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Where do I find the files that run at start up? I mean the files that would be equivalent to DOS autoexec and config.sys. Also where do I find the files that contain the messages and errors that occur during start up, the ones that scroll down the monitor too fast to read?
Is there a document or a "for noobs" thread somewhere that lists this kind of basic info? (for Debian).
/boot is where the kernel (vmilinuz/vmlinux) and intrd are.
However there is no direct analog of autoexec.bat and config.sys. It is more like Windows which has multiple ini files for configuration - you'll find most Linux files in /etc but that itself has multiple subdirectories.
Also depending on your distro and configuration much of what starts up will be in init scripts and/or /etc/inittab. (Mostly the former.) On many distros /etc/init.d either has the init scripts or is a link to the directory that does. Also the scripts here are the base scripts - the scripts that actually run are determined in your run level. Unlike DOS/Windows Linux/UNIX has multiple run levels. The run level files are typically links to the base scripts in direcories like /etc/rc1.d, /etc/rc3.d, /etc/rc4.d ... with the numeral being the run level. 1 = single user. 2 and higher = multiuser.
In Linux there isn't anything that captures everything on boot. Howevever /var/log/messages will show you a lot of what came up during boot (as well as logging things that occur afterwards). Also dmesg will show you recent system level messages so will give you some information about boot after the boot. (Over time dmesg information is overwritten by newer messages so its not perfect for the purpose.)
No - as noted /etc/init.d is the base scripts. It is the run level directories that determine which is run at which run level.
You can open "terminal" from Gnome to get to a command prompt.
/var/log/messages is set read/write for root so yes you would need to be root to read it unless you changed the permissions.
What version of Debian are you running? I'm running Sarge and previously ran Woody and it has /etc/inittab. In fact it is the initdefault line in inittab that tells it which runlevel to use by default.
Look again at the post by jlightner. You have links in the rcX.d directory, where X is the runlevel.
The links are prefaced with K for kill, or S for start, followed by a number. They are executed in alphabetical order.