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Monday 18 February 2013

A new installer for DoudouLinux

The latest development release 2013-02 is shipping with a totally new installer that can perform a real installation of DoudouLinux onto disk, USB disks included. This was a feature really wanted since the current stable release 1.x can only perform a copy of the Live system onto disk while wiping its entire content. Our new installer can do repartitioning and multi-boot, it is indeed a fork of the Linux Mint installer (thanks Mint!) with many improvements to fit our needs. Of course it will be part of the next stable release 2.0 due to April/May. In the meanwhile, we propose you to give it a try[1]. and tell us your feelings :).

What the installer does

Unlike the fake installer of 1.x, this installer will create a real Linux system, fully modifiable and with the Live stuffs removed. As a result, it requires a bit more space than the 1.x version to be installed, around 3 GB instead of 1.1 GB, the size of the development version DVD. The installer lets you set the following parameters:

  • System language
  • Timezone
  • Keyboard layout and model
  • Main user, with sudo privileges
  • Selection of disk to install onto
  • Selection of disk partitions or automatic partitioning
  • Manual repartitioning if needed
  • Hardware clock set to UTC or not
  • Grub2 bootloader installation

All of that is performed from within a nice graphic interface as you'll see below on the screenshots. One of the improvements we brought is a wizard mode for people who want to entirely wipe their disk but don't want to bother with partitions. In this case, once the disk is selected, it is automatically repartitioned into 3 partitions: root, home and swap. Unlike many automatic partitioning tools (or mainstream OS'es :p), we want users to be able to reinstall their system without loosing their data!

The installation process itself consists in copying the files from the Live system to the target partitions. It lasts about 5 minutes on a quite old laptop (2005), running DoudouLinux from a Live USB key. After files have been copied, the installer chroots into the new system to perform final adjustments (applying settings, creating the user, removing the installer, setting the network configuration, etc.). The system is then ready to be restarted. No network connection is required during the installation, this was a requirement for countries in which Internet is quite rare.

Using the installer

So now let's use this new installer :). First of all you need the development version 2013-02 of DoudouLinux. It is very stable but may be still lacking of translations. As DoudouLinux is intended for children while providing as much safety as possible for parents, the installer is not easily accessible with the mouse or at boot. It is then not available as an icon or a menu entry, you have to start the console in the most advanced activity “Whole DoudouLinux” and type:

$ sudo live-installer

After few seconds, the first screen is displayed, this is the system language setting:

Installer – language settings

Just choose your country and go to next screen, the timezone setting:

Installer – timezone selection

You can either click on the map or select your timezone in the dropping menu, so quite easy too. Once you're done, next screen will let you set your keyboard:

Installer – keyboard settings

This is a bit more complicated since there are many possible keyboard variants. First choose your country, this will change the list of keyboard variants on the other side of the selection box. Then select a variant, this will update the keyboard keys on the graphical keyboard representation. Some variants don't change the main key associations (lowercase and uppercase letters, drawn in white and green) but just the alternate keys (in blue), obtained while pressing the AltGr key. In this case you have to choose the layout that looks the most practical for you.

Finally you may also want to select a particular keyboard model in the list on the bottom of the screen. While choosing a wrong model should not prevent you from using your keyboard, choosing the correct one may let you access particular features of your keyboard. Let the default choice if you don't want to bother with this parameter.

Once you're done, go to next step, the user information:

Installer – user information

The installer will remove administrative rights from the DoudouLinux activities (except for settings like the audio output or printers). As a result, a user has to be created to be given these rights, this is the purpose of this screen. Although the user's photo and full name are not really used in DoudouLinux, you should probably use information related to you! You can then change the user name for a shorter nickname if the computed one is not of your taste. It is indeed the name that you will use to login and get the sudo administrative rights. You also have to type a password twice; there is no complexity check for the password so try to use a password that is not too much trivial! Finally you may want to change the computer name, especially if you already have several computers on your (local) network. This is not mandatory however.

Now the installer has most of the required information, it's time to choose the disk onto which DoudouLinux will be installed:

Installer – disk selection

The installer knows how much minimal space is required for DoudouLinux (around 4 GB), so if you're willing to install it onto too small an USB key, the key will simply not be displayed in the list! We have added as much disk information as possible to let you precisely identify your disks in case several ones are available. Once you're done, it's time to decide whether you want to perform an automatic partitioning or if you want to do it by yourself:

Installer – partitioning mode

Note that the installer is designed to be also able to use the remaining free space on disk for new partitions, but we suspect this feature to not work in many case because extended partitions are not managed yet (yes, we haven't tested this feature!). Unless you really want to help us improve the installer, you should probably select either the first entry (wiping the entire disk) or the latest one (manual partitioning). Anyway the second entry is not selectable if the installer hasn't detected enough free space on your disk, which should be the most frequent case.

