posted by Anthony Hicks on Tue 8th Apr 2003 16:17 UTC

"Linux Distros: Gentoo Linux (and other source based distros)"
At first glance, a source-based Linux system seems like it would be ideal for my needs. I could have everything optimized for my hardware, and I would only have the software that I specifically wanted on my system. Those are both very enticing reasons to go with Gentoo or one of the other source based systems as I'm very anal about both issues; I want an optimized system, and I don't want a lot of programs that I'll never use taking up space on my hard drive!

The biggest drawback to going with a source-based system though is the time associated with them. The fact that it'll take me 24 hours or more to compile and setup a basic KDE 3.1 system with all of the necessary components (Xfree, Sound, etc.) is something that definitely makes me leery to going this route for my primary desktop system.

I'm someone who likes to try a lot of different programs in order to come up with something that best meets my needs, and the fact that I'd be faced with hours of compiling, just to try a program, is daunting to say the least. The reward would be a system totally defined by me, but the cost is the time necessary to set this up, and of course while my system's compiling, I can't use it!

And although Gentoo is by far the most popular source based system, it's also fairly intimidating in that I have to do virtually everything manually. This is changing somewhat as Gentoo readies their 1.4 release, but generally speaking with Gentoo you have to manually setup everything from the boot process to the programs themselves. I wish that Gentoo had an installer similar to Sorcerer Linux, another source-based distribution.

I used Sorcerer a year or so ago, right before the notorious fallout between its users and its developer, Kyle Sallee. I won't get into what happened (It's documented elsewhere if you want to Google for it), but suffice to say that Sorcerer is still with us, although they did lose a lot of users and momentum during the fallout from back then.

Sorcerer, unlike Gentoo, uses a scripted, text-based menu for installing Sorcerer. It is amazing how powerful this simple menu is when you compare it to doing everything manually as with Gentoo. It's one of Sorcerer's main strengths, and it's the main reason why I just can't bring myself to use Gentoo.

I understand that Gentoo's intimidating, but does it have to be so manual? Well no... Sorcerer's proved to me it doesn't have to be so manual. So why don't I install Sorcerer than and use it for my dream system? Well, besides the time associated with compiling everything, which is the same as Gentoo, my fear is that I'll again build up a nice robust source based distribution, only to have Kyle and his crew suffer another fallout and leave me stranded with a source based system that's not easily updated.

I've waited for over a year, and while Sorcerer's still around, they haven't ever attained that level of confidence I feel I need for my primary system. Their website is... Well, amateurish at best, and their documentation leaves a lot to be desired. Additionally their use of such geek terms as "cast", "dispel", and "the Grimoire" don't necessarily indicate a distribution that's going to be around for too long. But they might still and I'm still keeping an eye on them as a possible side project for the future.

There are also other source-based distributions, including Lunar Linux (similar to Sorcerer), Source Mage (a fork of Sorcerer that was started during the aforementioned fallout with Kyle), and Rock, which I've no experience with.

The biggest problems the source-based distributions face, in addition to the time associated with compiling everything, and the need to manually configure your system, is the fact that you're more or less reliant on its creators in order to keep the list of available software up-to-date. With the popularity of Gentoo, I don't see that as being as big of an issue for them as it would be for Sorcerer or one of the other smaller Linux systems, but again Gentoo isn't as friendly as Sorcerer showed me that source-based Linux distributions can be.

When Sorcerer had its troubles, one of the first things that happened was that their "Grimoire" (Which is basically a collection of pointers to the sources which Sorcerer recognizes, and can automatically download and compile for you) fell out of sync. This meant that we users at the time either had to learn how to update our Grimoirs manually, or we had to move to a different distribution if we wanted new software, and this is generally the reason for the fork to Source Mage.

Yes there were workarounds, but for a primary desktop system, we shouldn't have to deal with workarounds.

I guess that my ideal source-based Linux system would be to tie in the support and user base of Gentoo with the ease of use that Sorcerer brings to the table. Sorcerer itself has the potential to be a Gentoo, but the lack of professionalism coupled with the stigma that Sorcerer has had since their "problems" means that this won't likely happen anytime soon. For now, I'll stick with pre-made bases, and then compile my way to the perfect system as needed.

Summary: Source based systems are great if you have an extra box lying around to use as your desktop until your compiled system is ready to go. If you're using a source based system as your primary desktop, I'd recommend having a backup system to use just in case you do run into problems, or in case you need to do actual work while the compilation's taking place.

Also be prepared to learn a lot about Linux if you go the source-based route! This is one of the main reasons that source-based advocates use when referring someone to such systems. And while I agree that everyone should know more about how their OS works, I can't agree with forcing people to learn every myriad detail of a whole new architecture just to have a responsive, customized Linux system as their main OS.

Table of contents
  1. "Intro, Windows"
  2. "BeOS"
  3. "Mac OS X"
  4. "GNU/Linux"
  5. "Linux Minus"
  6. "Linux Distros: Yoper"
  7. "Linux Distros: Redhat 8.x (Phoebe)"
  8. "Linux Distros: Mandrake 9.1 RC2"
  9. "Linux Distros: Ark Linux"
  10. "Linux Distros: Vector Linux (Soho 3.2)"
  11. "Linux Distros: Gentoo Linux (and other source based distros)"
  12. "Linux Distros: Suse Linux, Conclusion"
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