The Linux Project: Gentoo revisited.
A correction, apology, and trip into Geek Valhalla
By Pappy McFae
Gentoo Linux Artwork
Once upon a time, I wrote a series of articles about the various Linux distributions that exist on the Internet. At that time, I had tried, and condemned a distribution known as Gentoo. I gave it very low marks for just about everything I used as a means of rating Linus distros. And while Gentoo remains perhaps the most difficult operating system I have ever installed on a computer, once it gets installed, it works quite nicely.
As I said in the previous article, there are various states in which computer software can exist: source code, and executable files. Source code is the written in "English" stuff; the code used to create functional executable files. With most operating systems, what you get on the install disk is finished, pre-compiled executable files. They are copied to your hard disk, and are functional from that point forward.
Before source code can be used to make the computer do what you want, it has to be compiled. Compiling is a translation process. The final result of compilation is generally an executable file. It is the executable file that does what the program is designed to do.
While there is an executable component to the Gentoo install disk, that is only there to put the source code onto your system, and compile it thereafter. Compilation is a time consuming process. It logically follows that installing Gentoo takes a long time, in some cases, a very long time. This is as true at this point in reality as it was when I first condemned Gentoo.
However, after working with various Linux distros, I have come to a point where I realize that Linux is as much about the community behind it as it is about the actual distro itself. Most Windows users could care less about something as intangible as a community. Since just about everyone and their brother has setup Windows on their system, there is no need for community. One need only go to microsoft.com and read the voluminous information available to fix whatever problem might be happening. Who needs a community when you have access to everything you want to know about Windows from Microsoft's website? No one, course.
Linux, on the other hand, lends itself to communities that build up around the distro in question. Firstly, for the most part, Linux is the operating system for people who know a bit more about their computers than the average Windows user. It has been this way since Linus Torvalds came up with the Linux kernel. As it was when the Altair computer first came out, communities of like-minded geeks get together to figure out how to make their computers work better. Linux is the glue that holds the communities together.
Like most communities, some people are cool, some are a**holes. It is the community factor, and the a**hole-iness of certain people in the community for Slackware that drove me to investigate the Gentoo community.
As everyone knows who reads my stuff, I am nothing if not a rebel. I don't do things by the book and I never have. I find life infinitely more interesting when I have a challenge. And believe me, setting up Gentoo is a challenge. There are many reasons for this.
First and foremost, Gentoo is all about the truly geeky among us. Whereas certain distros, such as Ubuntu and its relatives are as easy if not easier than Windows to install, and install rather quickly, Gentoo is neither easy, or quick as far as installation is concerned.
It is this fact that has brought me to the brink of setting Gentoo up ten times...on various machines using various methods. And not until install number eleven did I get it to take.
I can't blame Gentoo for my own impatience. It is what it is and I am who I am. There is definitely a difference between unworkable and time consuming.
Gentoo is what it is, and it makes no bones about what it is. It's a high level, as Unix as you'll get outside something like SCO or Sun-OS, Linux distribution with an incredibly steep learning curve. It is not for everyone...especially the impatient, and the person who just pulled his first ever computer out of the box.
The Gentoo community is the place to find people who know computers...inside, outside, upside-down, however you want to look at it. It is clear to me that there are some seriously know their computers like the back of their hands folks that hang out there. A quick looksee at the forums will boggle the mind.
Secondly, while Gentoo does have a LiveCD installer, said CD is very buggy. The DVD version is even buggier, or so rumor has it. I used it to do a manual install, and it worked flawlessly.