Because it would take too long to explain things like Linux distributions and source vs. binary distributions, I’m going to assume that if you care about a Gentoo review, you know what these things are.
Until recently, my machine at work had been running Redhat 9.0. I liked it, everything was fine, but I started running into more and more issues of software needing supporting packages that weren’t released for Redhat 9. So I found myself compiling more and more software. If you think rpm hell is bad, try compiling something for an hour and THEN finding out it wasn’t the right thing.
I actually like compiling stuff from scratch. I almost always learn something new, and it’s interesting to me to see part of the development that went into the software. That fact, combined with the fact that I was alerady compiling a lot of stuff, led me try Gentoo.
I have a couple friends running it, and they love it. I heard scary stories about 36 hour install times, but those were on the CU laptops which have FAR FAR less power than my desktop. My friend Jon helped me with my install, and he’s quite the Gentoo guru, having come a long long way from the day he said to me "I hear you run Linux, what’s that like?".
I won’t bore you with all the details of my multi-day install, but I’ll sum it up in some tasty bullet points:
- It’s really not that hard, just time consuming. If I had the experience with it that I do with redhat, it would be a cake-walk.
- I learned lots and lots and lots about Linux, my machine, and computing in general. That alone made the experience worth it to me.
- KDE takes longer to compile than the kernel and X combined.
- In the end I had a really hard time configuring X, and decided that the entire process took too much time.
On the fourth day, my all-night compile of KDE had failed, and I popped in my Fedora Core 3 cd and had my system almost back to perfect in about 90 minutes. That includes video drivers for my funky card, audio working, my window manager tweaked the way I like it, and my complex email kludge rolling again.
In summary, Gentoo is very very cool, very powerful, and very flexible. I really enjoyed working with it, but I have neither the time to mess with it, nor the time to learn it well.
They say that Gentoo is for ricers, because many Gentoo users glory in the perceived speed in hand compiled stuff. I couldn’t have cared less about that. I was interested in understanding the compile process better, and learning code and application relationships. It taught me a lot of that in just a couple days.