The DistRogue

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Review: Gentoo 2006.1

Forgetting my alias for a second (no, this will NOT be biased) Gentoo Linux is somewhat of a legend. Its concept is simple: build an entire distro from source without the user having to do much, and you get a l33t machine, perfectly tuned for the system it was installed on. Well, most of the time, it doesn't quite work that way. Compiling from source has a ton of problems, most of which are solved by Gentoo's high-tech, hyped-up packaging system, Portage. It figures out what a package needs to compile, compiles them, and then compiles it. The whole process takes a long time even to install 1 package, but it usually runs really fast when you actually use it. Now, think about how long it'll take to compile hundreds of programs from scratch, and you get the idea that installing Gentoo isn't for the meek...
The dev team does what they can to make this easier on you. Gentoo installs off a live CD, with a clearly labelled icon on the desktop that says "GTK+ Installer". It pops up a wizard that guides you through the install. There are 4 ways to install Gentoo:

  • Stage 1: download a huge file with the entire system in it, and it needs to be "bootstrapped" for your platform and the kernel has to be compiled.
  • Stage 2: same as Stage 1, except that it's been bootstrapped, which means a larger download.
  • Stage 3: compiled and bootstrapped, but an even bigger download. A good idea, since the kernel can take forever to compile.
  • Dynamic Stage 3: uses packages from the CD instead of a file, which means no download. HIGHLY recommended.
From there on, it's pretty straightforward. It gives you an amazing choice of packages, but keep in mind that the more you choose, the longer it'll take to install. Mine literally took all day, with nothing selected except for XFCE, X11 (which you'll need), Blackbox, XDM, and Firefox. I recommend saving the install info to something in case something else goes wrong.
About 15 to 45 hours later, you'll have a working system- or maybe not. The good news is that the Gentoo forums are friendly and helpful. A guy named "ChickensDon'tFly" helped me through every step of my problem when XDM stopped working.
If your display manager works, the results are amazing. Firefox launched in 2 seconds, which pwns my test system, using Xubuntu 6.06 and clocking in at 6 seconds. But pretty soon, you'll realize that you're missing something. Gentoo installs packages by using the emerge command, followed by the package name. You have to do this as root, so it would be a good idea to emerge "app-admin/sudo" first for adminning, then using visudo. Remove packages using emerge --unmerge.
All in all, Gentoo is definitely something to look at if you're a gamer with a lot of time on your hands. There are also a ton of clones of it that install faster, like Kororaa. If you're a newbie, stay away! You'll freak out when you learn what you have to do just to get it to work. For more info, check out Gentoo's Wikipedia article.
Next stop: Kate OS.

From Mepis 6,
The DistRogue aka DJ Gentoo.


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