Gentoo's biggest advancement and also biggest problem is its package manager.
Portage is the package system for Gentoo, written from scratch in Python. It is a system similar to both Debian's apt-get and FreeBSD's ports system. You can synchronize your database to the main repository (there are about 1450 applications to choose from currently), and then just type, for example "emerge mozilla," and it will download mozilla and all its dependancies needed, untar them, build them and install them for you automatically. If a binary package is available, by using --usepkg, it will try to find the equivelant binary instead of the source, so that can save you some compilation time possibly in expense of speed. A GUI front end of Portage is currently being built by Yannick Koehler (older BeOS users will remember Yannick from his major contributions in the dawn of the BeOS Mozilla port).
Yes, with a single command of two words, you can download and automatically build and install X and KDE or Gnome. Problem is that some of the packages that are available for download are not well tested. In less than 4 days, Portage managed to download .ebuilds that simply did not work (KOffice 1.1.1), .ebuilds that contained wrong scripts (XFCE), .ebuilds that created libraries with unresolved symbols that did not link (cdparanoia), some terminals inherite the correct $PATH (Konsole) while others (xterm, rxvt) only use the default fail-safe one, early beta versions of libraries (id3lib) that break compatibility with software that linked with them (xtunes), corrupted portage packages (ghostscript, xmlib2), and more.
My main gripe with the Portage system is that the packages that become available to the main repository are not well tested under Gentoo. I would be much happier if I knew for sure that these developers are asked and pass qualifications testing for their .ebuilds before they add them for public consumption.
Some OSNews readers were discussing the other day on our forums why should they use Gentoo over the also i686-optimized CRUX or Debian or Slackware or any other source-based distro. While CRUX is i686 optimized and it includes a similar package system (pkgutils), it does not have the vast support behind it to create many packages for its users and as far as I know, it does not include any additional kernel patches. Debian also has a good package system, but is compiled by default for i386 (slower) and it is far from bleeding edge, in fact, Debian is pretty conservative. As for Slackware, well, I tried over the past few months to find out about their status, and they don't seem to either have public relations people or care for marketing, or perhaps they have simply given up. They never returned my press requests. [Update: It seems that the Slackware guys have released "silently" 8.1-beta2 just two days ago.]
So, Gentoo's advantages are speed, custom bleeding edge kernel/app-base and a good package system. On its downside, you will find the steep learning curve of having to maintain everything "by hand," quite a number of bugs lying around everywhere in the system, including some security concerns (some are already addressed with the release of Gentoo 1.1a a few days ago). However, if you are a power user or developer who does not afraid of the command line but is determined to squash every little bit of your CPU cycles, then go for Gentoo. If you are an absolute newbie, Lycoris may be a better Linux option for you, while if you are still in "training" mode to soon become a power user, Red Hat, Mandrake or SuSE may be more appropriate.
Whatever you decide to do though, always keep an eye on Gentoo's developments. Especially if you hear the news that Gentoo has moved completely to Gcc 3.x, then go for it, full speed.
Hardware Support: 10/10
Ease of use: 6/10
Speed: 9/10 (UI responsiveness, latency, throughput)
Overall: 8.2 / 10
- "Installation and User Experience"
- "Package Manager and Conclusion"