If you choose to entirely wipe out your disk with automatic partitioning, moving to next step will require the deletion of all the existing partitions, which also means destroying all your data. As there is no backup tool, confirmation is asked twice, here is the first confirmation dialog:

Installer – repartitioning confirmation

If you confirm a second time, the disk partitions are immediately modified and you are lead to the advanced settings screen described later. If you finally choose manual partitioning, the disk partitions will be displayed:

Installer – manual partitioning

As the help text tells, you should probably select at least 3 partitions: the system root, the user's data /home and a swap partition. If you need to reorganize your partitions, click the button “Edit partitions”, this will launch GParted, a partition editor that is able to create, remove, copy, move, shrink or extend partitions. Once you're done, close GParted and click the button “Update” so that the installer rebuilds your partition map. Please note that editing partitions may lead to data loss, you may want to backup your data before, which the installer cannot do.

So now let's go to the latest settings screen, the advanced settings that is also displayed just after automatic partitioning has been confirmed twice:

Installer – advanced settings

The first parameter is the hardware clock that can use UTC or local time. As it depends on a system that could be already (or have ever been) installed on the computer, we have chosen to let users decide. The effect of switching to UTC or not is seen in the text below the checkbox, this should then be easy to find the correct value. The second parameter is the bootloader installation. As this is quite technical, we've added a long explanation text. However the default choice is to install the bootloader onto the disk onto which DoudouLinux is to be installed. This should be the best choice in most cases, as long as you're not willing to have several Linux systems installed.

Now it's time to start the installation process. A summary of your choices is displayed before confirmation:

Installer – installation summary

If you agree with it, installation will start. When it is done, a dialog box will propose you to restart your computer and enjoy your newly installed DoudouLinux :).

So now try it by yourself and tell us more about it!

Notes

[1] If the 2013-02 is not out yet, check the dailybuild page.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Clean install of DoudouLinux on hard disk

Currently the DoudouLinux installer just copies onto disk the Live media as is. While this is very practical for us and brings interesting features to users (rock-solid read-only system), this also has drawbacks:

  • the system is still compressed and slows down startup on old computers
  • you can not remove software
  • upgrading software creates a duplicate version of each software
  • many boot parameters cannot be changed (they're not persistent)

One of our most active contributors, Richard, suggested to use Remastersys. This is a tool whose goal is to perform full system backup onto a Live CD for Debian-based distributions. One of its features is to let users re-install a clean system onto hard disk from the Live CD: just what we need!

Thanks to it, on a laptop from 2003-2004, DoudouLinux is now booting in 40s instead of 120s from CD. I installed the system in 3 separate partitions: root, home and swap. The root system needs 1.9 GB so you have to setup at least a 2.5 GB root partition. Of course if you want to add software or don't want a separated home partition (bad idea), make it larger! Now let's look at the recipe :).

Remastersys is offered as a Debian package. The package provides a shell script to install the running Live system on disk: “remastersys-installer”. Reading the script showed that it is doing what we need. We have then successfully performed a clean install of DoudouLinux with the following operations:

  1. add Remastersys repository to a running DoudouLinux
  2. install Remastersys
  3. run the Remastersys script called “remastersys-installer”
  4. reboot!

Note that there are some issues to be corrected after the first boot (see after the source code below). We also have to customize the Remastersys script for use in an official future DoudouLinux release. In the meanwhile, if you want to test it by yourself, you need to type several code lines as root then as the main user to be able to use the graphical Gtk interface:

# log as root
su -

# define parameters
SOURCESLIST=/etc/apt/sources.list
DANSREGEXPEXCEPT=/etc/dansguardian/lists/exceptionregexpurllist
DANSSERVICE=/etc/init.d/dansguardian

# register remastersys repository
echo 'deb http://www.geekconnection.org/remastersys/repository debian/' >> $SOURCESLIST

# fix bug DansGuardian blocking some deb's files
# see: https://gna.org/bugs/index.php?18003
echo '\\.deb$' >> $DANSREGEXPEXCEPT
$DANSSERVICE restart

# install remastersys
apt-get update
apt-get install --assume-yes --force-yes remastersys

# call installer as normal user
exit
sudo remastersys-installer gui

Once completed, if you see messages complaining about the impossibility to unmount /TARGET and /TARGET/home, just unmount them manually in the console:

sudo umount /TARGET/home/
sudo umount /TARGET/

Finally please note that there are few details to be corrected:

  • at boot GRUB is complaining about a missing splash image
  • network may not work because the file /etc/network/interfaces is appended with another network configuration at each boot (which causes inconsistencies)
  • boot is hanging tens of seconds when network is not plugged because it is waiting for a DHCP lease

The first point can be solved by editing /boot/grub/menu.lst and adding “boot” between the double slash (//) in the line speaking of splash. Note that the Remastersys splash image is not childish at all. Prefer installing the package grub-splashimages-doudoulinux instead! (and replace the file /boot/grub/splash.xpm.gz)

The second one can be solved by removing the for loop of the 3rd block of code in /etc/rc.local.

The last one cannot be simply solved. We have to achieve additional experiments to find a solution. They'll be reported in the ticket related to this topic: Provide a way to do a real DDL installation.

Have nice DoudouLinux installs! ;)