn't affect his location, otherwise he would be really surprised. He didn't really know what his "default locale" was but he believed it to be a good idea to stick to en_US.

Keyboard Select Dialog

Though the earlier screen had told him that his selection would affect his location he was still at the same place, in front of his old PC.

The next dialog asked him about his "Keymap" which seemed to be something similar to a keyboard layout, which actually should have been affected by is former selection but apparently was not.

So he selected American English again and went on.

The next things were quite familiar. Some hardware detection happened and some components were loaded. This was fine with him.

Network Configuration

Hostname selection

The hardware detection seemed to be successful and he was prompted to enter a hostname. The next familiar thing he thought and as it actually was his Debian system he stuck to the default.

Some more hardware detection happened and afterwards  he was prompted to do some partitioning.


Initial Partition Dialog

He had seen such thing before and never really understood them. But it didn't matter as he just had deleted his Windows 98 with fdisk.

So he thought it would be a good idea to stay with the installer and let him do the work. Manually was something he didn't like, anyways.

Partition Stategy

Though he had an idea of what a home directory might be he was quite unsure and used the given recommendation.

Partition results screen

A "mount  point" wasn't that much help to him, but as the installer had done it it was OK with him.

The only thing that confused him a bit was the lightning symbol next to his "primary" partition. He decided to just stick to the smiley next to it and go on. The other words weren't that much use to him as he had never heard something about "swap" or "ext3".

Then he noticed the two exclamation marks at the top of  the screen. Were they a sign for an error? He couldn't remember if the had been there before or not.

He got a little bit worried. Two possible error signs on one screen. But as he was using his test computer, he felt safe and decided just to go on.

Partition warning

Despite his worried mind he got to a new screen. The creation of file systems sounded like a good thing to him and as he hadn't any important data on his computer he  decided to go on.

Base Installation

Installation of base system

Now the things got really going on. The system was doing something like installing a base system. This seemed to take some time, so he went out for a smoke.

When he came back a nightmare awaited him...

GRUB Configuration

Grub configuration dialog

He read the appearing thing twice, but this didn't make it all clear to him.

He would have wished for a choice between different options in opposite to entering some cryptic stuff that he didn't really understand.

If he had kept another OS on his machine what would this dialog have to offer to him? he thought.

But as he was quite sure that going with the defaults was a good idea he didn't touch this bad magic and just selected continue.

Finish screen

Though he didn't know how he would have created a boot floppy during his way through the installation he  took the CD out of his drive and continued.

After the reboot he was presented with a small menu that offered him something that looked like the normal system and something that had "recovery mode" in parentheses around it.

He decided to use the standard and got again a whole bunch of lines  of funny things he didn't understand. "Quite a lot of stuff I don't understand today" he thought.

Something that said something about an error and about PCMCIA drew his attention. He thought that PCMCIA was something for Notebooks and his old home PC was not a notebook, so why in hell was this stuff even installed.

After the first Boot

After that he was greeted with a nice and friendly welcome screen which congratulated him for his new Debian System. Another screen asked him about his Time Zone and as his system with the defaults had worked till now he stuck to the defaults.

He did some other quite familiar things like entering the Administrator or so called root password and created himself a Bob User account with the short name bob.  Afterwards he configured apt (the Debian Package management tool) to use one of his local mirrors, as he had a broadband internet access and didn't want to play CD jay. This seemed to work out of the box. After he had confirmed that he didn't want to add other sources because 12000 packages seemed enough for him he selected that he wants to have security updates which always seemed to be a good idea. Afterwards he selected the package installation. He added something like a Desktop to his installation using the task based selection tool as he actually wanted to use his machine as a desktop and continued to the installation. The tool informed him that it will install about 1GB of software and started a download process. As this seemed to take some time he  decided for another cigarette. 

As he got back to his machine he found  himself asked a whole bunch of questions, regarding his video hardware , his default dictionary and stuff like if he want's to take part in a "popularity  contest". He was quite sure that he didn't want to and answered all the questions as good as he could. After he had finished answering this questions the system started to  do a lot of unpacking.

And he lived happily ever after... (to be continued ?)



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