Linked by Dustin Wilson on Sun 16th Mar 2003 23:49 UTC
Gentoo I am not a seasoned Linux user. I am not command line veteran (unless you count DOS way back in the day). In fact, let's face it, I am a noob (newbie, nooblar, n00b, etc). For awhile I have been looking at the Gentoo distro hungrily. I have wanted to install it, considered installing it, even downloaded the isos, but I always chickened out before doing it. One look at the installation guide and I would always lose my nerve. However, about two weeks ago I finally got myself together and took the plunge. I popped in my Gentoo 1.4_r2 CD and decided to give it a whirl. I thought there was no way I would really ever succeed, but the results were surprising.
Order by: Score:
As a long time Gentoo user
by Rayiner Hashem on Mon 17th Mar 2003 00:22 UTC

I found the review very realistic. The Gentoo install is tedious more than difficult. Much of what is involved is simply reading the documentation and typing things from the documentation into the terminal. However, it does require some knowledge of the system (for example, how partitions are named) and some very basic knowledge of a few system files (fstab, resolv.conf, etc). The Gentoo devs have been taking steps to make this installation process easier. For example, networking is now automatically configured, which is a feature Windows didn't have until XP. With even a half decent GUI, the Gentoo installation should get loads easier.

The package management is phenomenal. If you want to waste lots of time, you can download KPortage, which allows you to go through a nice tree-view and select packages you want to install. Otherwise, you spend 10 seconds, and type "emerge <package-name>" into the terminal, and the package will be installed without any futher intervention. This is a very powerful feature: all software is in one place, and very easy to install. The user only has to request that a program be installed, and everything else is done behind the scenes by the package manager. Updating the system is similarly easy. Just do "emerge update". Not even Windows Update offers such a streamlined and easy method of updating the system. Software installation is not hard, and of the major OSs (including OS X and Windows), only Debian-based distros and Gentoo get it right.

The up-to-dateness of Gentoo is also admirable. Think of it as 0-day Linux Warez ;) Sometimes, ebuilds are available before the final source tarballs are.

The Gentoo forums are just amazing. There is an active community posting new ebuilds and quickly answering questions. I have not yet had a problem in Gentoo that a quick trip to the forums could not fix. The developers themselves are also terribly helpful. They answer bug reports quickly, and write some excellent and detailed documentation.

Now, Gentoo is quite thorny for those who don't know Linux. But just like Maya or Photoshop, the best software often does have a significant learning curve. Once you understand it, though, you'll spend much less time maintaining your system than with any other OS out there.

by pc dude on Mon 17th Mar 2003 00:29 UTC

I have gentoo on the other box (Xp 1800, 768mb, 40G HDD, GF3ti200) and its pretty damn fast and sweet. I just have issues with some apps that make gcc crash during compiling. Granted the install routine could use some streamlining but it could still be done and keep the bleeding edge stuff to make it screamin fast. After getting X to work, most everything else was a breeze to set up (except video recording ieeeeeee!). Being a semi-noob, its really a learning experience and teches you a lot of how linux works.

Gentoo is excellent
by blitzoid on Mon 17th Mar 2003 00:31 UTC

I recently installed Gentoo for the first time.

The install was more work than you usually come accross on a linux install, yes, but that's not so bad - after all, it helps you understand the process more.

I was a bit thrown off by the long time to compile KDE and all it's libs, but that's hardly the fault of Gentoo. But once it finished, I had a very polished and very useful system on my hands. I saw a couple out of date packages on the list, but they weren't very popular and I doubt anyone has realized it yet.

Excellent Distro.

Problems with Gentoo
by Elver Loho on Mon 17th Mar 2003 00:40 UTC

Well, I do run it but it's not a distro that doesn't have problems. It has tons of problems and "problems" really, but most of them are easy to solve. One of the most annoying ones is that you sometimes need to clear the LANG variable (by default, it contains "et_EE" here) before emerging anything or it would crash in the middle of a compile. I've come across other bugs as well, I've managed to make my system unbootable several times and botched the portage system beyond repair many many times ;)

One thing that annoys me though, here on Gentoo, Same Gnome has been unable to load any tiles since Gnome 2.1. Just displays parts of the screen there instead. Weird.

A very fair gentoo review
by chuck on Mon 17th Mar 2003 00:40 UTC

I've been using Gentoo for well over a year now and it has made great strides. After having started with RH and moving on to Mandrake I wanted a system that didn't start out fat and bloated with all kinds of apps that I didn't want or even know were installed. That is when I stumbled on Gentoo.

The comment about it being tedious more than hard couldn't be more correct. You set up _everything_ -- but that shouldn't scare you away. The docs are well written and if you read them thoroughly you won't have any problems. And the Gentoo user community is there and willing to help out for anything you might run into. Think of the time spent during the install as an investment in learning linux and what is really happening on your machine under the covers.

I've been a happy Gentoo user for over a year and I'm continually impressed by how it continues to improve and only get easier to use while keeping true to the vision of being a simple, source based distro that gives you a machine with everything you want and nothing you don't.

Not helpful
by Bakari on Mon 17th Mar 2003 00:49 UTC

This review is disappointing. I was hoping a brief detailed review a la Clinton De Young's "The Very Verbose Debian 3.0 Installation Walkthrough." This review isn't helpful for newbies; it doesn't explain the most important processes in installing Gentoo. As Rayiner Hashem stated, "it does require some knowledge of the system." Many newbies hardly know to edit files, especially editing with nano. Partitioning (with cfdisk) is no problem; the difficulty lies in compiling the kernel, editing the locale (timezone), editing lilo/grup and other important files that's necessary to complete Gentoo install. I am intrigued with installing Gentoo; I have tried it twice and made it through a few steps from complete install. However, I got frustrated with the kernel compile and boot loader. I had to abandon it until I get better documentation; the documentation at is written for advanced Linux users, newbies need simplified and detailed documentation. The forum equally doesn't help newbies; nearly all threads contain advanced jargons that doesn't help newbies.

Gentoo will fascinate me as Debian has fascinated me before. I am looking forward to "The Very Verbose Gentoo Installation Walkthrough."

RE: Not helpful
by Eugenia on Mon 17th Mar 2003 00:51 UTC

You misanderstood Bakari. This is not a review for newbies by a pro, but a review from a newbie to a newbie. Therefore it can't be like Clinton's articles, but it is helpful to what it does, explaining what a newbie can expect from the Gentoo experience.

