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I currently have two partitions with Linux distros installed on them. I am currently using one with Mint 14, and you could call the other deprecated.

I just found out about the release of Mint 15, and I want to install it over the deprecated distro so I can try it out. Since I don't want to go through the trouble of writing it to a disk and installing it normally, I was wondering if there was a way I could install it by using tools in my running distro while I do something else.

EDIT: the reason I don't want to try it live is because that won't give me a good impression of what it will be like to use it on a regular basis. Running it from a CD is orders of magnitude slower, doesn't allow full configuration, and gets wiped when you're done.

I would rather avoid installing normally because it's tedious and it locks up my entire computer while it's happening. I realize that I might have to, but that's why I'm asking this: to find out.

As for clarifying my question, I don't know how much more explicit I can get without actually knowing the answer. I want to download the disc image, then start a process in my current system that will transfer the files to a different partition so that the result is similar to running the installer. Like (taking this from Wikipedia) Wubi + LVPM, but with Mint.

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Doesn't it have apt with dist-upgrade? –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jun 5 '13 at 0:29
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You will need to reboot to test it anyway (unless you install in a VM) so why not just try the live session directly? –  terdon Jun 5 '13 at 2:46
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I think you may get better results specifically focusing on installing Mint in this way. There is, for example, an experimental way to install Fedora like this, but it comes with a lot of distro-specific caveats that won't apply to your case. –  mattdm Jun 6 '13 at 15:57
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There is no way to do this that will not require more time and effort than simply installing. The installation only takes about 20 minutes. Any other solution you might find is going to be much more complex and time consuming than just installing. –  terdon Jun 6 '13 at 17:22
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I do think the real answer here is to hay do the regular install. It may take half an hour, during which you'll be offline — read a book, watch TV, visit with friends, take a nap. –  mattdm Jun 6 '13 at 22:55
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2 Answers 2

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I always thought that would not be a good idea. I have not deeply investigated this, but I have done parallel installs of 2 or 3 versions of Linux on (remote) machine that needed to go on running for as long as possible (which IMHO is close to your extra requirement).

Obviously there is a mechanism for installing packages to a different partition than the active distribution (e.g. `dpkg --root=/some/dir), but that is just the packaging. I have been wary that there are other things going on during install that version X might know of when installing itself from CD, that version X-1 (or older) does not know of. Therefore I don't think it is a good idea to install X with X-1 (but again, it might be lack of knowledge) and I always install version X with itself.

What I do to keep the downtime of the working X-1 system minimal is:

  • download the install image for version X to a file
  • boot up a virtual machine (nowadays VirtualBox but I used to use VMware for that) and install X from the image.
  • install the extra stuff the machine needs (openssh, etc.) that is not installed by default.
  • configure things like postfix by copying the main.cf over from the working machine.
  • In general bring the VM up and running as close as possible to the working setup of version X-1, leaving out things like pickung up email that interact with the environment in a non-reversable manner.

Optionally (if your machine is performant) enough to get a good impression, play with version X.

At this point you have an installation of X (set up by version X) but it is on the virtual machine and not on the partition you want. The next steps are:

  • copy all relevant files from the VM to the target partition (where used to be version X-2). For this you can probably shut down the VM and mount the VM disk on the host, but I have successfully done this by having a running VM client do the copy (using find / -xdev -print0 | cpio -pdmv0 /target/partition/mounted/in/vm)
  • update the, just copied, fstab of version X with appropriate UUIDs (or devices) and selecting the swap (probably can share the partition with X-1 as long as you don't hibernate to disk)
  • update other things that are going to be different (e.g. if you don't use DHCP to get your network address).
  • make a copy of /boot/grub/grub.cfg (on X-1)
  • run grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg and diff with the copy you just made. The new kernel should be noticeable as the primary change.

Now you should have a dual boot system that no longer has version X-1 (default) and X-2 as boot options, but X-1 (default) and X. You can now reboot in version X by manual selection during boot-up. If you want to make that selection more permanent you can change GRUB_DEFAULT= in /etc/default/grub (or change the X-1 system to default reboot in the last selected boot option)

At some point, at the latest before going to version X+1 and thereby overwriting version X-1, you have to run grub-install from version X, and start using its grub and not the one from X-1.

If you have your /home on a separate partition, then you might be able to share your home directory between versions, but sometimes that doesn't work as programs make irreversible conversions of configuration data.

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I voted this up, because it sounds like exactly what I was looking for, but I can't test it because I don't know how to use VMs. –  Wutaz Jun 9 '13 at 15:23
    
I have been using them since 1998, running Windows under Linux and vv., testing out new installations and keeping old stuff running. It is well worth the investment of time to learn how to set up a VM if you want to try out new things in a safe/non-destructive way. Transferring things from a working VM to a real partition is more difficult, but maybe testing in a VM gives you the answer if you want to do an install from CD/USB the normal way knowing the downtime will be worth it. –  Anthon Jun 9 '13 at 15:34
    
I finally learned how to run a VM, loopmount the virtual disk, clone the installed OS, and I even fixed a strange UUID problem that popped up. My problem has been solved and now I have various useful new skills too. Thank you very much. –  Wutaz Jun 28 '13 at 1:25
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You can use debootstrap to install a Debian or Ubuntu release in a directory of any Linux system. While Mint isn't explicitly supported, you can install the Ubuntu release that the Mint release you want is based on.

However, this won't achieve what you want, because it only unpacks the packages and sets up enough configuration files to get a working system. The Debian, Ubuntu and Mint installers do a bit more than that, so you won't get exactly the same experience from a system installed with debootstrap and from a system installed with the installer.

A good way of trying out the new release would be to install it in a virtual machine. This will let you see available packages, default GUIs, etc. The only thing a VM won't do for you is reveal driver issues.

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+1 for the new program and bringing up VM driver issues. –  Wutaz Jun 29 '13 at 17:28
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