Ubuntu should have a floppy/network install option like Debian

Bug #57863 reported by JP Vossen on 2006-08-27
This bug affects 1 person
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
debian-installer (Ubuntu)

Bug Description

I'm shocked that I couldn't already find a bug for this. Please re-direct me if I'm just search challenged tonight.

I love LiveCDs (see https://launchpad.net/distros/ubuntu/+bug/40062). But I also have old junky laptops that will run Ubuntu, but which have busted CD players. I've also had issues on machines with enough RAM to *run* Ubuntu once installed (barely) but not enough to run the LiveCD *and* run the installer's partitioner at the same time.

I'd love a clear, supported ability to do floppy/network Ubuntu installs. I've seen some of the community work-arounds, and they aren't pretty. But I do this kind of thing with Debian all the time. If fact, if I have a choice between floppy and CD installs for Debian, I'll do the floppy, since with my apt-proxy I get to a stable, updated system much faster.

So, since Debian can do it, why can't Ubuntu??? Actually, it already can, mostly. I just installed Ubuntu 6.06 on a Inspiron with a broken CD player using Debian Sarge install floppies (and a PCMCIA NIC). This worked great, and really makes me think it would be trivial to get Ubuntu to do it too. I did a very minimal Debian install, then at first reboot manually pointed the package repo at Ubuntu, not Debian, and installed a minimal Ubuntu. I booted that, and did various apt-gets to build a system [1]. This worked, but not 100% cleanly. There were left-over Debian packages, and the apt-gets missed some things that were not "depended on" by anything else yet that were necessary (e.g. linux-restricted-modules-common linux-restricted-modules-686).

So my actual method isn't much better than the other community solutions (long and ugly). But, my method could be made official and almost as easy as a "real" GUI Ubuntu install almost trivially. (OK, I really don't know how the Debian floppy installer works, so I am assuming it's easy to tweak to Ubuntu because a) Ubuntu is already based on Debian and b) because it's already *SO* close!) All the fantastic Ubuntu hardware detection could be an issue, but in my case everything Just Worked (once I installed the missing modules, grrrrrrr).

Obviously, this install method would also make it easier for some environments to pump out lots of custom Ubuntu installs without having to slipstream a CD image, which has obvious advantages. And while I actually used a for-real floppy drive, I'd wildly guess that the floppy images could be stored and booted otherwise, maybe from USB.

[1] I have documented my installation method, but it is not publishable quality yet. I *hope* to clean it up and post it in a HOWTO forum RSN. I am happy to share with any Ubuntu dev. Who wants to take a stab at this…

JP Vossen (jp-jpsdomain) wrote :
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Yeah, https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation/Netboot is one of the "not pretty" work-arounds [1].

My argument is that a successful installer should "Just Work" with the absolute minimal resources (physical and skills) on the installation side. In this day and age I'd say the minimum is a) a decent CD install (Live or otherwise) or b) a decent over-the-wire install with *nothing* but a reasonable Internet connection (OK and in this case a working floppy drive). If you don't have a working CD player or decent Internet connection, then you've got bigger problems than trying to install Ubuntu.

Both https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation/Netboot and https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation/LocalNet fail my test because they:

1) Require extra infrastructure that may not be present (a second PC).
2) Require some picky and specific configuration tweaks on that second PC, that may not be a) possible given the installer's skill, interest or time, or b) desirable for the given environment [2].
3) Because of #1 and #2, the ability to do an install any time, any place, is more limited than it should be, granted in a small number of cases (bused CD only).
4) They are arguably less secure, since you're setting up tftp which is questionable security-wise, and you're creating an environment that makes it very simple to overwrite existing systems by accident, very easily. BAD IDEAS. Sure, it's fine *if* you remember to clean up after yourself...

I think that this:
 0) Using only 1 machine:
 1) Download three (possibly four) floppy images
 2) "Burn" the floppies using readily available software for Linux or Windows (including GUI varieties)
 3) Reboot from floppy one, inserting the others as prompted
 4) Do the install

Is a lot less scary to a newbie than this:
 0) Using at least two machines:
 1) Install a particular (arguably non-standard) DHCP server
 2) Configured it a given way (copy and paste from good directions; on the command line)
 3) Install a tftp server
 4) Copy install files into place
 5) Extract files and change permissions as needed (command line)
 6) Enable and configure the tftp server (copy and paste from good directions; on the command line)
 7) Maybe turn off a firewall or create rules as necessary for any/all of the above to maybe work
 8) Try to boot the target, using PXE (which, if it fails, probably does so pretty quietly and inexplicably)
 9) Else go download some floppies, burn 'em, hope they work with your NIC (which you have to already know about)
 10) If everything else worked right the first time <g>, start the install now

Looking at that, I can see why some people think Linux is hard. Not what Ubuntu is shooting for, I think.

I am capable of doing this a couple of different ways, that's not the problem. My argument is that for very little work a newbie who wants to try out Ubuntu on a marginal machine could have a MUCH nicer time of it. Anyone ever try to install Windows this way? (OK, OK, newer than Win95 anyway? :-) Won’t work; but "Linux Can Do It!

Maybe I'm nuts and the only person to think this, in which case I'll shut up and go away. It'll be interesting to see if anyone else find...


Dean Sas (dsas) wrote :

Ok, I'll reopen and assign against debian-installer. I'm not sure that's the right package though.

I've fixed the first broken link you mentioned.

Colin Watson (cjwatson) wrote :

Actually, right now Debian unstable doesn't support this either, for the same reason we've never been able to support it in Ubuntu; nobody's ever figured out how to squash the 2.6 kernel onto a floppy with enough of the installer to make it go. Patches welcome, but it's hard ...

Changed in debian-installer:
importance: Untriaged → Wishlist
status: Unconfirmed → Confirmed
Colin Watson (cjwatson) wrote :

(The only Debian floppy install images I'm aware of were 2.4-based.)

JP Vossen (jp-jpsdomain) wrote :

Oh, very good point, you've got me there. The ones I used *are* 2.4 based. I barely noticed that as I just worked around it without really thinking about it.

Oh well, there goes my "it should be pretty easy" theory. I should have known better.

Still, I *was* able to use the 2.4 Debian Sarge floppies to install Ubuntu 6.06, and it worked... That's gotta count for something.

Thanks for thinking about this at least, everyone! And thanks for all the hard work on Ubuntu, it's great!

I would have thought installing via floppy disks is a bit outdated but now I miss them. I grabbed an old laptop with a dead, irreplaceable CD drive, and looking for an alternative.

 Thank you for taking the time to report this bug and helping to make Ubuntu better. You reported this bug a while ago and there hasn't been any activity in it recently. We were wondering if this is still an issue for you. Can you try with the latest Ubuntu release? Thanks in advance.

Changed in debian-installer:
status: Confirmed → Incomplete
Colin Watson (cjwatson) wrote :

This clearly requires no reverification from the bug reporter. Think about it!

Changed in debian-installer:
status: Incomplete → Triaged
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