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.

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