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installing Debian Etch

A few days ago I installed Debian/Etch on my Thinkpad. One of the reasons for converting from Fedora to Debian is that I need to run Xen and Fedora doesn’t support non-PAE machines with Xen. Ironically it’s hardware supplied to me by Red Hat (Thinkpad T41p) that is lacks PAE support and forces me to switch to Debian. I thought about just buying a new dual-core 64bit laptop, but that seems a bit extravagant as my current machine works well for everything else.

Feeling adventurous I decided to use the graphical mode of the installer. I found it a little confusing, at each stage you can double-click on an item or click on the continue button to cause the action to be performed. The partitioning section was a little unclear too, but given that it has more features than any other partitioning system I’ve seen I wasn’t too worried (options of creating a degraded RAID array and for inserting a LUKS encryption layer at any level are really nice). The option to take a screen-shot at any time was also a handy feature (I haven’t yet inspected the PNG files to see what they look like).

Another nice feature was the way that the GUI restarts after a crash. While it was annoying that the GUI started crashing on me (and would have prevented a less experienced user from completing the install) the fact that it didn’t entirely abort meant that I could work around the problem.

I have not yet filed any bug reports against the installer because I have not done a repeatable install (there is a limit to how much testing I will do on my most important machine). In the next few days I plan to do a few tests of the graphical installer on test hardware for the operations that are important to me and file appropriate bug reports. I encourage others to do the same, the graphical mode of the installer and the new encryption and RAID features are significant improvements to Debian and we want them to work well.

I have realised that it won’t be possible to get SE Linux as good as I desire before the Etch release, even if the release is delayed again. I’m not sure how many fixes can go in after the release (I hope that we could move to a model similar to RHEL – but doubt that it will happen). So I now plan to maintain my own repository of Etch SE Linux packages and for other packages which need changes to make them work in the best possible manner with SE Linux. I will append something like “.se1” to the version of the packages in question, this means that they will be replaced if a security update is released for the official package. Apart from the SE Linux policy packages (for which any security updates will surely involve me) the changes I am going to make will not be major and will be of less importance than a security update.

I will also add other modified and new packages to my repository that increase the general security of Etch. Apart from SE Linux all the changes I intend to host will be minimal cost issues (IE they won’t break things or increase the difficulty of sys-admin tasks), and the SE Linux related changes will not break anything on non-SE systems. So someone who wants general security improvements without using SE Linux might still find my repository useful.

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