Gentoo is a source-based distro, which means that the user should compile everything from scratch in order to get a working installation. It requires a fast internet connection and lots of patience. Installation should normally take quite some hours, depending on the speed of your computer, but the Gentoo guys also offer a 110 MB i686-pre-compiled image that includes the basic software needed to boot Gentoo. The only thing that it doesn't come pre-compiled is of course the actual kernel, which must be configured manually by the user.
To keep the long story short, Gentoo's installation process is definately not for Unix or Linux newbies. While the installation page at Gentoo.org is very self-explanatory, there are still several bugs during the installation process (I personally stumped on a kernel/ACPI bug, while GRUB just wouldn't see any of my IDE drives at all, and had to "emerge" and install LILO) and overall the whole process is slow and at least "sensitive" to user errors. On the bright side, when the system downloads the source for the kernel, it also downloads a special big Gentoo kernel patch that applies automatically, which includes several patches, like the preemptive patch, XFS support, BFS support and other goodies that are not part of the standard stock kernel.
After the basic configuration had finished, I rebooted and, with a single command "emerge kde", Gentoo fetched off the web KDE and all its dependancies (XFree, assosiated libraries etc). And then, I left the machine compiling everything from source (with the optimization flags on), and I went to sleep. The time was already 1 AM. Next morning, the compilation had finished and I was ready to really use the machine as a workstation.
After you get everything working the way you want to, you definetely get a feeling of accomplishment, plus the speed that comes when you compile the whole system with the i686 -O3 GCC (optimization) flags.
In my time, I have tried quite a number of Linux distributions, including Red Hat, Mandrake, Corel, SuSE, and recently Lycoris, among others. However, none of them was able to boot faster than one minute or so. Gentoo boots in 19 seconds on my aged dual Celeron 533 Mhz, and what is amusing is that I have installed Gentoo on my "ancient" Fujitsu 10.4 GB hard drive (bought in 1998), while most the other distros I mentioned above were installed on the almost twice faster IBM 75GXP 30 GB IDE drive.
I installed KDM as the display manager, because simply editing the rc.conf (acording to instructions) for the window manager of my choice it didn't work for me. Typing 'startx' was always loading twm, regardless of the rc.conf file. After installing KDM, I chose KDE, and indeed KDE 3.0 loaded. Since then I have also successfully installed WindowMaker, XFCE, Oroborus, BlackBox and IceWM.
Gentoo certainly feels faster than the other distributions, but not under KDE. KDE 3 is just slow for me, with the No 1 slow application being Konqueror. Building KDE 3 from source and with optimization flags certainly helped, but the popular X11 environment is slower than its predessesors in responsiveness (even with bleeding edge kernel patches trying to fight for exactly that). Instead of saying that "KDE 3 is faster under Gentoo," I will have to rephrase that to be "KDE 3 is less slow under Gentoo than on other distros."
KDE 3's general UI responsiveness may be truly bad, but loading times are much better under Gentoo. Konqueror loads in 3 seconds (first load), and open a subsequent window in 1-2 seconds. Under Mandrake with (objprelinked) KDE 2 or 3, it takes 6 seconds to open a Konqueror window and 3-4 seconds to open a new window. And Mandrake is installed on a much faster drive...
You truly realise Gentoo's speed though under a faster environment, like XFCE, BlackBox or WindowMaker. Everything is snappy, and file operations are also fast with the use of the XFS file system. Snappy for a Linux, that is. FreeBSD 4.5 has proved for me to be a bit faster than Gentoo in general usage, plus on loading and shutdown times (16 and 2 seconds respectively as opposed to Gentoo's 19 and 16 seconds - still faster than any other Linux distro I know though).
The other great feature you can find on Gentoo is devfs, which is supported by default, and it really helps greatly on system management. For example, mounting alien partitions or specifying audio drivers for apps like MPlayer, is now a piece of cake.
- "Installation and User Experience"
- "Package Manager and Conclusion"