Computer Science Major?
by Anonymous on Mon 17th Mar 2003 00:52 UTC

Am I right to be concerned that a Computer Science Major should be so daunted at this sort of thing? U.S. education does make me giggle sometimes.

When I studied computer science in the UK my very first lesson was to install Solaris unaided on our sparc workstations. I then had to write a html tutorial on a program I found, and chose "vi".

Similar experience
by Quadu on Mon 17th Mar 2003 00:52 UTC I also didn't know anything about installing Gentoo, but I took the plunge a few months ago. It was easier than expected, but I missed some certain Windows programs (like video editing, so I'm back with Microsoft for the time being).

RE: Anonymous @ Solaris Install
by Aesiamun on Mon 17th Mar 2003 01:06 UTC

Solaris is a breeze to install compared to Gentoo. Seriously, you'll NEVER have to worry about most of the shit you deal with Gentoo when installing Solaris. Solaris is written for hardware...Sparc hardware. No drivers will be missing when you buy a Sun Workstation. Rarely will you find 3rd party hardware without Sun's approval.

Remember, computer science is the study of theory...using computers to SOLVE problems. It's not System Administration, Software installation, Support or anything like that. You can walk out of a Comp Sci degree and have never used Windows at some schools.

But remember, Solaris is a breeze to install.

What I think of Gentoo
by Michael on Mon 17th Mar 2003 01:08 UTC

Gentoo has a 'tough' instalation, but it's really not that bad if you're expirencied at linux. As distros go, it's NOT for newbies. But if you know your way around a linux box, you cna give it a try. It's one of the best distros out there. It's my 'desktop' distro. It's what I use when I need a highly optomized (or just highly customisable) distro. When I want something easy or to run on a low computer (where compiling Gentoo would take weeks instead of a day) I use Debian. They're both great, and both have good package systems. Gentoo's "ebuild" system is great.

Unguided Installation?
by Nathan O. on Mon 17th Mar 2003 01:18 UTC

I'm not sure how much it applies to Gentoo, but there are a lot of distros I've almost tried where the installation is unguided, at the very least for the most part. It's a "feature" that makes for awesome flexability, but aweful usability. Who wants to do anything non-linear in an installation? If you want a bootable rescue CD, those are available. Just as a sort of principle, I don't bother with things in computers that don't have nice UI features that would be cakewalk to implement.

Not to say I don't drool at having the time for Gentoo ;)

Very good job..
by Super Bobby on Mon 17th Mar 2003 01:28 UTC

Great article Dustin.

Maybe I will take the plunge someday too.

I really will give it some study!!

Solaris on par
by Anonymous on Mon 17th Mar 2003 01:39 UTC

I remember the Solaris install being on par with the first real versions of Slackware Linux in installing (and also remember, this was a good number of years ago so it may have gotten easier over time).

Anyway, I am not having a go with the guy personally, he is obviously getting dug into stuff anyhow which will help his theoretical understanding no end.

My views on Gentoo
by Iconoclast on Mon 17th Mar 2003 01:45 UTC

I think Gentoo is a great system. It has its problems, but I don't think they ruin the experience in any way. However, there are some thing I don't particularly like.

1) The installation guide is written quite well; at least when compared to the majority of Linux related documentation available. But, I do find several places in the documentation annoying. For example, there are a couple of places where you are told to type a command, and then AFTER you have typed it, you see a section saying you should have done something prior to typing that command. Doh! This is not really an install-stopping issue, but it is annoying.

Also, I think the install process is out of order in at least one place. From a clean install, you can't do an env-update without doing an emerge sync first; however, in the documentation you are told to do an env-update prior to an emerge sync (which of course fails and tells you to do an emerge sync).

For the most part it is great, but the install guide can potentially lead new users into a corner if they are not careful, I think.

2) Time. I know this cannot be helped being a source-based distro, but it takes too long to set up a new system. This is more the fault of my compulsive and impatient nature than a problem with Gentoo though.

Anyway, I really liked this article.

A follow up / side-by-side, w/ goals
by grant on Mon 17th Mar 2003 01:54 UTC

I would be interested to see a followup in a month or so to see how you still like the system. Requirements: emerge rsync && emerge -u world at least once a week.

Gentoo is my desktop distro-of-choice but watching it's popularity soar aggravates the debian-fanboy in me.

A side-by-side comparison from a newb's point-of-view of regular system maintenance and updating would be, imo, more beneficial for the distro maintainers *and* more informative for potential switchers.

I generally don't even read Linux distro-reviews because of their focus on the installation process. The installation's ability to detect one's hardware magically is only a concern when it fails, and only a concern if one doesn't know how to get around the failure manually. After it *is* working, it's the remaining features seperating distro y from x that are worth mention.

Initial install complaints(and priases) are by all means valid but a month later, with no one to recommend installation of etc-update, how did you feel about gentoo? In comparison to debian (or any other ditro of choice), who's systems management tools and configuration files are the most straightforward.

disclaimer: Each distro has a target audience. I sympathize with this necessity and put the mentioned distro's to their uses equally. Eterm's on my desktop are equally likely to be emerging, apt-getting, or up2dating.

Good job
by jedthehumanoid on Mon 17th Mar 2003 01:55 UTC

I just have to commend you for an excellent review, well written and right on target about gentoo. I have been using gentoo for about 8 months or so now, and i'm stuck. I had used like all the major distros before gentoo but were never quite satisfied, always looking for another to try, but this time it's real love ;)

I recently installed redhat 8.0 for my father on his request, because he is interested in computers but have never used linux before. It works for him to get the feeling about what linux is about. The install is great - straightforward and easy, but when set up i felt crippled with it. You get a whole other level of control over your system with gentoo, and Portage is just pure sweetness when it comes to package management.

Everyone who wants to get to know their penguin should try gentoo. ;)

I plan to replace my existing RedHat 8 partition with a sourced based distro. How does Gentoo compare with other source based distros? Specifically, Sourcemage. I had an LFS system running at a time (around LFS 3-4 days, when the site was up) so I am not worried about how "hard" it is to set up. I am just curious about the "up to dateness" and diversity in available sources.

re: Bakari
by dwilson on Mon 17th Mar 2003 02:45 UTC

This review isn't helpful for newbies; it doesn't explain the most important processes in installing Gentoo.

