Gentoo Linux, Why?

Gentoo LogoI was recently asked why I (still) use Gentooexternal_link as my pri­mary Linux dis­tri­b­u­tion. It was asked after I had men­tioned my frus­tra­tion over some recent prob­lem­atic upgrades. I had to think about it. I could eas­ily switch to CentOSexternal_link, Archexternal_link, Debianexternal_link or make an even big­ger jump to FreeBSDexternal_link. Each has its own advan­tages and/or ben­e­fits. In fact, I have been flirt­ing with FreeBSD ever since Rackspaceexternal_link added FreeBSD to its dis­tro options. But in the end, I have stuck to Gentoo.

Let us enter the Wayback Machine set to 1996/1997. (whirling sounds ensue) I own an ISP, run­ning on a shoe­string. One of my servers is a BSD box, one Solaris, and one Macintosh. I need to replace the BSD box and add a fourth box to run Apache. One of my employ­ees con­vinces me to try Linux. (He even­tu­ally became my senior sys­tem admin­is­tra­tor.) We use Slackwareexternal_link for our dis­tro. It is the most reli­able, flex­i­ble and mod­i­fi­able of the dis­tros avail­able at the time. It also fol­lows our phi­los­o­phy of com­pil­ing every­thing we can so we can con­fig­ure it exactly the way we want.

(Set the Wayback Machine on a slow fast for­ward) We exper­i­mented with Red Hatexternal_link and hated the RPM sys­tem that existed at that time. We try out other dis­tros as we can but always come back to Slackware. It just works and we can bolt our own stuff on it with­out problems.

I hear about the Linux from Scratch projectexternal_link in 2000 and spend a lot of time with it learn­ing a lot more about the plumb­ing of Linux. We began talk­ing about switch­ing from Slackware to our own LFS based sys­tem. I start work­ing on the scripts that would allow us to semi-automate the process. (I clearly remem­ber build­ing an LFS box on 9/11 as we watched the TV in shock over the events.) We end up deploy­ing one server based on LFS but writ­ing the scripts and main­tain­ing them is time con­sum­ing. And then comes along Gentoo circa 2002.

Gentoo is like LFS with most of the scripts writ­ten for us, with the flex­i­bil­ity to com­pile indi­vid­ual pack­ages like we want and even cre­ate our own scripts (called ebuilds) which we need for things like our unique qmail setup (Steve Hawkins was a pro at this, thanks). After a year of exper­i­ment­ing, we switch 100% to Gentoo. (Turn off the Wayback Machine)

10 years later I am still sat­is­fied with Gentoo. Yes, some­times it frus­trates me but I have installed a lot of dif­fer­ent Linux dis­tros since then. I was a sys­tem admin on a Debian server for sev­eral years for a client. I like Debian but I get more frus­trated with it than I have over Gentoo. I flirted with Ubuntu but I like plain Debian bet­ter for servers. Last year I com­pleted a Linux System Administrator cer­ti­fi­ca­tion which was based on Red Hat. Red Hat (and the CentOS alter­na­tive) is obvi­ously a good choice for servers. The RPM sys­tem has matured quite nicely. But there is some­thing in my DNA that wants the con­trol and flex­i­bil­ity to com­pile everything.

And so, maybe it is mostly an issue of com­fort that I use Gentoo still. It gives me the con­trol I want. It gives me the flex­i­bil­ity I want. It’s depen­dency pack­age sys­tem Portage works although some­times it can be frus­trat­ing. It takes longer to install a new server but on the other hand when the install is done, it is done the way I want and not nec­es­sar­ily the way some face­less name decided. And maybe one of the things I like about Gentoo is the idea that there really isn’t a ver­sion of Gentoo. I have a box that started out 5 years ago yet it is up to date with the lat­est stuff that the most recent dis­tri­b­u­tion of Gentoo has. It is a grad­ual, gen­tle upgrade from what­ever ver­sion of Gentoo was to what Gentoo cur­rently is.

I even took a Gentoo box that was around 5 years out of date, ran emerge –avuDN @world (plus some other util­i­ties like revdep-rebuild just in case) and a day later after com­pil­ing the new ker­nel and installing it I had a box that was as up to date as any other server I had. Yeah, it takes a long time to com­pile lit­er­ally hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent pack­ages, espe­cially when it had both KDE and Gnome on it plus the mul­ti­ple com­piles of gcc but I could not have done that eas­ily with other distros.

Gentoo it is.

The name “Gentoo” and the “g” logo are trade­marks of Gentoo Foundation, Inc. The names of the other dis­tros men­tioned are also prop­erty of their respec­tive com­pa­nies. This site has no asso­ci­a­tion with any of them.

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