[HOW TO] Install Debian & Xfce4 For Desktop PC

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How To Install Debian & Xfce4 For Desktop PC

Date: 23-08-2007

Author: Gundamdriver

This article is released under GNU GPL, so you can modify, improve and redistribute it. :-)

A. Introduction

Linux is very popular nowadays, because it is free, very flexible and secure. In this tutorial, I am going to talk about installing Debian GNU/Linux and Xfce4 for desktop PCs.

I choose Debian, as it is one of the most popular Linux distro. in the world, and the APT is very easy to use. I choose Xfce4 because it is less resources consuming than GNOME or KDE. This tutorial is aimed at building a light-weight environment for daily use, if you want eye-candy, install GNOME. ;-)

If you find something wrong/ missing/ not clear/ can be improved in this tutorial, you are welcomed to contact me by e-mail: zioniccm at hotmail dot com (no spam please ;-) ).

B. Installing Debian GNU/Linux

You should be able to download ISO images from Debian official website (http://www.debian.org/). If you have broadband Internet connection, I recommand you to install Debian with netinstall CD, as only basic tools will be included on CD, while you can download other tools from Debian servers.

You may find 3 branches of Debian GNU/Linux: stable, testing and unstable. For desktop PCs, testing branch is stable enough, and the packages are more updated. So, I will install Debian GNU/Linux (Testing).

After you have burn the ISO image on CD, reboot, boot up your computer with the CD and install Debian GNU/Linux. If you want GUI during installation, type installgui before installing the OS.

At the end of installation, you will be asked what tasks do you want to install. DO NOT enable desktop environment, that will install GNOME. Only enable base system (at the bottom on the list) is enough.

Once you have finished installing Debian, you will take away the CD and reboot the computer. After reboot, select Debian in the GRUB list. Now to should be able to see a command-line interface. Login as normal user.

C. Installing packages

Before installing additional packages, we need to edit the repositories of APT. I am a user of nano, so I will type su to become root, and then nano /etc/apt/sources.list. Remove the CD-ROM repositories, or simply comment them. If you don't do that, you will be asked to insert installation CDs when installing packages.

In order to install extra packages, add contrib and non-free in the Debian official repositories (something like deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian/ and deb-src http://ftp.debian.org/debian/). To install some multimedia-related packages, add deb http://www.debian-multimedia.org testing main. If you need to read Chinese, you may also add deb http://apt.debian.org.tw/ unstable main/ttf-arphic-newsung.

So now your /etc/apt/sources.list may look like this:

#Debian official repositories

deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian/ lenny main contrib non-free

deb-src http://ftp.debian.org/debian/ lenny main contrib non-free

deb http://security.debian.org/ lenny/updates main contrib non-free

deb-src http://security.debian.org/ lenny/updates main contrib non-free

#Chinese font

deb http://apt.debian.org.tw/ unstable main/ttf-arphic-newsung

#Debian multimedia

deb http://www.debian-multimedia.org testing main

Save the file. Type apt-get update to update the database. Now install the following packages:

bzip2 dbus gimp gksu mousepad debian-multimedia-keyring

openoffice.org orphaner p7zip-full p7zip-rar pidgin sun-java6-jre synaptic

xarchiver xfce4 xfce4-terminal xorg xpdf xscreensaver xserver-xorg

Let me spend some time on explaining the usage of some packages.

bzip2: Important. Without bzip2, you cannot decompress many archives in Linux world.

dbus: Required if you want to enable trash in your system.

gksu: Needed if you want to launch root-only applications, such as Synaptic, in GUI way. Try gksu synaptic in terminal. :-)

debian-multimedia-keyring: Needed if you added Debian-Multimedia repository in /etc/apt/sources.list.

openoffice.org: A free alternative to Microsoft Office. Please read the Summary section of this tutorial before installing it.

Use apt-get install [packages] to install them. Some depended packages will also be installed. If you like, you may also install xdm as login manager (xdm isn't as nice-looking as gdm, but just provide a very simple GUI while you login). After installing the packages, apt-get upgrade to see keep your system updated. Now you can type orphaner to remove some unnecessary libraries, and then reboot.

