Review: Gentoo 2008.0 and beyond Part 1

Another distro in the seven distros included in Linux Format Magazine issue #110 is Gentoo 2008.0.  This is an interesting release given the recent news that, at least for the time being, Gentoo is not going to be releasing these discs anymore.  Apparently for both of the last two years there has been a lot of trouble with compiling the LiveCDs.

On the one hand, yearly (or biannual like Ubuntu) releases are redundant for Gentoo users.  You just install Gentoo and from then on you just emerge newer versions of packages and always stay up to date.  I have to say this is one of the features that makes Gentoo very attractive to me considering all the problems I’ve had with Fedora in-place upgrades.  But if they are no longer making these annual LiveCDs, what will the Linux magazines feature on their distro discs?  After all, there are people who have bandwidth issues and can’t download Linux distros to instasll.  They are dependent upon magazines to carry the latest releases.  And you know the magazine isn’t going to make a LiveCD for Gentoo.  I still think that a yearly snapshot makes sense.  Also, there has to be a starting point from which the user has a rolling updating system.

Since the whole point of using Gentoo is to install a custom distro, I decided that I would install it to my computer instead of evaluating the LiveCD as all there is to Gentoo.  A bit of background here – Gentoo is a distro like Slackware where all of the packages are installed via compilation.  (edit based on comment – Gentoo also has binary packages) The biggest difference is that Gentoo borrowed the concept of Ports from FreeBSD.  Ports, as implemented in FreeBSD and Gentoo, are patches that are applied to raw source code from the developers of the software to customize it for that distro.  So, for example, you can download the source code to Mplayer.  If you want it to be installed in the right place in your distro so that other programs can find the libraries it installs, you need to give it configuration options.  Ports do that automatically for you so everything ends up in a consistent place.  Also, Port installation systems also handle dependencies for you.  If you were installing Mplayer from source you’d have to find everything it depends on and then install that from source.  Then find what that depends on and install it from source.  With Ports, all that happens automagically.

So, why, in this age of binary packages (Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, et al) would you ever want to install from source?  It takes a LOT longer (hours for Gnome).  Well, there are two main benefits touted by Gentoo users.  First of all, your programs are now ultra-customized for your system.  If you want Gnome without Mono compiled in, you can do this.  (Assuming that’s one of the options)  Also, it is tuned to your hardware.  You are compiling your programs to the Intel Core 2 Duo instead of the i686 (Pentium 4, I think)  Now, some people say this is a false benefit.  How optimized is it going to be for your system versus the defaults?  I think the real answer is somewhere in the middle.  For some processor heavy programs like Blender, Cinelerra, and OpenOffice.org, perhaps it will really speed things up.  For Pidgin, it probably won’t make much of a difference.  The second benefit, they say, is that you get new versions of the program much sooner than with a binary distro.  Debian, Fedora, etc have to create binary packages from the source packages and usually they only do that in the next version of the distro – as much as six months later.  With Gentoo, you can have that program right away.  Again, the real answer is probably in the middle since Gentoo has a testing process like other distros (thank goodness) so the program won’t be available right away either.  It has to go through testing first.  This could end up taking just as long as with a binary distro.  Sometimes it will be sooner, though, because there’s no later release to wait for.  As soon as it’s ready for mass consumption you can have it.

Since I don’t have any spare computers, I decided to install Gentoo to Virtualbox on my test computer.  As I booted it up, I got a refreshingly candid view of what was going on.

Gentoo was displaying what many distros have been hiding from their users in recent times, the boot messages.  I love seeing this as it really gives you a glimpse of what the computer is doing.

I’m one of those people who believe we should remove this sense of mysticism about how computers work.  The more of the general public we can get educated on what’s happening with their computers, the better.  They don’t have to all become computer Gurus – that’s extremely unrealistic to expect.  But I’d like to see as many people as possible getting an idea of what’s going on under the hood.  (You hear that Fedora, Ubuntu, etc?)

Then I was presented with a pretty attractive GDM login.   It’s dynamic-looking without being too flashy.

