I've been delighted by something like 200 e-mail memos from open-sourcers in the Reg 'family' of readers who have tried to suggest causes for the dismal experience I had installing Red Hat 7.2.
The consensus has been that the (retail) CDs I bought were defective, or my CD-Rom drive is broken. I'm not keen on the hardware explanation because I've never had any problem installing any app or OS, including other Linux distros. It would be a bit too much of a coincidence for it to start screwing up just in time to save Red Hat's reputation.
But today I returned to my retailer and exchanged the Red Hat package for a replacement. And lo and behold, the new install CD started without trouble. Immediately encouraged, I anticipated a sweet time getting 7.2 running, but unfortunately that was not to be.
The new CD boots properly, as I said, but I'm still unable to finish an installation. Only once did I get the crashdump prompt, but when I clicked on the 'save to floppy' button, the system crashed again.
I've tried partitioning/formatting with Disk Druid, by using the auto partition feature, and by using both DOS fdisk and Linux fdisk to delete all partitions and rebuild from scratch. I even partitioned using L-fdisk according to starting/ending cylinders instead of volume sizes, but even that failed.
I've been setting up the HDD as a single-boot (Linux-only) drive, with ext3 formatting. I haven't played with dual-boot schemes, or ext2 or vfat.
My guess is either the partitioning is failing on my HDD (though I can't imagine why it would since it takes a DOS partition without complaint), or there's an IRQ conflict which I can't solve. The Dell BIOS doesn't give one many CMOS features to play with, and IRQs are handled automatically. That makes me suspicious.
I've now done at least 25 installs with various options, packages and other variables, and I still can't get the installation to finish.
I've tried disabling LBA and DMA on both the CD-ROM drive and the target HDD. I've reserved IRQ 5; I've left it available (all the IRQ tinkering Dell permits). I've disabled Legacy support; I've disabled my serial ports; I've disabled my parallel port; I've toggled plug-and-play OS on and off, power management on and off; I've expanded and shrunk my AGP aperture; I've entered various 'setup' options during the install (LILO/GRUB, KDE/GNOME, workstation/server). I've used the 'check for bad blocks' option numerous times during the format, in spite of the time it takes.
A number of readers figured I must have some cobbled-together cowboy box, but in fact it's a Dell Dimension XPS B733R, less than 2 years old, BIOS version 08A. All hardware is vanilla and at least decent quality. The CD/DVD drive is an NEC DV-5700A; the secondary is a Sony CD-RW CRX140E -- both on IDE. The HDD is a Western Digital 204BA, with ATA-66 controller. The Mobo is an Intel with an 820 (Rambus) chipset. The CPU is an Intel P3-733. Memory is Samsung RDRAM, 382 MB.
The Mouse is a Microsoft PS2 3-button (OK, 2 button and wheel); the keyboard is a Dell (Microsoft) standard 101-key; the video card is a 64 MB Nvidia GeForce DDR; and the monitor is a Dell (Sony) P991.
A pretty conservative, average machine, not unlike quite a few million others.
At this point I have to give up on Red Hat. There are, after all, other news items I need to deal with. But I'll be installing SuSE 7.3 and Mandrake 8.1 as soon as I receive them, and I'll report promptly.
I'd like to thank all the readers who took the time to offer encouragement, insight and tips. I haven't got time to answer everyone, but I'm truly grateful for all the interest and effort.
And when I find that XP killer I'm looking for, you'll be the first to know. ®