Configuring the mail server
The final step of configuration is to set up the email server on the machine. Debian's default email server is Exim 4, and its web site has comprehensive documentation. Unless you are configuring a mail hub for multiple users, one of the presets provided by the installation process will suit your purposes.
A smart host is an email server that will send on mail for you; ISPs more commonly refer to it as an outgoing mail server.
The first question the Exim setup process asks is whether you want to split its configuration into small files. Choose this only if you're going to be doing extensive configuration later on, as it provides a flexible but fussy infrastructure. The process then gives four main preset options for email delivery, depending on the intended use of the server. Systems intended for personal use should choose "mail sent by smarthost; received via SMTP or fetchmail." Satellite workstations probably require "mail sent by smarthost; no local mail." If you're unsure or just don't want to think about it, opt for "no configuration at this time." You can always start the configuration again later by running
dpkg-reconfigure exim4-config as the root user.
Finally, the installer will ask where to have administrative email sent. This will normally be your own user account or email address.
That's it. Whew! Now you can log in to your new Debian system and start exploring.
When disaster strikes
What about when something goes wrong? The cause of installation failure is most likely to be a problem with Linux recognizing some part of a system's hardware. At this point, you need to determine whether Linux actually supports the item of hardware at all. Searching the Web is usually an effective way of doing this. You could also try booting from a Knoppix CD, a Linux system that runs exclusively from the CD. If your hardware is supported, there is probably a boot option or a workaround you can use to get Debian to install.
Linux 2.6 is the default for Mac installs because of improved hardware support, but Debian does not consider it stable enough for the PC, where 2.4 is the default.
For certain types of hardware setups, the only requirement is an extra option when you boot the installer CD. From the PC installer boot screen, use the function keys to display help screens with the various options. Mac users can type
help to view more options. Another possibility on PC systems is that the default Linux kernel, which uses the 2.4 series of kernels, doesn't contain support for your hardware but the 2.6 series does. Try the
linux26 boot option in that case.
If, after carefully reading the Debian installation manual, you still don't have a solution to your problem, then try asking for help in one of the many support forums available for Debian. The Debian web site contains details on where to find these.
If your machine is locking up on boot and you have no other way to transcribe the errors, taking a picture of the screen with a digital camera can be a good way to capture the debugging messages.
When you encounter an error in the installation process, an error report usually appears against a red screen. To see more detailed messages, view the error log by pressing Alt-F3. Shift-Page Up and Shift-Page Down will scroll through these error messages. If you need to pause the flow of log messages at any point, use Ctrl-S to stop the screen scrolling, and Ctrl-Q to resume. This can be very useful at boot time.
If there is obviously no way to fix your problem, the final resort is to file a bug with the Debian installer team. The section Troubleshooting the Install Process in the Debian installation manual provides a template that you can fill out and email to the Debian bug-tracking system. From there, a team member may contact you about the problem.
Edd Dumbill is co-chair of the O'Reilly Open Source Convention. He is also chair of the XTech web technology conference. Edd conceived and developed Expectnation, a hosted service for organizing and producing conferences. Edd has also been Managing Editor for XML.com, a Debian developer, and GNOME contributor. He writes a blog called Behind the Times.
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