And here’s the Xfce desktop you arrive at:

So, as you know – people usually tout LiveCDs as very useful because they give you a chance to know if the distro will be able to use all of your hardware.  That’s why everyone says, just take the Ubuntu or Fedora liveCD and try it and you’ll know before wiping out Windows if the distro will be able to use the wireless, sound, and video hardware.  Indeed, this is why the Debian release team plans to have a Debian liveCD this time around.  So, with the Gentoo 2008.0 LiveCD I was able to get online and verify that it would be able to use my ethernet card.  I did this with Bon Echo – the development version of Firefox.  This was 2.0, but Gentoo 2008.0 is from earlier in the year before Firefox 3 had come out.

However, there are audio programs on the LiveCD.  I see this as a major shortcoming since sound is one of the most likely things to be need to test (other than wireless hardware).  I downloaded an OGG of Jono Bacon discussing his Severed Fifth album, but was unable to play it.  In fact, the LiveCD is pretty bare when it comes to programs.  So I can’t even give this to someone to give them a taste of what programs they may have available under Gentoo.  Perhaps they just have a different mentality over at the Gentoo team.  After all, up until now my experience has only been with more mainstream distros like Fedora and Ubuntu.

So, I decided it was time to go ahead and do the install.   The first task the installer asks you do to is to partition your hard drive.

I’ve done this on a few distros already so I knew what to do.  I clicked on recommeded layout because, from what it said on the left, it looked like what I usually do.  So, here it is in its colour-coded glory:

The next step was to configure the mount points.  There are a lot of schemes for this such as having /var and /tmp on their own partitions.  A lot of people also recommend having /home on its own partition.  However, this is not only just a test distro, but it’s also not meant to be a production server or anything like that.  So I left everything under the root directory.  Then it unpacked the stage tarball.

I’m not 100% sure what that is, but I can guess from what I know about Gentoo.  Basically, instead of making you compile everything form the beginning, Gentoo provides the basics already as binaries so you can get started in less than 24 hours.  Later on you can compile it while running the system and save yourself some time.  This is taking some time.  At its current pace it will probably take maybe 20 or so minutes to finish.  However, remember that I’m running this in a virtual machine so that’s going to be a limiting factor in terms of how much processor it has access to as well as how much RAM.  My DVD drive speed also plays into it, I’m sure.  But I have a pretty standard one – neither slow nor unbelievably fast.  Since I’m blogging this as it happens,  I’m going to go off to do something else.  I’ll be back later when this is done.

I was in another room the whole time so I don’t know how long it took, but somewhere within 2 hours it was completed and asked me for a root password.   Then they ask you to pick your timezone.  Nothing too hard or out of the ordinary here.  The next screen was for setting up the network and this one was definitely more involved than other distros I’ve installed.

I fill out the info.   In continuing my Mario character theme, I name the installation Poochy, after the huge dog in Super Mario World  2.  That dog was only a minor character and this distro is only a virtual one.  After that it emerged some more stuff.  I was then given the option to add users.  That’s right, users – plural.  Most distros just give you your username at install, but if you want to add everyone’s name at once you can do that.  Sweet!

They say you learn a lot more about how Linux works when you install Gentoo.  I learned about how you need to be the member of all these groups to be able to do much in Linux.  I never realized all the work the distros had been doing for me.  Also, it shows me how a user could be locked out of certain things like using the cdrom.  One stupid thing on their part is not double-checking that your password was typed as you expected.

The next page is where you pick additional packages although I must say the warning at the top is pretty ominous.

Ok, so I checked… everythign in X11, GnuPG, Cups, iptables, slocate, ufed, logrotate, ntp, alsa-utils, and mozilla-firefox.  It appears I was limited to installing whatever was included on the disc.  I guess that makes sense.  I would probably want to compile everything else?  I’m not sure what the rationale is.  Or was it unable to connect to the net and find the repos?  It started to calculate dependencies.

Son of a b.  I was running VirtualBox on Windows XP and it rebooted last night in the middle of the install while I was asleep.  (It had a critical update)  I think I’m going to have to start this process all over again.  See you on the flip side.

When I finally caught back up again, it was time to pick which services I wanted at runtime.  No Linux distro I have ever used has asked me this.  Instead it leaves a ton of services running – some of which may be unnecessary if you aren’t running a server.

