I’ll freely admit that it has been a long time since I’ve used a pure version of Gentoo. By a long time, I mean I used my friend’s broadband to download the "stage 1" Gentoo V1.0 installer. Some five years later, I’m quite excited to revisit an old flame.
Saying a lot has happened since the 1.0 release would make for the largest understatement on this site. Dozens of distributions are reaching the stage where they all equal Windows for out-the-box simplicity and power with many outstripping Windows by some distance.
Gentoo’s core development has recently been having some issues with an exodus of developers last summer and subsequent power struggles… Indeed, some of the issues that caused the problems back then sprung up again before the 2007.0 release and caused further delays.
But onto business. I played with the LiveDVD and in hindsight, if you’re considering testing Gentoo 2007.0, I would not recommend this at all — just too much stuff you’ll never use — so I’d get the LiveCD instead.
Gentoo is beautiful — there’s no doubt about that. Once you get past the slightly ugly boot command line, that is:
I know I’m starting to sound a little funny in the head but there’s something just so crisp about the text output of the boot process:
Followed by one of the sexiest loading screens I’ve ever seen:
If you’re considering testing this in VMWare, I should stress that I had no luck getting the networking working. Everything worked on my dedicated testing machine though. Just a heads up.
Needless to say with a LiveDVD, it was packed with a lot of applications. This is both a blessing and a curse for the average Linux user and more a curse to the novice. While there’s a lot of choice I think it’s one of these scenarios where you just have too much choice.
There’s certainly far too much to list the whole lot but faces that stood out where Opera, blender, amarok, dvd::rip (which I adore). I didn’t do a full test of the media codecs installed because but I did get gxine playing an xvid file and Audacious playing an MP3.
I would have got some captures from the xvid playing but every time I tried X dropped out instantly. I did try on both systems and got the same thing so there might be a little bug around there.
Conversely, the array of window managers and environments is great including: GNOME, KDE, Xfce, AfterStep, FluxBox, WindowMaker and Enlightenment. If you want to play around with preconfigured desktops, this might be your ticket.
As a live environment things could be better configured. When logging in, you can let it auto-login or switch things around but then you don’t know the password. This means you have to either look it up or change it via the terminal — "sudo passwd" — clearly unobvious to novices.
Something else I noticed when in KDE is there are almost twice the number of applications and games available. It would have been a nice touch to have everything available from everywhere in the same measures.
As other people have commented before, one of the main points about Gentoo is that it isn’t easy all the time and it should force you up a very steep learning curve to get into the whole Linux "thing" — so the installer seems like a bit of a contradiction.
Automatic-partitioning is blissfully unaware of other operating systems and will, by default, nuke your entire hard disk. Hardly something you want a novice to play with.
the installer is pretty buggy and feature poor
Not only that but the installer is pretty buggy and feature poor. On both my testing platforms — using default install settings — the installer hung after copying the installation files and was impossible to install. This was repeatable and not a one-off issue. I had to revert to the text-based installer to get anywhere.
So all-in-all, I really fail to see the point of it in this condition. Sure, if it gets another overhaul and pulls itself up to Ubuntu standards it could be useful but until then it’s a lame duck.
Gentoo is noticeably faster than Ubuntu
On the my dedicated testing machine where I did get the text-based installer to work, I noticed that Gentoo is noticeably faster than Ubuntu. This could be down to Ubuntu loading more stuff up because I’ve configured it more but it could also be down to Portage’s custom architecture compiling which I dabbled with a bit.
Then again, it could be argued that the time I spent getting it all working and configured was far greater than it took with Ubuntu. Days vs minutes seems a fair comparison for somebody who isn’t strongly versed in the Gentoo methodology.
Certainly, if you’re setting up dedicated high-performance workstations, Gentoo should be on your watch-list.
While Gentoo has kept up graphically with its sexy interface, it’s been left several miles behind in terms of usability as the elite for Linux enthusiasts. The problem is that it’s missing so much genuinely helpful GUI configuration, even enthusiasts are going to start considering an easier life.
Portage is an excellent idea and it does work wonderfully but, again, it’s aimed at the terminal user. People scared of typing in commands and whacking return are going to struggle with it.
I think there are three main reasons why you might consider Gentoo for your system:
- You want to look cool — Gentoo still remains one of the most user-intensive setups of all the modern Linux distributions. In a nosebleed (the collective noun) of geeks, Gentoo is a badge saying "I’m 13373r than Ubuntu userz"
- You need every drip of performance — while I did say there was a noticeable performance gain, I’d need to run more tests before I could conclusively say that Portage was what helped get that boost. Using any stripped down distribution might give you similar benefits.
- You want to learn Linux. Like it or not, immersing yourself in something like Gentoo will quickly force you to get to grips with Linux. You might end up loathing it for a month or two but within a week of using it you’ll know more than an Ubuntu user does in their first year.
If you’ve been using Linux for a while and you’re really happy with partitioning things up, I would definitely recommend trying Gentoo at least one time in your life. It’s certainly an experience — one that gets more terrifying the less you know. If you’re only just about happy with Ubuntu, stay well back.
It’s hard to be positive about Gentoo in terms how how useful it is compared to other distributions; it just lacks too many things that I take for granted. To consider recommending it to novice users, it has to come a very long way indeed but if you’re a Gentoo fan though or a terminal terminal user, you’ll probably enjoy the updates and get on very well with 2007.0.
About Oli: I’m a Django and Python programmer, occasional designer, Ubuntu member, Ask Ubuntu moderator and technical blogger. I occasionally like to rant about subjects I should probably learn more about but I usually mean well.