Sorry if my review isn't what you were hoping for. However, I think the Gentoo docs do a good enough job of explaining what needs to be done. Gentoo's excellent documentation and forums are the ONLY way I got through the install. I think pretty much anyone could manage if they were willing to put forth the effort and were not afraid to ask questions.

Well, to answer your question, I will ask another question. How many times do you hear people talk about Gentoo, and then how many times do you hear people talk about Sourcemage, LFS, etc? I know Gentoo users are insanely fanatical (I'm one of them), but it really is well praised overall and the documentation is fairly complete. Give it a whirl...

RE: Computer Science Major?
by Patrick on Mon 17th Mar 2003 02:48 UTC

I don't think you should be concerned. I am a Computer Science major at the University of Minnesota. From the first CSCI class, we have been expected to know UNIX. No excuses. There are one-hour remedial workshops in case students need to get up to speed, but otherwise all of our classes and assignments assume a working knowledge of UNIX.

That's not to say there aren't students who don't take it upon themselves to become educated on UNIX and then muddle through their classes, but it's their grade. I'm astounded at the number of simple UNIX-related questions I answer for my classmates who are supposedly intelligent about computers.

So, it's not the school that's failing to teach UNIX, it's some students failing to teach themselves, and paying the price with their grade. I respect this particular student for taking the initiative. He'll need the experience in future classes.

re: Iconoclast
by dwilson on Mon 17th Mar 2003 02:50 UTC

For example, there are a couple of places where you are told to type a command, and then AFTER you have typed it, you see a section saying you should have done something prior to typing that command. Doh! This is not really an install-stopping issue, but it is annoying.

I know what you mean there. Of course it didn't help that I made my own stupid mistakes while installing. Another thing they should do with the docs is make them more printable. It tends to cut off the ends of the page when you print it (I've heard this complaint from several others as well).

Anyway, I really liked this article.
Good! Thanks.

Re: As a long time Gentoo user (way off topic)
by rajan r on Mon 17th Mar 2003 02:51 UTC

Software installation is not hard, and of the major OSs (including OS X and Windows), only Debian-based distros and Gentoo get it right.


Besides, Rayiner, having used Maya for some few odd days in addition to 3dsmax, trust me, Maya is not the hardest :-). In fact, it is relatively easy, unless you are illiterate. Photoshop on the other hand is a wee bit more confusing than Paint Shop Pro, but certainly not the hardest and confusing - Gimp takes that spot. I took relatively hours to learn it, probably less if I started off with the latest version of Photoshop *Elements*.


Speaking on ease of use...
by rajan r on Mon 17th Mar 2003 02:54 UTC

Is there any distributions (or would be distributions) creating Libranet for Gentoo? I'm just wonder, cause there is a whole Slackware-kind-of-a-niche out there :-)

re: Computer Science Major
by dwilson on Mon 17th Mar 2003 02:58 UTC

Am I right to be concerned that a Computer Science Major should be so daunted at this sort of thing? U.S. education does make me giggle sometimes.

I don't know whether this is supposed to be an insult to me personally or to my University or what?

Anyways, my curriculum is mainly focused on programming and multimedia. I was actually majoring in Computer Engineering until last semester. At that point I was doing mostly work with circuitry with some coding. I decided that I liked to code and hate circuits.

I also decided I didn't want to work in the tech industry, but I did want a tech degree. Right now I am doing computer science with hopes of going to law school after I graduate, which will hopefully happen in two years.

As someone previously pointed out, computer science and system administration are two completely different things. Sure administration takes programming skills and knowledge of popular algorithms helps, but the skill sets are not identical.

Disk usage...
by Debian User on Mon 17th Mar 2003 03:06 UTC

I gave gentoo 1.4.rc1 a whirl on my 2 GB partition, however after installing X, fluxbox, phoenix, gaim, and a few other shell apps such as mpg123, aumix, etc. I found the disk usage to be slightly over 1.2GB! I suppose that's due to the devel. libs stored, but that's truly outrageous... Debian is fine;It only takes an hour to get X and GNOME working....

Just tried it this weekend.
by Anonymous on Mon 17th Mar 2003 03:18 UTC

Screwed it up. I'm not fishing for a resolution here I'll try the forums. The installation is so long I got lazy through the "make menuconfig" or the "lilo.conf". Now I get a kernel panic. Sign.

Re: Disk Usage and Compile Times
by Trip on Mon 17th Mar 2003 03:21 UTC

There are many threads on the gentoo forums about freeing up space, mainly from downloaded source pruning/deleting in /usr/portage/distfiles.

Also the 1.4final release will have precompiled binaries for X, KDE and Gnome. These, with a stage3 install, and you could have a working Gentoo install up and running in an hour.

People always complain about the difficult install procedures. They really are not. I installed Gentoo in only my second week of using linux after getting fed up with trying to install some RPMs in Mandrake(This was about a year ago). The somewhat more technical install but simple package management saves infinite headaches over RPM based distros.

Also, many people like to have up-to-date software. RPM based distros are _hard_ to update. The easiest upgrade path would probably to wipe your drive then install the latest version and re-setup everything to your liking. For some distros this could be up to twice a year. For gentoo, you install only once. The Gentoo version is for the install procedure only. A simple "emerge sync" and "emerge world --update" is all that is needed to bring your install up to the latest packages available.

Copying FreeBSD
by BP on Mon 17th Mar 2003 03:40 UTC

I think I've mentionned this like 100 times, and hey, it doesn't hurt to mention it again...

They got the Ports thing down...
Packages would be a real nice addition...

by ThanatosNL on Mon 17th Mar 2003 03:41 UTC

>> I know Gentoo users are insanely fanatical (I'm one of them), but it really is well praised overall and the documentation is fairly complete. Give it a whirl...

Yes...I'm getting sick of Gentoo plugs getting thrown around all over the web where inappropriate.

Of course, that's totally on-topic here ;)

I've used LFS for a long time, and wonder what the advantages of Gentoo are over a binary-only system like debian. You still get the package dependency resolving, and the advantages from source compiling (I would think) get lost if you just type 'emerge foo' and get on with it. Optimizations are overrated (-O3 is also more harm than good), and I compile from source to get more control. Take a package like freeciv, that can use xaw, gtk, or sdl to render images and provide a user interface. With bins, you're locked into your choice of however the package maintaner has built it.

