I wrote an alternative Debian installer as a toy, called v-i. One of the following two bullet points is correct:

  • v-i can install a very rudimentary Debian onto exactly one computer in the world: my very own spare Thinkpad x220 laptop. It might not work on your x220. v-i almost certainly won’t work on any other kind of computer. If you try, it will probably delete all your data. Make sure your backups work.

  • v-i is perfect in every way. There are not even any typos in the manual. There are no bugs, and all features are fully implemented. Every possible use case is supported. Not only is there no danger to your data, v-i will prevent it from ever disappering. Even your hardware will never break again. Your laptop will have infinite battery life, and your screen resolution will require 64 bit integers to express.

The v-i installer is based on the vmdb2 tool, which I also wrote. It has nothing to do with debian-installer, which is the official Debian installer, also known as d-i. I use d-i, but have a couple of things I wanted to change:

  • I’d like something I can easily modify. d-i requires building special udeb packages for any software that’s to be part of the installer. v-i is happy with normal debs.

  • Debian in general uses preseeding for automating an installation. Preseeding means providing answers, in a file, to questions the package may ask during its installation. This is fine, if a little cumbersome, but only helps when the packages ask the right questions. v-i lets you have the full power of Ansible during initial installation, which is much more flexible.

On the other hand, d-i is mature software and tested by a very large number of people, on a very large number of different hardware. v-i is not. v-i might, at best, be the beginning of something useful for a small number of people.

I can now install Debian onto my x220 with v-i. It’s a very basic install, without LVM2, full-disk encryption, or a graphical desktop, but it does have sshd and I can configure the laptop further with Ansible from another host. I’ve installed the GNOME desktop that way, after rebooting into a v-i installed system. (In theory, I could install GNOME directly from v-i. In practice, there are bugs in packages and/or how vmdb2 runs Ansible.)

The installed system is also highly configured to my needs and preferences. It uses Finnish locales, and requires my SSH key to log in. The root account has no password. All of this could be made better with a bit of work.

The code is at https://gitlab.com/larswirzenius/v-i. Check the README for more instructions if you’re curious. If you do give it a try, I’d love to hear from you, unless you just lost all your data. Please don’t lose all your data.

If you’d like to help build a more viable installer from v-i, please talk to me. I dream of a future where I can install a bare metal machine as easily as I can create and configure a VM.

PS. A 128 GB USB3 flash drive can be had for as little as 20 euros, and that has enough disk space for v-i and a Debian mirror.

If you want to respond to this blog post, please email me (liw@liw.fi) or respond to this fediverse post.