We got Linux distributions for geeks (Debian), distros for businessmen (Red Hat), home users (Mandrake) and… Germans (SuSE :). However, there was never before a distribution specifically targetting developers and speed, both at the same time. Enter Gentoo Linux, the fastest loading, fastest-operating Linux distribution to date.
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.
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
That was the most half-baked review of any Linux distribution that I have ever read. What makes you think you’re qualified to apply numerical ratings to this distribution? Short answer: You’re not. You’re not a software professional, you’re not an OS developer, you’re not even a maintainer. Reading this stuff really gets me wondering how many technologies you and your type have crushed with word of mouth. I am disgusted. In the meantime, I’ll wait for somebody with credibility to write a real review and promptly take yours with a grain of salt.
I will start with the reply of Daniel Robbins, owner and maintainer of Gentoo (I hope he won’t mind). He sent me this a few minutes ago.
“I thought the review was fair and also contained a lot of helpful comments for users (and for us — what we need to work on!)”
Second, if I am qualified to apply numerical ratings?
Well, I don’t know what you are smoking, but most reviews DO apply numerical ratings or “star” ratings (they are effectively the same). They are reviews. And while I am not the Gentoo maintainer or an OS developer, I am (or used to be) a software professional. I have also ported more than 90 applications to AtheOS and BeOS.
And at the end of the day I DON’T HAVE TO be an OS developer to give ratings. I am a developer in general, I am a user of the system (actually, for quite some time) and most of all, I am the reviewer of this article. In fact, I suggest you check our previous reviews. Lycoris, AtheOS, OS/2, QNX etc. They all also had ratings, and you are the first one who whines that don’t like numerical ratings in general.
>how many technologies you and your type have crushed with word of mouth. I am disgusted.
Do you troll professionally? If yes, I can introduce you to some “friends” of mine, they may be able to put your trolling in a good use.
Pardon my french … but Eugenia knows her shit. I’m even interesting in trying out this distro, purely, because she has singled this one out.
It’s a good, decent review. I just installed it saturday night starting ~3am cus I was bored (what else would one do?). It’s comming along nicely, and I’m just getting used to this after switching (read accidentally killing) debian. Although I havn’t spent much time on it, I would say its a good and accurate review.
Can someone who has used Gentoo tell me how easy an upgrade is? I currently use debian because it is very easy, even for config files. I used to use FreeBSD which is easy because of make world and mergemaster, but upgrading ports is awful. So, how does Gentoo fair in general? and for upgrading config files?
Existing Gentoo Linux users can upgrade to the most recent version of Gentoo Linux in-place without reinstalling. For example, to upgrade a Gentoo Linux 1.0 system to 1.1a, type:
# emerge rsync (that takes 1 sec)
# emerge sys-apps/portage (this takes 10 secs)
# emerge –update world (this may take some time, depending on how much stuff there is to be updated)
Then update your config files in /etc/. There are some files called ._conf0001.rc.conf or something similar (can’t remember now exactly . Spot the diffs between the two files, eg. the temporary /etc/._conf0001.rc.conf and your regular /etc/rc.conf and then if wished, apply the new changes to rc.conf, or simply overwrite the rc.conf with the temp one (however I recommend to spot the diffs and decide wisely, instead of just overwrite things).
Then, you are done.
To update the system and all the apps you have installed so far, just type “emerge rsync && emerge –update world”.
Seems that sorcerer and its forks may be even better for package managing (and for the source xdelta download)
Anyone have any idea how I could setup gentoo with the network as a 56k PPP connection.?
It looks like I can only download packages etc through an ethernet connection, this is a big pain, are they all so ignorant users of broadband that they think everyone has ethernet connections to the net?
I’m really eager to try this distro out, but no ppp is absurd!
> 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.
How did you solve this ? I have the same problem,
could you send some instructions directly to me,
As a recent convert to Gentoo, I’m a little confused about these ‘bugs’ Eugenia mentions. I have only run across two packages that didn’t properly emerge. Everything else, given that I didn’t mess it up, or forget about something has worked for me on the first attempt.
Maybe I’m lucky.
It just seems that various comments are ignorant?? I don’t know, I’m not claiming to be a linux expert, but some things she complained about even I was able to figure out.
For example, getting startx to load something other than twm is a matter of creating a custom ~/.xinitrc. Terminals inheriting path, etc. should be dependant upon the proper shell initialization files. ie. .bash_profile, .profile, etc.
She seems to be complaining about her lack of ability to properly customize linux to her own tastes. That being said Gentoo’s defaults inherited $PATH and did almost all the things I expected it to. I added a couple aliases and thats it.
Are we talking about the same distro?? (And yes I originally started with 1.0, not 1.1a)
Hiroshi what planet did you come from? did you miss the BeBoat? Eugenia had a big part to do with anything tha twas beos and i respect her. I thought the review was fine, but then ive been using gentoo for a while now, i think it is perfectly suited to people wanting to know a bit more about gentoo. Keep up the good work Eugenia
btw, gentoo owns j00!