Building from source seems to be a way for a lot of users to feel more 'l337,' but optimizations rarely improve things *that* much.

Still, Gentoo has a fine devel team, and hats of to them (even if the users can resemble cheerleaders at times)!

re: ThanatosNL
by dwilson on Mon 17th Mar 2003 03:56 UTC

Building from source seems to be a way for a lot of users to feel more 'l337,' but optimizations rarely improve things *that* much.

Hmm, I am not sure where, but I remember reading an informal testing where someone measured compile times of a program with a downloaded binary compiler and a compiler he compiled on his own with optimizations.

As I recall the results clearly showed an advantage to the optimized compiler. Now don't take this as fact, I may just be dreaming. I will google for this a bit and link if I find.

I do hear that load times can be slower with -O3. If I recall you get better load times with -Os (I think that is right). Which makes the resulting binary as slim as possible (quicker to be loaded into memory).

Gentoo is starting to annoyme
by slackware on Mon 17th Mar 2003 04:05 UTC

I'm starting to think using Gentoo was a mistake. Emerge wants to install alot by default as Release Canadidates, betas and alphas when there are Stable releases abound for a given package.

I'm using it right now and it is much faster than most of the other distros. I've spent about 3 hours installing it total.

I don't know where the 'l337' reference comes from. I'm using Gentoo as a matter of practicality right now. Slack 8.1 was getting behind and I had to compile a lot of apps since they weren't up to date. Gentoos saved me some time in the end in that regard.

Gentoo is a nice distro. The documenation provided online is really well done. It needs a lot of polishing up.I'm very much considering switching back to Slackware once 9.0 comes out as its better tested.

Learning about linux w/ Gentoo
by Stug on Mon 17th Mar 2003 04:54 UTC

I've been using linux infrequently for a little over half a year. I can compile and edit config files (sort of), but I still run into problems all over the place. The author of the article mentioned he felt he'd learned a lot by installing Gentoo. How much does it really teach a person?

re: dwilson
by grayrest on Mon 17th Mar 2003 04:58 UTC

What did your CmpE involve? Here (gatech) it's basically EE with some coding thrown in.

On Topic (to everyone else): I also use gentoo, it started because I wanted to learn more about Linux. I don't use it on my desktop (win2k) I run it on my servers and it's great for that (celeron 400 w/64 mb RAM runs with 20k free physical mem and no swapping when it's working) because you don't need a gui.

Anyway if you want to learn about Linux, Gentoo is excellent. I was pleased with myself that when grub got corrupted on my laptop last week, I was able to use a grub bootdisk to restore the sytem while keeping everything else intact. I've had mixed experiences installing, out of seven installations five worked perfectly and I never could get the other two working (though that was eight months ago). It was mentioned earlier, but rsync and update weekly. Every problem I've had with the distro has stemmed from not updating regularly.

Gentoo and video
by DaveC on Mon 17th Mar 2003 05:02 UTC

I am interested in installing Gentoo, but one of the things I have enjoyed about Mandrake, for instance, is the easy availability of rpms for video playing and some other multimedia. Watching Quicktime videos, DVDs, using cd recording software has been much easier than with other distros, and I'm wondering if Gentoo's emerge feature has good access to these sort of things--codec libraries, Real Player, etc.? Or does this require an enormous investment of time in addition to the install?

Gentoo Weekly Newsletter
by grayrest on Mon 17th Mar 2003 05:07 UTC

One more thing: The weekly newsletter for gentoo is really cool, it gives a good overview of what's happening if you're not reading the forums and comes with tips and tricks.

re: grayrest
by dwilson on Mon 17th Mar 2003 05:16 UTC

Here (gatech) it's basically EE with some coding thrown in.

That is right on the money. At first I kind of enjoyed the ee stuff. I mean, I liked knowing it, and even had some fun with it, but when I thought about doing it the rest of my life I knew I was on the wrong course. I only took CompE because I looked a list comparing average salaries for graduates. CompE was higher than Computer Science majors so I chose it. At the time, I didn't really know what he difference was.

re: Davec (Gentoo and Video)
by dwilson on Mon 17th Mar 2003 06:08 UTC

Well, ogle, xine, and mplayer are all in the portage tree. I had no trouble setting up ogle to watch dvds, but other people may have different issues, of course. Xine seems to play all of my media files fine, and I hear that the mplayer browser plug-in (I haven't tried it) is impeccable.

I guess if I had to comment on it I would say that the set up for video is easy so long as you know which programs to emerge (which I've just told you).

by Karl on Mon 17th Mar 2003 06:32 UTC

People, Gentoo is the easiest thing out there to use once you get it installed. emerge cinelerra for all you video editing freaks! It's a lot smoother than Adobe Premiere in my opinion, but then again, I like the GIMP better than photoshop. Quite frankly, this is an easy distro to use, but you need to use the forums in addition to just messing around with it from time to time if you want the most out of it. And for those of you who have said you've had problems with Gentoo, you might want to go to the forums to find your fix. My Same Gnome has consistently showed tiles and I went from gnome 2.0 to 2.2 through all the development releases. Granted, some packages fail to compile from time to time, but if that is the case, it's usually fixed quickly. So simply emerge sync and go at it again....of course, searching the forums first. I truly love this distro and will say that this is what Linux is supposed to be, what it's all about, and this type of attitude will certainly help spur the ever-depressed tech market. Gentoo is truly about innovation!

8 months with Gentoo.
by Quag7 on Mon 17th Mar 2003 07:06 UTC

The first distribution I installed was Mandrake 8.1, and that was in November of 2001. I grew increasingly frustrated with RPMs and URPMI, while solving some of the problems, didn't solve enough to make me happy. I had read about Gentoo quite a bit online, especially the ravings of its fanatical, dogmatic advocates.

As a Mandrake user I was somewhat spooked by the reputation Gentoo had for being difficult and "not for beginners." When I hosed my Mandrake system (I forget how), I decided to give it a try.

The install documentation was long and daunting, but as advised, I printed it out. I then began the install, and did it from Stage 1. I wanted to experience the whole horrific experience of installing from the ground up.

