Gentoo Linux, A Powerful Distro For Advanced Users

Gentoo Linux

Gentoo Linux is not like other Linux distribution. Where more fashionable distributions worry about fast installation and ease of use, Gentoo worries about efficient compilation and degrees of customization. Gentoo Linux is one of the most advanced operating system in the open source world.

Gentoo is a great way to learn about how your computer works. It is a special, different and powerful Linux distribution. Gentoo is a bare bones minimalist Linux distribution known for being hard to use and one of the hardest distributions to install. It is distributed as free and open source software and follows a rolling release model.

In Gentoo the user must configure everything. Unlike a binary Linux distribution, the source code is compiled locally according to the user’s preferences and is often optimized for the specific type of computer. At the same time a precompiled binaries are available for some larger packages or those with no available source code.

Gentoo Linux with KDE Desktop Environment

What kind of people use Gentoo

Certainly Gentoo isn’t a distro for new users. It is a distribution for perfectionists and hobbyists who want to know how their system works and how it gets that way, digging deeper into its configuration. In addition to, Gentoo is for the users who want to reach under the hood, get their hands dirty, and learn.

What does Gentoo mean

This powerful Linux distribution is named after the fastest-swimming penguin, the Gentoo. Obviously the name was chosen to reflect the potential speed improvements of machine-specific optimization, which is a major feature of Gentoo.

The history of Gentoo

Gentoo Linux was initially created by Daniel Robbins, a programmer, writer and consultant from Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the Enoch Linux distribution. The goal was to create a distribution without precompiled binaries that was tuned to the hardware and only included required programs. 

Over time, Daniel Robbins and Enoch gained a team of developers, and Enoch began to evolve into Gentoo Linux, but not before problems with gcc, and a posix thread bug in glibc and the Linux 2.2 series of kernels, led Robbins to abandon Gentoo during the latter half of 1999 and dip into the very different world of FreeBSD. This episode led to Gentoo development being influenced by FreeBSD’s ports system.

At least one version of Enoch was distributed: version 0.75, in December 1999. Gentoo Linux 1.0 was released on April Fools day, 2002.

In 2004, Daniel set up the non-profit Gentoo Foundation. He transferred all copyrights and trademarks to it. Then, he stepped down as chief architect of the project, wanting to spend more time with his family.

Robbins has gone his own way, and now runs Funtoo, which he sees as a hacker-oriented upgrade of Gentoo.

Installation

The installation of a Gentoo Linux system differs much from the installation methods of more desktop-oriented operating systems, and popular Linux distributions.

It is very important to know the technical specifications and be familiar with your computer’s hardware before installing Gentoo Linux, because this knowledge will guide some decisions you will make during the installation.

Gentoo’s download page offers a mimimal installation CD and a hybrid ISO which contains a graphical live Linux environment. But Gentoo does not have any easy to use graphical installer. The installation is instead done by following a step by step handbook and it is time-consuming and not very friendly.

The steps are to partition your system and unpack a “stage 3” archive with a base system. Then all software you want beyond the very base system has to be compiled.

A well-driven installation will result in faster code with less fluff and bloat. The installation may take hours or days but the pay off is that it only happens once.

Software Management

Most Linux distributions come with the code precompiled. The priority of a consumer oriented operating system is a quick install and a running system that works. In contrast, most of the key Gentoo packages are compiled from source to the specification of the user and the hardware, and every installation is unique.

At the heart of Gentoo is a unique software distribution system called Portage. It simplifies Gentoo updates and enables user to build their entire system from source, with complete control over which packages are or aren’t installed. Portage is the official package manager and distribution system for Gentoo. It is similar to the BSD-style package management known as ports, and was originally designed with FreeBSD’s ports in mind. In short, FreeBSD ports became the inspiration for Gentoo’s portage system.

Gentoo’s portage build system is highly configurable which means that two Gentoo installations done by different people will be very different in terms of how they work and what features the installed packages have.

The emerge command-line tool is the heart of Portage. The command is customizable with many options and modifiers. The emerge tool is the most important utility for accessing the features of Portage from the command line. It is primarily used for installing packages, and emerge can automatically handle any dependencies a desired package has. The ebuild files describes how the source should be configured and installed, depending on variables set in /etc/make.conf.

How Gentoo configures software Gentoo Linux gives allows you to control how, and with what support, programs are installed by using USE flags to describe how software should be installed. Use flags allow you to enable or disable certain features of a package. For example, app-editors/emacs can optionally build with JPEG image support.

Gentoo USE flags

Great documentation & Friendly community

The documentation in Gentoo is extremely good. It usually tells you exactly what you need to know. It will tell you which kernel modules you need to add and which USE flags to add. Gentoo documentation provide a step-by-step process to installing, updating, or troubleshooting your computer.

Gentoo community is friendly and helpful, especially to those who help themselves, and the forums are busy with useful information. The culture is not to hold your hand, but to walk you through the process with useful documentation. Gentoo users are noob friendly, and helpful. The community is one of the best things about Gentoo.

Conclusion

Some time ago Linus Torvalds had shared,

I’m a technical person, but I have a very specific area of interest, and I don’t want to fight the rest. So the only distributions I have actively avoided are the ones that are known to be “overly technical”.

Gentoo and its derivatives are less well known than Ubuntu, Debian or Red Hat (and their derivatives) because they receive less publicity, and appeal to a different audience.

In conclusion, Gentoo is not about ease of use or making installation easier for the new user. It is for the hackers and delvers who want to explore and dive into their systems and swim a little bit further and faster.

1 Comment

  1. Gentoo IS for new users. Other distros will hide what’s important, on Gentoo new users actually get to learn (if they want).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.