It was concise and interesting. If/when I have the time and HD space (tiiiiime for an upgrade :/) I’m very much inclined to look into this version.
I’m also interested in your comments about FreeBSD’s booting and shutdown speeds. I didn’t realize it was so quick, relatively speaking.
Has anyone mentioned yet how quickly Mac OS X boots/shutsdown? (I know, that’s pretty much dependent on what widgets and plugins are being installed at bootup, but still …)
Eugenia, you mention XFS in the review. How easy is XFS to set up in Gentoo? What bothers me with most distros is that their installers don’t provide a way for XFS installations, you have to set that up yourself.
[i]specifically targetting developers and speed, both at the same time[i]
I know of three other distributions that are compiled from source:
Rock Linux (http://www.rocklinux.org/)
Linux from Scratch (http://www.linuxfromscratch.org/)
Sorcerer GNU Linux (http://sorcerer.wox.org/)
You guys seriously need an editor. There are too many english language errors throughout this article and throughout the site. This does not look good when new users browse the site. Good luck.
For Arturas Baranauskas:
> How did you solve this ? I have the same problem, could you send some instructions directly to me, please?
To have KDM by default, do the following.
1. Open /etc/rc.conf and uncommnent the DISPLAYMANAGER= line and put it equal to KDM.
2. Run the command ‘rc-update add xdm default’ and you are all set for your next reboot.
Now, when your KDM loads up, it gives you the choice of what other window managers you may want to run instead of KDE 3. So, depending if you have equivelant scripts on your /etc/X11/Session/ directory, it will load them there, so you can choose. For example, after you emerge XFCE, make sure there is an xfce.sh on the above dir, and it has inside it:
Do the same for all your other window managers and they will be picked up on KDM automatically.
For Henry Marchbanks:
>Maybe I’m lucky.
> For example, getting startx to load something other than twm is a matter of creating a custom ~/.xinitrc.
I know this. In fact, hacking on the /etc/X11/xinitrc file also will do the same. However, a) I wanted to do a single change for all my users b) you don’t understand that this is a review. If something does not work as ADVERTISED, it is a bug. NO MATTER if *I* or *you* have the means to go around by hacking stuff, things should work as advertised for the rest of the users (by using the /etc/rc.conf file as documentation mentions that is). If they not, Houston, we got a problem.
> Terminals inheriting path, etc. should be dependant upon the proper shell initialization files. ie. .bash_profile, .profile, etc.
Oh, no other Linux I tried had the problem I mentioned. And at the end of the day, WHY Konsole should have the correct path and xterm not, under the same X session? That does not make any sense. Again, adding “source /etc/profile” on my ~/.bash_profile is something that will probably solve *my* problem, but again things are not working as they SHOULD HAVE. This is why this gets a mention.
> She seems to be complaining about her lack of ability to properly customize linux to her own tastes.
I complain for things that don’t work as advertised, and that are likely to confuse newbies. My Gentoo is as customized as I want it to be, thank you very much.
> Has anyone mentioned yet how quickly Mac OS X boots/shutsdown?
On the G3 500 iMac I used last year, it took more than a minute to load and about 30 secs to shut down.
> There are too many english language errors throughout this article and throughout the site.
Personally, I don’t give a fuck. We do OSNews for purely fun. We do it for providing a site with useful information and news, we are not going for the Pulitzer award. If you do have a problem though, either do what is suggested in the above URL, or save yourself the trouble and don’t come back. Really.
XFS was pretty easy to set for me in Gentoo–basically just formatting the partition with XFS (according to the documentation) and entering it correctly in the fstab. The one caveat is to make sure that you have XFS support in the kernel. After you think it’s there, go back and check again. Sleep on it and check again in the morning.
Not that I had any problems with this, of course. Cough.
Anyway, my actual problem with Gentoo isn’t exactly a problem with Gentoo itself–I haven’t been able to get XFree to recognize my USB-based pointing device. The keyboard it’s happy with, but not the mouse. I’d read that protocol “auto” was supposed to work, but it doesn’t, and I can’t find anything in the /dev directory to set as a device (/dev/usb/ is an empty subdirectory?). MAKEDEV doesn’t (seem to) know anything about USB devices, either. I suspect there’s something screwed up in my kernel configuration (yay), but I haven’t found it yet.