I would disagree that, at least for the first time, the install is tedious. Rather, it is manual. See, for me it was interesting to go through this process step by step, creating partitions, installing such basic things you don't normally think much about like the system logger, boot manager, etc. One thing this did was give me a far more detailed conception about how my system was built - how things started as services, what was there, what services depended on (For example, I learned that NFS needs the Portmapper installed).

With Mandrake as my first distribution, everything was automatic but I had to dig down from the top to understand what was happening underneath. Gentoo takes the opposite approach, you start with nothing and build up from the foundation. This takes longer but once you've done it, Linux is no longer a black box. In the long run - and this is a somewhat controversial opinion I know - I would say that Mandrake is probably not at all a bad idea for a *first* distribution for total newbies *who are serious* about Linux and not just trying it as a lark. It will take longer. Possibly be more frustrating. But in the end the new user will have more of an idea where and how to troubleshoot problems. I'd like to see a second version of the install guide which has much more supplemental "why are we doing this step, and why now?" information. For example, the whole initial chrooted environment that you work in -- that whole concept is a little confusing when you're a beginner. I'd like to see that explained and fleshed out better.

You have no choice but to compile your own kernel. Now for months I assumed, probably through things I've read, that this was a complicated process. You can run into problems compiling your own kernel, but the actual process of doing it, troubleshooting it, making it bootable, is far easier than I ever suspected. Most Gentoo users will recompile kernels on a lark without even thinking about it, should they add a piece of hardware or something. All of the fear that arises through obscurity or ignorance evaporates once you realize that this stuff needs to be understood, but in fact *can* be understood, and by most people too. I really think the whole, "This isn't for newbies" sentiment is overstated. It isn't for people with only a casual or passing interest in Linux, or for people who just want to "fiddle around" with Linux for an hour a week. But if you're serious about switching to Linux and willing to spend a little time to learn about it, I think it's great.

Now, installation does take a lot of time and this seems to turn people off. From my perspective, you do this once, and you're done. While Gentoo takes the longest time to install , it is one of the easiest distributions to maintain, along with Debian (and incidentally the majority of that time is non-interactive; it's not as if you're sitting in front of your computer for 12 hours in a row. Most of that time is the computer noninteractively downloading and compiling packages while you sleep, or whatever).

This is simply not an annoyance or concern for me. It's something I knew I was getting into with Gentoo, and I don't mind it. People who promiscuously install several packages every day of their life might be put off by waiting a little time for a package to compile, but I think for most users it's not a big deal. In the first 2 or 3 weeks of having Gentoo running, you'll be doing a lot of this downloading and compiling. Be ready for it.

Anyway, after 8 months, I've lost interest in other distributions. Gentoo is sort of the OS distribution I've been waiting for most of my life. I've become one of those fanatical advocates I mentioned in the beginning of all of this. I've convinced several people to install Gentoo and they've all been seriously impressed with it. Several people have, like me, come from Mandrake, which was their first distribution.

I'd say if you're impatient with compiling software or doing the manual install, then that's a fair enough reason to avoid Gentoo but I don't think fear or being intimidated by it is really a good reason. It's really not hard; just be ready to learn something. The instructions are clearly written and easy to follow, though as mentioned, a few minor adjustments to them would be appropriate. If you're running Mandrake now, and have a few months experience with that and know the basics of the command line, you're probably ready. Just set some time aside, and be patient.

Don't be surprised if the first install you do strikes you as a little complicated. Once you've done it once, doing it again is usually a cinch unless you run into some weird problem (which happens, as it does, with all distros, though thankfully not to me yet). I've installed it several times now on several computers and can almost do it without the manual. It gets very easy the second time around.

Since I've installed Gentoo on two of my machines - including my FTP/SSH/WWW server -- which had 154 days uptime before a power outage killed it, a personal record so far, I've tried Debian.

Debian folks should not get annoyed at all about Gentoo's popularity. Debian is undoubtedly, even though I've only had it running for a few weeks, my second choice. In fact, barely so; both distributions are kind of on par for me. They each take a different approach (one binary, one source), but with a very similar outcome. Practically speaking, apt-get and portage are peers - at least to me, both are as simple to use, and provide most of the same benefits. For those who are on one of the distros like Mandrake or Red Hat looking for a change, if you're not into Gentoo, definitely try Debian. Far as I'm concerned both Debian and Gentoo compliment each other. They shouldn't ever be perceived as competitors. I dig 'em both.

There are some more Gentoo screenshots here for anyone who is interested:

by Nacs on Mon 17th Mar 2003 07:11 UTC

One of the best things about Gentoo that I feel hasn't been emphasized well enough is portage and it's effective package selection.

I was a big fan of Mandrake (this is what got me into Linux for which I'll always be indebted to) for it's ease of use but what irked me about the 'major' distros is that they take a restrictive stance in their support for certain things in their packages.

Redhat: Xmms -- no Mp3 support because of licensing issues. Yet XMMS is virtually useless without it and they know most will end up searching for and installing the addon.
Just about every major distro: Xine/Mplayer -- most of the big name (commercial) distros ship a very restricted form of the package that typically doesn't support a lot of the file formats that the program has the potential to support (like Windows media files).
Just about every major distro: No good font selection forcing the user to download or copy over the TTF files from a Windows installation then go through the process of figuring out how to convert and install those fonts properly.

With Gentoo on the other hand, you download, XFree/KDE/Gnome, you get the MS fonts. You download Xine/Mplayer, you get (pretty much) support for every media file format out there. You emerge XMMS and it comes with MP3, Ogg, CD audio and such.

I know some people here will flame me about licensing/legal problems with doing some things above and I understand and accept the reasons why the commercial distros package software the way they do. But as a desktop user who doesn't feel like googling for information on how to do something that really should have come by default, Gentoo is nice to have.

Oh and for the people who have ethical issues with installing software that have licensing issues, you can always disable support for such things when you install/compile using the Gentoo install tool. For example, if you don't want the mp3 support, you can type USE="-mp3" emerge xmms.

re: Karl, re: dwilson
by Adam on Mon 17th Mar 2003 07:18 UTC

"I truly love this distro and will say that this is what Linux is supposed to be, what it's all about, and this type of attitude will certainly help spur the ever-depressed tech market. Gentoo is truly about innovation!"

