well, i took ice9's advice about installing debian using sidux and i must say i haven't regretted it. thanks ice9! you haven't steered me wrong yet!
sidux is a bootable live cd, very similar to knoppix, but it has an icon on the desktop which starts a very nice, easy to use graphical installer for debian. it's an easier installer to use than most because it doesn't go into all the minutiae of package selection etc (which is actually a feature i used to value in the mandrake installer). You can just go through the options very quickly and then commit. Of course the live CD is perfectly functional itself and could be used without installing.
I think i may have had to use a knoppix cd to do my partitioning though, not sure if partitioning can be done easily with the sidux cd or not or what the reason was that i used knoppix (well, qparted) for that. i do remember i tried a couple of different disks to partition which didn't manage to do the partitioning the way i wanted it done.
Anyway, once you reboot into the newly installed sidux you can then go ahead and use apt to install whatever you need, everything pretty much works out of the box. This is on an IBM NetVista from a couple of years ago, a Lenovo/IBM NetVista 8305-42G. YMMV of course.
The only thing i'm not too keen on is the new debian forks of firefox and mozilla (iceweasel and iceape). The story i read on wikipedia is that this is purely a copyright thing, with a change in name and graphics to honour mozilla's EULA, but i have had various niggly issues with these browsers, shockwave flash not working sometimes and all that, so i have downloaded binaries of seamonkey and firefox from mozilla.org and .com to see if they will be any better. Of course iceweasel identifies itself as firefox, so you can't actually run them at the same time as though they were separate programs. As such, i'm uninstalling iceape and iceweasel to avoid any issues (even though i'm putting the vanilla mozilla/firefox in /opt, and i've sorted out all the symlinks, so theoretically i wouldn't have expected any problems). It's a bit of a shame that you can't apparently get debs of the vanilla moz/firefox binaries using apt though, if you put apt-get install seamonkey firefox then it will just install iceape and iceweasel instead. Anyway......
I now have a working and running debian system, and i don't expect to change it for anything else (like mandriva, slack and fedora, my usuals, both with too many issues that i can't figure out how to fix/configure). So far any small issues i've had with this debian system i have been able to easily sort out, and there haven't been many. For years i've tried to install debian and never been able to get it into a state where i would comfortably use it (rather than "play around" with it, something that many people think the linux OS is for!) but this is up to that standard from the word "go"!. I must say that ubuntu and xandros both failed me where sidux has succeeded. Very good.
Now, i have one unrelated question, but rather than start a new thread for something this small, i'll just ask it here. I want to alias su to sux, so that sux will always be invoked when su is. basically, i want root to be able to use X when logged in using su. I tried to do this by putting
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