Since you are technically installing the whole distribution manually, it is trivial to choose XFS as opposed to any other filesystem under gentoo. In fact, XFS, reiser, and ext3 are all equally easy to setup by following the installation instructions found on gentoo.org. However, you may find that the installation process itself is more “difficult” than that of other distributions, so it’s a toss up: Gentoo’s installation method, being manual, allows you to make most choices yourself, but has the disadvantage of not being automatic, which makes it difficult for those who can’t follow directions..
creating a ‘.xinitrc’ file in your home directory. you place the path of the window manager in this file i.e.
then you type startx
so refreshing to see a reviewer not making the classic comments about
” it doesnt matter cos anyone can manually create new config files.. so we won’t pass this off as a glitch ”
Keep up the good work
>Personally, I don’t give a fuck. We do OSNews for purely fun. >We do it for providing a site with useful information and >news, we are not going for the Pulitzer award.
Well said Eugenia If they don’t like it they can get lost. Thanks for the site and keep up the great work!
I started with slackware about 7 years ago, then moved to redhat, and then debian, I recently played with sourcerer, and now gentoo over the past 5 weeks. Sourcerer had too many problems to be usable, and the internal politics with the dev group turned me off. The install was MUCH easier than gentoo however. Gentoo installation is quite manual, and took me a couple times to get it going right due to a couple simple errors on my part. I had a little trouble with sound as my card wasn’t supported under alsa-0.5 but works great under 0.9 (.5 is the default in gentoo) so it required a little fiddlin to get it going. I ended up manually downloading and installing the latest Alsa by hand.
From the users mailing list, it seems that quite a few “newbies” are trying gentoo, so the list is cluttered with a lot of VERY simplistic (and frequently repeated) questions. Gentoo is NOT suitable for the non-programmer / junior sysadmin type. IMHO, this distro is most suited to the hacker type / sysadmin with programming skills, etc. who has been using unix for several years on a daily basis.
If you routinely build a lot of your own applications, play with device drivers, tweak your kernel / apply kernel patches, play with make files, are able to debug build problems etc. then you can probably handle Gentoo.
Besides the package management system which is pretty cool,
I’d also point out that the RC system in Gentoo is NOT sysV or BSD. It’s actually somewhat BSD like, but different. Gentoo also has a unique way of handling system configuration (hostname, IP address, etc.) unlike other distros I’ve tried. Because of this, it’s more work to install prepackaged software such as VMWare (but not impossible. I ended up creating a fake sysv init tree for the install to work for example.)
Other than that, once you get going the differences between gentoo and other distros is small.
(FWIW, my background includes 15 years on UNIX systems, 20 years programming so working with gentoo was easy for me.)
Oi. I’ve been using Gentoo for some months now, and I can’t say I’ve been disappointed yet.
Sure, there are a few bugs, but most can be fixed with an remerge of a few packages.
I can warmly recommend this one. It’s fast and effective.
I may sound as pain in the ass, but Gentoo is really better than Eugenia reviewed it. At least for me – I use Gnome, not KDE. I had no problem with Grub so far – i did Gentoo on several systems in past few weeks.
It’s my third attempt to get optimized Linux (after Stampede and Enoch) and this one is actually working.
Few things I’d mentioned about installation :
– boot partition doesn’t have to be 100 Mb, I think it’s a typo, installation instructions for earlier versions (e.g. rc6 ) had it as 10 Mb.
– have /var/tmp mounted on separate partition or volume (or whatever portage is using as work directory on your system)
Ahem… There is a new Gentoo review just gone live on LinuxPlanet.
“Hiroshi”, this is mostly for you. You said that you will take my review with a grain of salt and that you would like to read another review. Well, go and read it:
The reviewer was not even able to install and run Gentoo and still reviews it AND gives it 4/4 stars. What??!?? 😮
> 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.
startx doesn’t load kdm, it loads your (personal) X environment, which can be customized by editing the file ~/.xinitrc:
to change the login manager, edit the file startDM.sh:
disclaimer: these are the steps i’ve found effective; i am not a gentoo developer, and someone on the mailing lists there may have a better solution.
I had a similar GRUB problem as Eugenia, and setting up the partitions with the PartitionMagic bundled with BeOS may have been the problem.
Use fdisk, even though it may look scary, if you are not dumb then you can do it.
…is the USE flags set. I can’t believe the reviewer missed this. Not only is this a compile from source distribution, but Gentoo is able to compile to your own preferences. eg. Don’t use KDE? Just add “-kde -qt” to USE and apps that can optionally support KDE, won’t when you merge them.
“The reviewer was not even able to install and run Gentoo and still reviews it AND gives it 4/4 stars. What??!?? :o”
I’m sorry thats just funny as hell (btw I haven’t seen spiderman yet so I’m gonna give it 4/4 stars based on the previews ;p).
i’ve tried gentoo linux and i’ve build the kernel without devfs support. What is the name of the option to activate devfs in make menuconfig ?
It is under filesystems support, I think.
“for Slackware, well, I tried over the past few months to find out about their status” & “It seems that the Slackware guys have released “silently” 8.1-beta2″
just read the changelog?
that why it’s there for see the changes and updates
real hard now ain’t that…