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Installing Debian on modern hardware

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Debian

It is an unfortunate fact of life that non-free firmware blobs are required to use some hardware, such as network devices (WiFi in particular), audio peripherals, and video cards. Beyond that, those blobs may even be required in order to install a Linux distribution, so an installation over the network may need to get non-free firmware directly from the installation media. That, as might be guessed, is a bit of a problem for distributions that are not willing to officially ship said firmware because of its non-free status, as a recent discussion in the Debian community shows.

Surely Dan Pal did not expect the torrent of responses he received to his short note to the debian-devel mailing list about problems he encountered trying to install Debian. He wanted to install the distribution on a laptop that was running Windows 10, but could not use the normal network installation mechanism because the WiFi device required non-free firmware. He tracked down the DVD version of the distribution and installed that, but worried that Debian is shooting itself in the foot by not prominently offering more installation options: "The current policy of hiding other versions of Debian is limiting the adoption of your OS by people like me who are interested in moving from Windows 10."

The front page at debian.org currently has a prominent "Download" button that starts to retrieve a network install ("netinst") CD image when clicked. But that image will not be terribly useful for systems that need non-free firmware to make the network adapter work. Worse yet, it is "impossible to find" a working netinst image with non-free firmware, Sven Joachim said, though he was overstating things a bit. Alexis Murzeau suggested adding a link under the big download button that would lead users to alternate images containing non-free firmware. He also pointed out that there are two open bugs (one from 2010 and another from 2016) that are related, so the problem is hardly a new one.

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