Setting up Linux Mint Debian Edition on the Lenovo Essential B590
Today, the 5th of May 2013, is Liberation day in The Netherlands. It’s a public holiday that celebrates the defeat of the German forces that occupied The Netherlands in 1945. And what could be a more wonderful coincidence for the latest version of Debian, version 7.0 ‘Wheezy’, being released on this very day? In the joyful spirit of this coincidence I decided to make a guide that helps you through the process of setting up Debian on your computer, and enable you to enjoy the benefits of ‘Free Software’. But, before we’re going to set up Debian, I’ll start off with primer that explains you what these benefits are, and provide you with some insights about the few loopholes that we’re going to meet when installing Debian on this particular computer, a Lenovo Essential from 2013 with Windows 8 pre-installed.
First of all, what is meant by the term ‘Free Software’ is not ‘Free of Charge’, but software that respects your freedom and community. Dr. Richard Stallman, a software freedom activist who came up with this definition, delineated the following set of essential freedoms that allows software to be free in the ethical sense of the word:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour.
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
This list essentially boils down to your freedom, and right to, choose, copy, modify and share content that runs on your computer. The last three freedoms underpin the concept of Open Source software. However, this first freedom is best explained by looking at the User Interface that is shipped with Windows 8. Windows used to have a standard mouse/keyboard oriented desktop. Microsoft changed it for a version that is more suitable for touch interfaces. The desktop interface is still there as an option, but you cannot choose not to run the touch interface: Microsoft wants you to get acquainted with their new interface, even if you don’t feel like. In most versions of Linux, these sort of changes are optional. You can experiment with a change, choose to uninstall it, or modify it to your preferences, and let your friends copy it if they find it useful or interesting. The freedom to choose also deals with the things that are “under the hood” of the User Interface. With the current version of Windows, and the Android operating system from Google, you have to create an account with the provider of the software. This account is a prerequisite to logon into your computer, to download software, and to use all sorts of online services, such as search, chat and other types of social networking. This means that, at the least, they have access to the way that you use your computer with an incredible detail. The differences between these type of services and ‘free software’ is no longer merely about convenience and a polished look of the products. They are also impeding your right to choose and your right to privacy. And this gets more pervasive the more we live with our devices.
Is everything Linux or Linux-based Free in this ethical sense?
Sadly enough, no. Android is a Linux system, but is not free in this ethical sense. The most popular Linux distribution for PC’s, Ubuntu, has also become less free in this ethical sense. The developers of the Ubuntu system, Canonical, decided to sell targeted advertisement on the basis of your search activities on your own computer for the purpose of monetizing the development of Ubuntu. This can be turned off, or even completely removed, but I don’t find it ideal that I have to tinker with things that concern privacy after a fresh install of a new system. Luckily, there are other distributions of Linux that are free of all this nonsense.
What are Linux distributions and which do I recommend?
A Linux distribution is a collection of software applications that runs on top of the Linux kernel, which is a bridge between all these applications and your computer hardware. Each of these distributions are maintained by a community of developers and users. In the case of Ubuntu, it has a commercial company central to the operation of its community. And in the case of Debian, the community consists of volunteers who operate under a Social Contract. There are also distributions that are spin-offs from other distributions. For example, the Linux Mint community felt the need to make changes to Ubuntu and distributes their own bespoke version of it. But they also made their own version of the Debian distribution. One of the reasons that they did this is that these communities not only maintain the operating system itself, but also manage the release of the applications that run on it. Each community has their own repository with software, and they aren’t necessarily compatible with each other. The reason that I chose for the Debian edition of Linux Mint is that I’m able to obtain more recent versions of the software that I use than when I used Ubuntu. And that’s the main reason why this guide deals with setup of this particular distribution, the Linux Mint Debian Edition. My other recommendation is the Debian 7.0 ‘Wheezy’ release, simply because it is the original.
So, Let’s get started! How do I begin?
From this point on, I’ll guide you through the following tasks you have to do in order to have Linux Mint Debian installed on your computer:
- Downloading and burning the DVD image of the distribution.
- Accessing the BIOS on the Lenovo Essential B590 (Or any Secureboot enabled computer for that matter)
- Disabling Secureboot, enabling for Windows 8 and Linux to boot, and pointing the BIOS to the Boot Loader
- Create a partition to install Linux on
- Install Linux (the least difficult bit)
After this, you’ll be able to boot into Windows and Linux without any problems.
