A Slacker Tries His Hand at Gentoo

I’ve been wanting to try Gentoo for some time, but always had to roll my eyes at the pages and pages of installation instructions. This time, however, I rolled up my sleeves and buckled down. Minutes later, I was on my way.

First off – I have used Slackware since version 1.0, and I have tried countless other distributions, including Red Hat, Mandrake, Slax, MiniSlack (Zen?), SuSE, Yoper, Linspire, Debian, PCLinuxOS, et al.

I always come back to Slack.

I’ve been wanting to try Gentoo for some time, but always had to roll my eyes at the pages and pages of installation instructions. This time, however, I rolled up my sleeves and buckled down. Minutes later, I was on my way.

At this point, let me ward off the flames: I didn’t like Gentoo. We’ll get to why in a minute. But if you like Gentoo, then great! Another one joins the Linux Army, another domino down for the Redmond beast, another win for freedom to use your computer as you see fit. Stop reading now and go use your OS. Go on. Shoo!

Still here? Great. Where was I? Oh, yes, installing Gentoo.

In case you didn’t know this, Gentoo has several installation options. I opted to boot to the Stage 1 CD and proceed with a network installation. I figured this was the best way to get the most up-to-date system out there. I have two virtual terminals open and I’m ALT-F1 and ALT-F2’ing between them – one has ‘links’ open to the installation instructions and the other is actually doing the installation.

My system, you ask? My system is a Toshiba Satellite Pro – that’s a laptop, in case you’re wondering. Specifically, it’s an Intel Centrino-based laptop. My goals were simple: get Linux to work in the first place, and be able to play music, surf wirelessly, and play some OpenGL games (i.e. 3D had to work). I want to use this laptop as my main system, sitting on my tush in the living room. Not too much to ask, yeah?

Back to this installation: several pages into the installation and a lot of self-doubt later, I’m finally chrooting into my Gentoo OS. I get to the point of a reboot and I’m left with a terminal. Um, okay… where’s all the bells and whistles? And what was all that “USE” parameters and crap during installation? I issue a “startx” and see a nasty TWM screen come up. Worse, my “eraser mouse” works but the buttons do not. Crap.

I go back online (with a wired connection; the wireless isn’t working yet) with links and search for how to fix my mouse and install KDE. Searching the Gentoo site was difficult, but Google found the Gentoo instructions easily. Hmm, so much for that great Gentoo documentation I’ve been hearing about. The doubts build and the corners of my mouth are turned down more and more.

I thought I’d be smart and “emerge kde” to get up and running. Wrong! That’s not quite right – you have to ’emerge kde-somethingorother’ to get it done right. Crap again. So, being the smart guy I am, I try to “unmerge kde.” Oops, so much for obvious commands. A quick search of Gentoo’s docs and I see that I have to “emerge unmerge ,” which I find quite silly, akin to “install uninstall ” in layman’s terms. This is the same logic error as clicking Start to Shutdown… Anyway, you can’t ’emerge unmerge kde’ because there’s some sort of blocking going on – sigh, grumble. Back to the Gentoo documentation…

Okay, I’m getting REALLY tired of having to dig through the documentation for things that should be obvious. Keep in mind that it’s been a couple of days already – I’ve just condensed it for your reading pleasure. Maybe all the Gentoo users rave about the documentation more than other Linux users because they HAVE to use it. Also, I’m really starting to feel that I’m learning Gentoo, not Linux, and that Gentoo is really getting in my way. My frown is growing.

To make a long story short, I got KDE running under Gentoo. I did have to let it run all night to compile, though. But no sound, no wireless, no ACPI, no battery monitor, nothing. At this point, all I had was a Linux kernel with X.org and KDE running on it, and I was thankful for the network interface. I got the mouse buttons fixed by switching from “IMPS/2” to “PS/2,” though this was more random chance than anything else. I had to CTRL-ALT-BKSPC a few times to kill X and get to my terminal window, run VI, and pray again.

Oh, Slackware, wherefore art thou?

In trying to get everything else working, between digging through wrong Gentoo doc after wrong Gentoo doc, tons of links I dug up on Google, and reading through man pages, I really started to feel even more like I was learning Gentoo, not Linux. Many Gentoo skills were not exportable to other Linuxes. And I had only met 1 of my 3 goals (nVidia drivers installed, and wouldn’tcha know it, Gentoo has a custom install – why? The .RUN file is SO EASY!). That little voice wouldn’t stop pestering me… so, after three days of struggling, endless compilations that took forever, endless digging through manuals online, hardware that just wouldn’t work, and probably other gripes, I pulled Slack 10.2 off of Bittorrent, set the seed to indefinite, uncapped a fresh Dew, and burned myself a couple of discs.

In 40 minutes, I was staring at KDE in Slack 10.2 (compared with 3 days in Gentoo), my sound worked, the tray had the nifty battery monitor, the nVidia drivers were installed and working, I never had mouse problems, and all I had left to do was tackle the wireless driver, which took some time but wasn’t impossible; my Linksys WRT54GX needed a firmware upgrade which, after the upgrade, resolved all wireless issues. I’d like to give a shout-out to James Ketrenos, the ipw2100 driver maintainer, for all his help. This is half of why I use Linux (the other half is doing what I choose with the computer I paid for!).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Slackware “just works.” Really. I use slapt-get because I like Jason’s responsiveness and the community support, but I find that my “source-based” distro, unlike Gentoo, takes hardly no time at all to “./configure; make; make install” applications that I need. Additionally, I don’t have to mess with USE parameters and countless other Gentoo “optimizations.” Again, allow me to don the flame-resistant suit: if you like Gentoo, for better or for worse, then I’m HAPPY FOR YOU. I just couldn’t stand to learn Gentoo when what I want is to use Linux.

With Slackware, the only “weird” thing is the BSD-style startup scripts, which are just “weird” because they’re not used as much as the SysV startup scripts. But Slack can handle SysV if you choose. And my hardware “just worked” out of the box. Slackware is so smooth that I can actually forget I’m on Linux and just get on with what I’m doing. That transparency is where operating systems need to go. If you forget about your OS, then your OS is doing things right. Kudos, Pat.

For those that think Slackware is outdated, old-fashioned, or too hard to use: think again.

About the author:
Steve Husted is a long-time Linux user and all around computer geek. Steve has 4 computers at his house running Slackware. He likes to rant about Linux to anyone that will listen. Are you listening?


If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.

150 Comments

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