(alternately, "Installing Linux the Hard Way")

I've had the occasion to install Linux on three systems in the recent past. People don't really install Linux anymore, it seems: with "cloud" instances and provisioning that's based on images means that no one really has to install Linux as such. My experiences have been mostly awful:

  • I couldn't make my current laptop do a full LCM boot for the life of me. I partitioned the hard drive in the conventional way, and while the system works fine, I think non-abstracted disk volumes are bad practice.

    Disk partitioning and bootloaders remain the most difficult and frustrating aspect of the installation process, and there's no automation to support this work. Furthermore, even if it takes you a day to get it right, usually you don't have to mess with it for a year or two. Which makes it difficult to improve practically.

    The Debian installer will do this pretty well, but you can't get the auto partitioning tool to not use the full disk. Or I can't figure it out.

  • I recently tried to install Arch Linux on an infrastructural system. Apparently in the last couple of months Arch totally did away with the installation system. So it dumps you into a mostly working shell and provides a couple of shell scripts to "automate" the installation.

It's a great idea, as long as you never have to use it.

Conversely, it's a great idea if you're constantly running installations.

If you install Arch once every year or two, as I suspect is the most common case, good luck.

I need to do it again: to update an older laptop to the 64-bit version of Arch, and I fear this is going to be terribly painful. I'm left with two main questions:

1. Have we given up on the idea that desktop Linux may be viable for people who aren't already familiar with Linux, or who aren't software developers (or the next best thing?)

  1. Does the desktop experience actually matter?

I'm asking this in a more narrow line of questioning. There's computer usage that revolves around things that happen in the browser, which is (probably) better suited for embeded systems (i.e. Android and iOS based devices,) and it's not clear where the line between that and "General Purpose" computing will fall.

If we end up using embeded systems for most of the computers that we actually touch, this fundamentally changes the desktop experience as we know it, particularly for things like installation.