Innovation? I don't know if I agree with that. Gentoo is basically a Linux system with a BSD-style ports system. Unique? Absolutely. Cool? Sure. Innovative? Maybe my Microsoft's definition.

And helping to spur the tech market? I don't know if any sysadmin would want a system that takes so much time to administer for either desktop boxes or server boxes. Think of it in terms of justifying how much time you spend on a given task to your boss... unless Gentoo has an uber-cool automatic replication system, I don't think it's going to be used for anything more than a neat way to learn the gritty internals of Linux. I have installed in (back about a year ago), it was neat and I did learn a bit, but I found the time spent keeping it up to date wasn't worth it for me.

"I only took CompE because I looked a list comparing average salaries for graduates. CompE was higher than Computer Science majors so I chose it."

Haha, good call. At UF (my college), they offer comp sci through 3 departments: biz, eng, and liberal arts. Biz was too watered down, I was an engineering major but switched to liberal arts since I wouldn't have to take statics/dynamics and difeq :-)

1 BIG Gentoo problem
by Rob on Mon 17th Mar 2003 07:19 UTC

If you don't have a cable modem, you are done for. I tried the install but failed cos I only have dial-up. Anybody have any thoughts on this?

re: Computer Science Major?
by Captain Chris on Mon 17th Mar 2003 07:29 UTC

U.S. education does make me giggle sometimes.

Yeah, pretty funny stuff. By the way, when we cure cancer and AIDS, we'll let you know. We'll probably be bailing your fannies out of something else by then, though, so you'll know for sure. ;-)

Time to maintain?
by Quag7 on Mon 17th Mar 2003 07:41 UTC

I'm curious what you mean about maintaining it? You run emerge --pretend --update world before you're done for the day. If everything looks good, you go ahead and emerge --update world and go about your business. I've simply not found it to be particularly time consuming for basic server stuff.

great article... exactly how i felt
by Furious-George on Mon 17th Mar 2003 08:07 UTC

im tired of ppl saying gentoo isnt for people who are new to linux. its perfect for people who are new to linux, like the author and my former self, because you will learn more from that one tedious installation than from 10 years of using Mandrake's slow bloated butt. and you'll never have to deal with rpms again.

id agree that its not for people who have no desire to learn linux. Anyone who visits this site is probably competent enough to follow the directions on the install, and they only have to do that once. Like the author said, its not hard, its tedious.

i was a newb when i was lured to gentoo, and i would never even consider mandrake or corel or red hat (which i used before).

as for being fast, it is, compared to mandrake, but i have to tell all you linux gurus for doing what i do on the computer (surfing, music, video, and games) windows just does it better. i would never have said that before, and i still hate windows, but XP Pro is a good operating system.

i switched to gentoo to get some beos back in my life, and while it could not do that, i did even learn to use my beos install better. the fact is no other OS is as snappy and INTUITIVE as beos is/was. i sigh when i think of what might have been, but am elated when i think of what might be.

i use xp instead now, and will continue to do so until Zeta is released, or untill kde, gnome, or enlightenment (E17?) do something spectacular which makes me want to switch. whichever comes first...

Multiple desktops
by Bill on Mon 17th Mar 2003 08:31 UTC

If they could only drop the 4 desktop choises from the panel, one is enough, especially for beginners.

by Brian on Mon 17th Mar 2003 08:31 UTC

It can't be stressed enough. Gentoo install is made simple by incredibly well written documentation. The install guide is hands down one of the best computer how-to's I've read. It provides a good amount of context information and the exact commands you need to type. All of the other distros should take that lesson from gentoo (there are some other things they might learn).

Re: 1 BIG Gentoo Problem
by Stelian Iancu on Mon 17th Mar 2003 08:44 UTC

I also have dial-up at home, and I've installed it at work, then put all the files on a cd, and installed then at home (i mean all the big packages, for the small ones, I use my dial-up line).

re: grant
by dwilson on Mon 17th Mar 2003 08:58 UTC

I would be interested to see a followup in a month or so to see how you still like the system. Requirements: emerge rsync && emerge -u world at least once a week.

Actually it has been about a month at this point (I am not on staff so there is a fair amount of delay from the time I send an article until everyone approves it, etc... I don't know how the system works, I just know that's how it is). I still love the system. I emerge sync and emerge -U world almost every day.

I have had a couple of problems, but those all started when I emerged packages marked unstable. Since I have unmerged those packages (xfree 4.3.0 most specifically) and went back to the stable tree I have been able to fix all of the problems.

Oi oi...
by Nick Slaughter on Mon 17th Mar 2003 10:23 UTC

What I wonder is why people are annoyed by Gentoo users praising their favourite linux distro? I've used alot of other distributions and there is always the disagreement, everyone hail the distribution they currently run, but with Gentoo they get downright annoyed with you.

Is it jealousy? Frustration about not being able to install?

Either way, it's annoying =)

Gentoo rocks. Period.
by Eike Hein on Mon 17th Mar 2003 10:59 UTC

My experience with Gentoo was similar. Being a newbie to Linux, I learned a lot during the installation. And once it's installed, it's very easy to maintain. It's not for every situation - for a server, for example, you'd prefer a more static, supportable solution like a yearly released Red Hat or something - but for me as a home desktop user whos desire it is to replace Windows with a free and open Linux system, it's just wonderful.

Re: Computer Science Major?
by nonamenobody on Mon 17th Mar 2003 11:37 UTC

>> Am I right to be concerned that a Computer Science Major should be so daunted at this sort of thing? U.S. education does make me giggle sometimes.

I know many UK computer science students who would be equally daunted.

>> When I studied computer science in the UK my very first lesson was to install Solaris unaided on our sparc workstations. I then had to write a html tutorial on a program I found, and chose "vi".

Sounds like you went to a very good university. Most UK universities would be loathed to let their undergrads do anything so 'real world'.

This thread does raise an interesting point, how newb can you consider a computer science major. At the very least you would expect them to have much better problem solving skills than your average Joe. The very fact that at some point he will have had to debug code will be an enourmous advantage over your average newb.