For those who will read Chinese, also apt-get install ttf-arphic-newsung, (add deb http://apt.debian.org.tw/ unstable main/ttf-arphic-newsung into /etc/apt/sources.list first) this font is much easier to read. To type Chinese on Linux, you may Install SCIM. For more details about Chinese support in Debian, please read a tutorial in Debian.org.hk (http://wiki.debian.org.hk/w/Make_Debian_support_Chinese_%28eng%29).

D. Something more...

After installing packages and rebooting, you may need to configure the xserver. As root, type dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg. At there you can configure the display card driver, screen resolution...etc. When you are done, and if you didn't install xdm, you can start xfce4 by typing startx.

Now you should be able to see a nice GUI-enabled system. Spend some time on Settings Manager to customize the interface. :-D

You may notice that I didn't install Iceweasel (re-branded Mozilla Firefox), because I wish to install it by myself. If you want Debian to install Iceweasel for you, type apt-get install iceweasel in terminal. If you want to install Mozilla Firefox by yourself, type w3m www.mozilla.com in terminal. W3M is a text-based browser, you should be able to use it to download the Linux package of Firefox.

To install Firefox, you will need to decompress it. In terminal, go to the directory where firefox- locate. Type tar -xzvf firefox- to decompress the archive. As root, mv firefox /usr/share (or move to somewhere you prefer). You should not be able to launch Firefox right now, because you need to install a library. Type apt-get install libstdc++5 in terminal. Now type /usr/share/firefox/firefox, see if Firefox can be run without problem.

E. Multimedia and plugins

Now your computer isn't able to play multimedia files, because you haven't install any libraries to play them. Install the following by apt-get install [package].

gxine gxineplugin libxine1 libxine1-ffmpeg xine-plugin

The Firefox should have some plugins from Xine now (you can check it in about:plugins). To play Flash in Firefox, you will need Flash Player. Download Flash Player for Linux from Adobe, follow the instructions to install Flash player, it should be very easy.

The next plugin to enable is Java plugin. In terminal, change to the /plugins directory of Firefox, then type ln -s /usr/lib/jvm/java-6-sun/jre/plugin/i386/ns7/libjavaplugin_oji.so to make a symbolic link to the Java plugin.

Oh, if you want to play RealMedia files, you may install RealPlayer by yourself (download the binary file from Real.com), or by using APT. You should be able to find realplayer in Synaptic Package Manager. If you install RealPlayer by yourself, also make sure to create a symbolic link to /usr/share/RealPlayer/mozilla/nphelix.so in /plugins directory of Firefox.

F. Summary

Now you have spend about an hour on setting up a system... What else to do? If you have music files in another hard disk (in NTFS format), and if you want to copy them to the Linux system, type mount -t ntfs -o iocharset=utf8 /another/hard/disk /your/mount/point in terminal, and then copy the files.

This is the end of tutorial, but before that, there are still something to mention. You may find that I didn't install any image viewer to view images. Yes, because I haven't found any (good enough) programs that don't need GNOME libraries to view images, but you may install eog (Eye of GNOME), F-Spot (also from GNOME) or Picasa (from Google) to organize your photo albums.

To play music, Gxine should be able to handle it. If you own a iPod, you may also install gtkpod, Rhythmbox (both require GNOME libraries) or YamiPod to manage your music library.

The next thing to mention is the VLC player. In stable or unstable branch of Debian, you will be able to find VLC (a powerful multimedia player), but not in testing branch. Why? According to information on the Internet, VLC in testing branch has some serious security bugs, so it is not included in the official repositories. Anyway, if you still want to install VLC, visit Google and search for mixed system in Debian, there are some tutorials to tell you how to install VLC on testing branch from repositories of unstable branch.

About OpenOffice.org: I have installed OpenOffice.org on my system, however the interface sucks.


The title bar seems cannot be drawn correctly, but, luckily, OpenOffice.org is still functional, that means you can still work with it (if you don't care the appearance. Actually this tutorial was written with OpenOffice.org, with the abnormal interface :-D ). If you know how to fix the problem, please contact me through e-mail, thanks a lot. :-)

Edited by Gundamdriver
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