Gentoo Linux Review

Here’s my (not so) short review of Gentoo Linux:

I installed Gentoo Linux about 2 weeks ago from the 2006.1 minimal install CD (about a week before 2007.0 came out). The install was different from what i was used to and what all of you are probably used to as you boot a liveCD and all it does is drop you at a commandline, no Gui/X, no ncurses (command-line GUI thing), just straight commandline, you have to use fdisk and the mk2fs commands to partition and format your drive. Then you download a “Stage3 Tarball” which is basically the base system of your new installation (the ls, cd, su, etc commands and other essential stuff) which is precompiled (i’ll explain why this makes a difference in a bit), you then download and install the Portage tree which gives you your package management (sorta like apt in Debian/Ubuntu)> Then you chroot into your installation which basically moves you from the livecd to your installation. Then you emerge (gentoo’s pacakge manager) your kernel and compile it. depending on how you choose to do this it could be very easy or very complicated. The first time i compiled my kernel by manually selecting my options, i had most things working…but i didn’t have sound, so when there was a kernel update, i had gentoo auto-config my kernel. Then you run a few miscellaneous commands to setup users, cflags, use flags, timezones, systemlog, grub (bootloader), a cron maintainer, and that’s about it. With that, you’ve pretty much got a full Gentoo install, but all you have is commandline…If you want gnome or KDE, you can emerge them, and i would recommend you do, they however WILL take a long time to install. Probably between 5-10 hours depending on the speed of your system.
Now, you’re probably wondering: “i run Ubuntu/Debian/insert-other-distro-here, why should i spend all this time and work to install Gentoo”
Well…There are a few answers to this question:
1. Because in using/installing Gentoo you learn A LOT about Linux.
2. Gentoo is VERY, VERY fast, for me, i get to a login screen about 10-20 seconds after boot (after selecting Gentoo in grub), Gnome opens instantly after i enter my password to login and firefox opens instantly when i click on it…Debian/Ubuntu are not even close to that fast.
3. Because Gentoo is very customizable because of the USE flags, for example, if you’re installing VLC and there’s a feature you don’t want or need, you can simply tell it to leave that feature out to keep VLC small and fast. If you want the feature in the future, you can always add it as a USE flag later and reinstall VLC.
4. Gentoo compiles EVERYTHING from scratch. This is good because Ubuntu packages might be built on a dual 3GhZ Xeon server, but they’re not optimized for your 1.4GhZ Pentium M. This is where Gentoo is great. It compiles everything for your hardware which makes it rather custom and damn good in my opinion.
5. Gentoo has BLEEDING EDGE packages. Yesterday Wine 0.9.37 came out…that same day, it was in portage (gentoo’s packagemanager). Very few other distros are nearly that fast about pushing packages out.
6. The community is great and really helpful on the forums, irc, etc.
7. The newest or unstable packages are what’s called masked so you really can’t bork your system with a bad package.
Now, that’s almost all the good stuff about Gentoo, there are 1 or 2 bad things though:
1. Packages take a long time to install. Wine may take 30 seconds to 5 minutes to install on Ubuntu…it could take up to 1-2 hours on Gentoo.
2. There is a handbook to help you install, but you do need to have at least semi-decent knowledge of Linux command-line.
3. Because of bleeding-edge packages (see #5 above), sometimes things break and you have to either know how to fix them or know where/how to get help when you may not have a GUI or something of the like.

I hope you guys enjoy this REALLY long review/rant of sorts. Please comment and tell me if you liked it, if i should do more reviews of Linux distros i’ve run, if i should not quit my day job, etc. Also, if you’d like some help/more information about Gentoo because you want to try it for yourself, please feel free to ask.


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