1 BIG Gentoo problem
by Niels on Mon 17th Mar 2003 12:54 UTC

Same as Rob : for me, the most serious limitation of Gentoo is the bandwith you need to install anything. Result : no problem to install it at work (T1 line), very tedious to install at home with DSL line. If you only have a 56K modem, simply forget it !...
(or you have to download the packages at work, burn them on a CD, modify the source for install in portage, etc. Got the picture ?...)
This, I think, is a VERY BIG problem, indeed...

by Rayiner Hashem on Mon 17th Mar 2003 13:23 UTC

Yes, broadband is pretty much a requirement for Gentoo. Without it, the whole "world of software at your fingertips" is, well, not at your fingertips. But you shouldn't have to do any modifications to install packages from the CD. Just download the source files and put them in /usr/portage/distfiles, and portage will get them from that directory instead of D/L-ing them.

by mattK on Mon 17th Mar 2003 16:04 UTC

Wow. With a sensical package system, Linux is finally catching up to freebsd!

re: ThanatosNL
by Anonymous on Mon 17th Mar 2003 16:18 UTC

"I do hear that load times can be slower with -O3."

Even runtime performance can be slower. It depends on the actual software and hardware you are using.

What if you buy the CD?
by DaveW on Mon 17th Mar 2003 16:36 UTC

Gentoo sounds so great, it's hard to accept that it won't work with my dialup connection. There are CDs for sale. If I installed with that, would updating by dialup still be next to useless?

by Anonymous on Mon 17th Mar 2003 16:37 UTC

You know, everything that's supposedly unique about gentoo can also be found in the BSD's (FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD), and has existed there for quite some time.
Even better: with the BSD's you have to choice between binary packages, and source-compiled ports, so that you can have the advantage of having total control, and being able to save on compilation time for other things.

One thing I love about gentoo....
by Brian on Mon 17th Mar 2003 17:15 UTC

USE="X gtk -gnome alsa qt -kde ruby dvd avi mpeg quicktime -java radeon"

One little line in the make.conf means no gnome, kde or java cruft on my system!!! I still need qt for my work stuff though ;)

That's the one thing I dislike about the package distros, they expect you to use either kde or gnome for your environment. Some packages are nice enough to allow you to compile their tools without forcing you have to gnome/kde support built in. Kudos to those developers!

Gentoo on the way!
by Jeremiah on Mon 17th Mar 2003 17:19 UTC


Great article, well written, you stuck to the topic and wrote clearly. It made me eager to take the plunge. Fortunately I have Gentoo on the way to my house in the USPS, (along with Debian and BSD,) to go on my new Dell Server (which I bought _without_ and operating system.)

I will rush over to the Gentoo forums and web site and soak up as much as I can before I dive in.

Ya gotta love OSNews, they post meaty, interesting articles with intelligent feedback, despite the UK dude who disses American Univ. Comp Sci programs. I guess he forgets that though they know a lot about computers in the UK, the US is where the Internet was invented, and UNIX, and Microsoft, and GNU, and the EFF, and OSNews, and . . .

Gentoo is not for _everyone_.
by Trev on Mon 17th Mar 2003 17:32 UTC

Someone had said:
"The forum equally doesn't help newbies; nearly all threads contain advanced jargons that doesn't help newbies."

Gentoo is _NOT_ for newbies. If anything, it seems that Gentoo is for people that are sick of distros with two-click GUI installers aimed at new users. Gentoo lets you build a system exactly how you want it. Everyting you want, nothing you don't.

People that are new to linux can run Redhat, Mandrake, Lycoris, Lindows, Xandros, etc. There's tons of "distros for dummies" our there, pick one.


Thanks for the incentive...
by Chris D. on Mon 17th Mar 2003 17:33 UTC

I think that I will now leave work early so that I can install the Gentoo RC2 disc that I downloaded yesterday. I have been meaning to install it for a month, but I never seem to get to it.

by Iconoclast on Mon 17th Mar 2003 17:39 UTC

I think I've mentionned this like 100 times, and hey, it doesn't hurt to mention it again...
They got the Ports thing down...
Packages would be a real nice addition...

I completely agree with you. The availability of both Ports and Packages is one thing I really like about FreeBSD.

BSD and One Big Problem
by Jud on Mon 17th Mar 2003 17:46 UTC

I've happily used FreeBSD with a dialup for over 2 years. Started with a CD, then learned to 'make world' (equivalent to 'emerge --update world,' I'm guessing), which I do on a weekly basis - takes less than an hour total to download source and compile the updated OS. Anything really big, like X or OpenOffice, I just download overnight or while away during the day. So maintaining Gentoo with a dialup shouldn't be a problem.

However, *installing* with dialup has been, the two times I've tried it. The 'automatic' networking depends on an always-on connection. If you search the forums there's good advice, but it still means complications and more stuff to plan ahead and remember. (OK, have to have the source files for ppp, etc., available since I won't be able to download them, but can't have them on the disk I'm formatting; and how do I mount the other medium I have those files on in the middle of the install....)

Would be nice if the Gentoo devs could take pity on us dialup folk and include all that's needed to set up ppp in the Stage 3 tarball and bootable disk .iso, as well as supplement their very good install instructions in that regard.

by trumpetmic on Mon 17th Mar 2003 17:56 UTC

This whole Gentoo thang is obviously great for many reasons. The lengthy installation process is indeed "worth it". I know this isn't a technical BB, but does anyone know of a good/quick way to back the system up and possibly create an image/distribution system for large groups of identical computers? IE... go through the Gentoo installation process, copy the resulting binaries/files to a cd or network and do quick installations based on that?

RE: backup/image
by Luckett on Mon 17th Mar 2003 20:02 UTC
used it on a beowolf cluster and it works great. or you can check the options for tar and bzip2 -9 the complete tar..

actual article
by foo on Mon 17th Mar 2003 20:20 UTC

Hi Dustin,
Linux n00b extraordinaire writing to you now! Ok, well I know a few things, but I still feel relatively helpless when something unexpected happens...I thought your piece was very well written. I didn't really expect much information to help me with the actual install and that wasn't the goal of your article either.

What reading it did do was motivate me to give it a shot. If anything I can lick my wounds after a lost battle and head to the forums to figure out where I went wrong. With the horror stories I hear about Debian and Slackware and the egos that go with them, it just seemed like a side of geek life I didn't want any part in. Gentoo just may be the best thing to happen to my control freak nature with

I've linked to it at the forums to get others interested too. Thanks for a great article.