1. Downloading and burning the DVD image of the distribution
The following links will direct you to the webpage of the distributions that I’ve discussed:
- Linux Mint Debian Edition
- This distribution gives you four choices. You need the 64 bit version if your going to install it on the Lenovo Essential. I also recommend the Cinnamon version, which is the name of the desktop interface of this distribution, because it works really nice.
- Debian 7.0 Wheezy
- You only need to download and burn the DVD1 (debian-7.0.0-amd64-DVD-1.iso) image. The other ones are not necessary. You can also choose to download and burn a CD-ROM image, which you can find here
Burning these images is really easy on Windows 8. If you right-click on the downloaded file, you can choose to ‘Burn disc image‘. You can leave the burned disc in the drive. The next step is to enable your computer to boot it.
2. Accessing the BIOS on the Lenovo Essential B590
The recent Windows 8 computers don’t restart from the very beginning of the boot process if you choose to restart the computer. Even if you choose to shutdown the computer, it still will not restart from the very beginning, essentially disallowing you to boot anything else than Windows. This is what Secureboot does, and the only way to defeat it is to shut down the computer, unplug the power, remove the battery, and plug the power back in again. As soon as you open the the lid of your laptop and press the power button, you have to press the F1 button (I press it several times until I hear a beep).
3. Disabling Secureboot, enabling Linux to boot, pointing the BIOS to the Boot Loader
The next step is to disable Secureboot. In order to do this, you have to navigate with the LEFT and RIGHT buttons to the ‘Security‘ menu that you see in the below image. Here, you select “Secure boot“, press Enter, select ‘Disabled‘ using the UP and DOWN arrows on your keyboard, and press Enter again.
Now, we navigate to the ‘Startup‘ menu and make sure that it can boot other systems than Windows. First we set the ‘UEFI/Legacy boot‘ to ‘Both‘, and set the ‘UEFI/Legacy Boot Priority‘ to ‘Legacy First‘. I also set the ‘Boot Mode‘ to ‘Diagnostics‘, so it boots like a good old-fashioned computer. We’re not changing the BIOS to do something old, we’re changing it so it can do more. Also, make sure that the ‘Boot device List F12 Option‘ is set to ‘Enabled‘. We won’t be able to boot from the DVD without it.
Next up, we select the ‘Boot’ option, and press Enter. Here we can tell the BIOS to use the Boot Loader from the hard disk. We do this by navigating to Option 5, the ‘ATA HDD0‘ option, and press either ‘+‘ or ‘-‘ to move this option to position no. 1.
Your screen should now look like the one on the picture below. The next step is to ‘Save and Exit‘ by pressing F10. Do keep in mind that you have to press F12 as soon as the Lenovo boot screen comes up. This gives us access to the Boot Device List where we can choose to boot the Debian DVD.
If everything went correctly, you’ll be able to see the Boot Device List as shown in the below picture. Here you can select ‘ATAPI CD1‘ and press Enter. Now you will see a lot of Linuxy stuff going on on your screen.
4. Create a partition to install Linux on
During the installation of your distribution, you will be asked to select or create a partition to install your operating system on. The partition software that comes with the Linux Mint Debian Edition is called ‘Gparted’. On the Lenovo Essential B590, the partition choices look similar to the picture below. What we will do now is shrink the Windows partition. This is the partition that is highlighted in green in the picture below.
Next. we will Right-click on this partition (identified by ‘dev/sda4‘), and choose ‘Resize/Move‘. What I’ve done here is shrink the partition by 40 Gigabytes. This can be bigger or smaller, depending on your wishes. You can manually enter a number and press TAB, or use the Down button next to the number box. The difference will be shown in the ‘Free Space Allocated‘ box below. If you click on ‘Resize/Move‘, you will see that a new partition has been created, You have to set the partition to the ‘EXT4′ file system, by either right-clicking on the new partition, choosing ‘Format to‘ and selecting EXT4. Gparted will now ask you to proceed further with formatting the partition. After this is done, Gparted will ask you where to install the GRUB Boot loader. Here I selected the very first option called ‘dev/sda‘.
5. Install Linux
Now, your distribution will ask you to do the usual stuff, such as creating a user name and password, choosing the correct keyboard layout, etc .. Everything will be very straightforward from here on.
6. Enjoy Freedom
May 5, 2013