Debian, my netbook and minimalism

Minimalism & Debian

Less is more, as the saying goes.

While I love using Fedora in my daily work, sometimes when I want to relax I find using an alternative distribution is good therapy.  Fedora is fabulous with its GNOME Shell finery, but occasionally I hanker for something simpler and more lightweight.  It’s also good to see how the other half lives :-)

So, I decided to put Debian on my netbook.  With no GUI.  Everything I do on it must be by the command line, including web research.  Compared to Fedora, Debian‘s system requirements are practically non-existent, which is especially good if you want your system to still run nice and quick.

First steps…

  1. Firstly, I had of course to grab the distribution.  I’m not over-fussed about running cutting edge stuff on this machine.  For me, the most important thing is a low-maintenance base where I don’ t need to think much about the distribution changing every 6 months.

    I visited the Debian Mirror List and grabbed a NetInst CD image.

  2. Next off, I plugged in the USB CD/DVD drive and installed the software, making sure I didn’t overwrite my XP partition.  Well, you need a reminder every so often how awful life used to be.. ;-)
  3. I won’t go into the installation process here – there’s plenty of documentation elsewhere which covers that.  So, once installed, I really wanted to keep the installed software as trim as possible.  That is, with one or two exceptions…
     
    1. Firstly, I have tried and tried it again but I just can’t/don’t/won’t do vi, vim or anything similar.  It’s just not my bag.  It’s emacs for me.  I also want to keep my mail inside emacs, so it’s goodbye to mutt – even if it does suck less, apparently ;-)
    2. Also, Exim4.  The servers I manage don’t use it (generally it’s Postfix or QMail) and I already have a tiny smattering of Sendmail knowledge – so I have no desire to pick up on this.  I’m sure it’s a fine MTA and undoubtedly there are many technical reasons why I should keep it on my netbook… but even so, no thanks.

      Therefore, my software changes are:

      $ sudo aptitude remove exim4 exim4-base exim4-config exim4-daemon-light vi mutt

      $ sudo aptitude install emacs w3m-el sendmail

  4. So far so good.  However, I was still stuck with a chunky 80×25 character screen when booting up, which is real ugly.  Through much searching and grub configuration editing, I found that my answer was actually to install the intel video package.

    $ sudo aptitude install xserver-xorg-video-intel

    You’re on to a winner here, because Debian Squeeze is already set up for Kernel Mode Setting.  In other words, as soon as your system starts booting up, the video drivers get loaded and the optimal video mode is enabled (or, at least, that’s the intention).

    Whether or not it’s worth specifying screenmode in grub is open for debate.  FWIW, I put this in /etc/default/grub:

    GRUB_GFXMODE=1024x600
    GRUB_GFXPAYLOAD=1024x600x16

    … And in /etc/grub.d/40_custom:

    set gfxpayload=1024x600x16

    Then, I simply updated grub with the new config:

    $ sudo update-grub

    Please note that this step relates to my Intel-based netbook.  Yours may vary.

  5. The only significant piece of the puzzle remaining was to get wireless sorted out and connect to my server:

    $ sudo aptitude install wireless-tools iw wpasupplicant autofs nfs-common

    ** PLEASE NOTE: this step assumes your wireless network device doesn’t require firmware or that you already have the firmware installed in /lib/firmware. **

    Once done, you need to uncomment the /net line in /etc/auto.master and restart autofs:

    $ service restart autofs

    If you want to refer to server by hostname and are not running a DNS server, add the hostname to /etc/hosts (somewhere below the localhost lines):

    111.222.333.444      myserver.mydomain.com  myserver

    At this point, assuming all went well, you can cd to /net/ in either the shell or a file manager such as nautilus (if running a GUI).

    So, this takes care of a basic local network configuration, but we still need to actually get connected to it on wifi.  So, there is, in my /etc/network/interfaces:

    # The loopback network interface
    auto lo
    iface lo inet loopback

    # The primary network interface
    allow-hotplug eth0
    iface eth0 inet dhcp

    # Wireless
    auto wlan0
    iface wlan_mynet inet dhcp
    wpa_ssid my-network-ssid
    wpa-psk  my-network-key

    Once done, save this file and change the permissions for extra security:

    $ sudo chmod 0600 /etc/network/interfaces

    - and connect up, like this:

    $ sudo ifup wlan0=wlan_mynet

Voila!  With luck, maybe a little patience, and possibly an extra step or two (which you can hopefully figure out, if needed) these are the key set up steps which will make your netbook/laptop nice and lean, and perhaps more fun to play with.

Next time, I’ll go through a few tools I use for ‘net stuff.

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Debian, my netbook and minimalism was last modified: October 22nd, 2013 by Steve

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