Gentoo over Dialup
by Tony on Mon 17th Mar 2003 22:15 UTC

jud said, "Would be nice if the Gentoo devs could take pity on us dialup folk and include all that's needed to set up ppp in the Stage 3 tarball and bootable disk .iso, as well as supplement their very good install instructions in that regard."

But there is wvdial and everything needed to dial up on the installation cd as long as your modem is linux friendly.

I installed Gentoo (KDE and Gnome) over a modem. I just made it continue downloading where it left off every night and then when I woke up, I started it compiling. It took less than a week.

The main difference is I have a box that I use to dialup than share that connection over my LAN, it works great, even my mom can get on the internet.

re: foo
by dwilson on Tue 18th Mar 2003 01:14 UTC

Thanks for a great article.

Your welcome. I'm glad you decided to give it a shot. Best of luck to you. Just make sure you have the install guide and a way to access the forums and you should be fine. ;)

Re: Copying FreeBSD
by anonymous on Tue 18th Mar 2003 02:03 UTC

"They got the Ports thing down...
Packages would be a real nice addition..."

Try man pkg_add.

RE: Anon (Re: Copying FreeBSD)
by Adam on Tue 18th Mar 2003 02:43 UTC

I think the person was referring to the fact the FreeBSD has pkg_add and Gentoo doesn't really have something similar.

The switch
by Anonymous on Tue 18th Mar 2003 10:24 UTC

Well, my story is as following:

1996: tried Slackware - console only on a 386
1998: tried Redhat 5.2 - fwm on a intel 133MHz
2000-02: USED Mandrake 6.0-8.2 - playing with gnome, mostly KDE using 233MHz upgraded to 1.4GHz
2002: giving LFS a try, worked somehow - using KDE a lot (also for work now ;)
2003: wanted to see what this Gentoo was (only a week ago actually) and installed on my old 233Mhz ... looked ok, so I installed it on my 1.4GHz.

My point:
I have some knowledge about playing in the console (not much though but enough to not be affraid of it). When Windows got more GUI fixed, I got more GUI fixed and therefore Linux went more and more GUIsch (nice word). In 2002 I made the BIG switch from total GUI to non-GUI installations. Being an old Commodore 64, Amiga freak, I more saw it as fun, and I had the Mandrake CD ready. I never used it again, but I got somehow irritated about reinstalling my whole computer again everytime a new compiler or x came out. Then a week ago, I wanted to build an media-player from my old 233MHz and I heard that Gentoo were an automated source-based GNU/linux (Stallman had birthday yesterday). It ran nicely, and I then erased my 1.4GHz partitions and put in the Gentoo rc4 CD in. Compiling was not really a charm, because my AMD XP CPU was making some seg. faults and thereby interupting the emerge. Confused for some days (without a computer!) I finally found the answer on the forum: ebuild app.ebuild compile merge ... It finishing compiling and I finally had a system to go. Now the fun part is that I can play with Xdirectfb and other fun projects, I wouldn't have touched before ... they were just to hard to compile yourselves.

I like source, but I it is so manually to compile every GNU program to get bootstrap done. Makefiles where made to help the users to compile easier, with portage the same process is even easier. If you want hardcore, try to compile every file! ;)

Consider also...
by Pharynx on Tue 18th Mar 2003 19:35 UTC

1. With binary distros like Red-Hat, Suse, Mandrake et al. You are using binaries compiled with generic optimization flags. With Gentoo, you can use optimization flags specific to your CPU.

I used to think that this is not a big deal until I installed KDE and noticed that the KDE that runs on my Gentoo box (PIII 1.2Ghz) is more responsive than the one running Mandrake on my Athlon 1.2Ghz

2. Another thing, most people don't appreciate Gentoo until they are faced with the daunting task of upgrading gcc, XFree or Gnome/KDE on binary distros.

You can't just do use rpm to successfully upgrade something as big as KDE (I tried it on Mandrake, I end up with something that looks like KDE, but nothing runs on it)

But in Gentoo, you literally just do:
emerge -u kde
That's it!!

3. The portage system is so impressive, I'm planning to install it standalone on my server at home running Suse. A couple of guys already did it in Gentoo forum and they're happy with what they end up with. If I'm successfull, it'd be a snap to upgrade my security related software using portage instead of having to hunt down for the rpm or deal with gcc dependencies (if you compile it anyway).

4. Lastly, the biggest benefit you get from Gentoo is that you end up *not* wasting your time. Yes, it took a while for something like XFree to compile (10 hrs on my Shuttle SV25 - PIII box) but you don't have to *wait* on it, AND you can be assured that you'll end up with XFree without having so much to think about dependencies, let alone having to resolve them. This way you can plan your upgrades, do it at night, or let it run while you work during the day.

Some quickie points...
by clutch on Tue 18th Mar 2003 22:59 UTC

To "Debian User" who raised issues about his disk space: try emptying your /usr/portage/distfiles directory, as that is the storage location for all of the source code you have downloaded. Also, as another trick, you could try exporting that directory as a share from a server, and have all of your client systems connect to it at boot. This way, when you emerge something on one system and it downloads all the files it needs, it will keep them in the same directory as the other clients have access to and will drastically speed up their installation process. Just "emerge sync" and update one system, and then when you sync and update the others they can get many of the same updated packages from the network share, rather than choking on your connection.

For others that have slow connections, you can get the GRP ISO for your particular architecture and have precompiled applications already available on the CD (such as KDE, GNOME,, etc.) without the need to download and compile them. You can also download the files manually at a faster connection (work, friend's house, library, etc.) and then dump them into your /usr/portage/distfiles directory, run the emerge sync, and then emerge those apps.

Also, for some of the optimization/USE flags questions, I have posted a couple of answers here:

in 31 and 32, but most of the comments here do cover the optimization points fairly well.

Sorcerer Linux is better?
by sorcerer user on Wed 19th Mar 2003 20:41 UTC

Did anyone give that sorcerer distro a try?
it doesn't have the fame as of gentoo, but after I removed gentoo and install sorcerer; I can say that sorcerer will be the main linux distro on my computer utill I see better than it.
The main problem that ther n00b may complain about sorcerer is the lack of nice docs.
Sorcerer doesn't need a manual of 100 pages since it's so easy to install and use. However, the user can subscribe to the mailing list or join the #sorcerer channel on server.