Monday, February 14, 2011

The boot

Debian is the only major Linux distro I've used to still have a verbose boot, as opposed to a graphical boot- a black screen fills with lines of text informing the user about what is going on during the boot process. The text scrolls up the screen so fast that most of it is illegible; most of what you can read would mean something to only a Linux geek.
Distros like Mandrive, Fedora, PCLinuxOS and of course Ubuntu show you a logo and an indicator of how the boot is going, on a colourful screen with a nice background image.

Here's an example from YouTube (with slightly comical messianic musical accompaniment).

I'm sure that new users of Linux would be more comfortable with a graphical boot. Even quite experienced users like me can't get much from it.
But Debian is first and foremost a stable distribution (graphical boots can be unreliable), and aimed more at experienced Linux users than "newbies", so a graphic boot is not a priority, or even disdained by some users.
I looked into the possibility of a graphical boot in Lenny some time ago, but it seemed to require a lot of hacking, which I'm not really into.
Something yesterday reminded me of the graphical boot program Plymouth, and upon checking, I found it in the Debian repository.
I installed it and rebooted- still the old text-based boot.
I really hate hacking Linux- because the solutions you find on the internet are often out of date and don't work any more, and trying different solutions designed for older packages or configuration settings can mess up a system. The beauty of Debian is, after all, stability.
However, I did manage to get Plymouth working. Here's how.
I came across this post on the Debian forum which says that if you're not using a propriety graphics card driver, all you need to do is install plymouth. OK, sounds promising, but didn't work for me.
Then I found the Debian Plymouth Wiki, which looked a bit off putting, but was simple enough to follow.
All I really needed to do was to edit my Grub configuration file and change my screen resolution:
Modify this line to add splash:
[Update: going back and checking, it seems only the second step below was really necessary.]

And then update Grub using this command as root:
Upon rebooting, I had a graphical boot screen (and the change to the screen resolution setting had fixed a problem with the Grub background image!)

There doesn't seem to be a GUI for selecting and previewing Plymouth themes in Debian (located in /usr/share/plymouth/themes). The Wiki link above gives the command line method of changing themes. Probably the best way to preview themes is to look on YouTube: there seems to be a video for just about every theme on every major distro.

[Update: Ubuntu users have a nice GUI available. See this YouTube demonstration.
I found a useful command to preview Plymouth themes in the readme file of the theme below.]

It's easy to install new themes too. I ended up using this simple dark theme from


  1. i still like verbose boot mode on Squeeze :D

  2. Excellent post. Have we become so advanced, that we can't code an auto-adjusting, moderately advanced Plymouth boot graphic, as default, for whatever GPU a person is running?

    a) Could it not have a simply, and reliable, fallback mode; for troublesome cards?

    b) Couldn't we just hit the Esc key, optionally, to read the live details (or better way to read it), and with nothing else required?

    c) Shouldn't turning it back to text-only, be a super-easy check box, for anyone desiring it? Perhaps even as a question, on first boot, or a check box, in the installers? Newbie, or geek? Why aren't we making it easy, for non-technical people? Do technical people have a problem with check a box, to go back to text only mode? The is a time saver, for EVERYONE. Time is the main point! We can do better. Whatever your opinion, faster needed boot times, do not combine well, with text, and no one is harming a text-boot lovers, differing opinion. It not like we don't have separate teams, of start up animation coders, willing to do their part. Plus, it,s not like a fall-back can't be in place (for other core coders), when there's a problem.