There’s really one one bad part with the installer (and I guess this goes along with Gentoo users learning a lot about how the system runs) and that is that it doesn’t explain what most of these are so I have no idea if I’d want them running at the beginning.  I looked around the installation documentation on Gentoo’s website, but couldn’t find the info.  I selected  alsasound, consolekit, cupsd, dbus, hald, iptables, ntp-client, ntpd, numlock, sshd, udev-postmount and xdm.  I guessed based on things I’ve heard before.   Then came this page of a lot of startup stuff:

I ended up changing it to xdm and Xsession since I knew I had xdm installed from the earlier package selection.  And that was it.  Pretty painless (assuming it worked)

So I exited and rebooted the VM.  Here’s where I ended up:

So, apparently alsa and cups weren’t installed although I asked them to be installed.  And apparently the ethernet card couldn’t start.  Why didn’t XDM or Xfce start?  And why does my kernel say sabayon-r1?  Is there where the name of Sabayon, the Gentoo derivative distro, came from?  So I go ahead and login.  I’m not exactly sure what to do.  I can’t really emerge anything that isn’t installed if I don’t have a connection to the net.  Interestingly, when I login as root, my username wasn’t created either.  Looks like something went wrong during the installation.

I’ll give it one more shot and check the logs this time.   See you in an hour or so.  By viewing the log, I was able to see that my user didn’t get created because of the way I specified the groups.  Perhaps they need to have a comma instead of a space between them?  I have no idea and it doesn’t say.

Ok, so it appears that perhaps there’s something wrong with either using VirtualBox or with the graphical installer.  When I’m in the LiveCD I can use the internet AND I have a graphical interface.  When the installation completes eth0 no longer works and I can’t get a graphical interface.  I have no idea why this is happening.  Obviously, if it works for the liveCD, then the LiveCD should be using that information to configure the real installation.  Therefore the installation should work just as well as the LiveCD.  Well, I’ve been working on this for about three days now without any luck.  I’m giving up for now.  Perhaps someone else knows what I’m going wrong, but after having gone through the installation about four times now, I’m pretty sick of it.  If someone knows exactly what’s going wrong or what I’m supposed to do, I’ll check it out.  Otherwise, Part 2 will be me just doing a manual installation sometime next week.

Sabayon was also included on my Linux Format Magazine DVD and I planned to check it out after Gentoo.  Perhaps it will prove how much more of an easy-to-do installation it is and why people would choose to install Sabayon instead of Vanilla Gentoo.

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36 thoughts on “Review: Gentoo 2008.0 and beyond Part 1

  1. Believe it or not, doing an install using the Minimal Install Disk through the command line is actually a whole lot easier. I am a religious user of Gentoo and believe most people look at the LiveCD, think it is going to do the same thing but quicker, and it doesn’t. Running the minimal install CD will give you a very customized install and will let the system know exactly how you want to set it up.

    You shouldn’t have lodaed the Sabayon kernel on reboot and I’m not sure why it did that. Could have happened since it is a dual-distro CD?

    Try a minimal install and see how that goes. Follow the Gentoo Handbook on installation and you should have no problems whatsoever.

  2. Hmm… Well, I was planning on giving the minimal install a try. I would like to have Gentoo as my main distro once I built my ultimate Linux rig. But until then, I wanted to try it out in Virtualbox.

  3. That is rather interesting. Where in the world did that sabayon kernel reference come from on a gentoo live disc? Seriously, while sabayon is gentoo based, if you’ve gone into irc and hung in the gentoo channel, you will see that the gentoo devs and volunteers there seem to HATE sabayon, and it’s users. It’s amazingly droll and ironic that after all the vitriol displayed towards Sabayon, that the gentoo 2008.0 disc may be using the Sabayon kernel. Even more interesting since it seems they’ve broken the kernel (unless by some strange chance it may have to do something with the fact that Sabayon 3.5 and previous versions were i586, not i686)

    Eric, thank you for tickling my funny-bone tonight! :) I will bookmark this and cherish that screenshot for years to come!

  4. I installed Gentoo a couple of month back it took 2 days to compile itself. as gnome + normal extras + cinelerra etc the result compared to Arch was disappointing to say the least. Cinelerra refused to work firefox kept crashing and compared to Arch/Parsix was very sluggish I think Gentoo has lost to much ground over the last couple of years it will take a long time to regain its position if ever.

  5. Sabayon is much easier to use – I have it on VMWare on my Macbook and it runs FAST (even KDE)

    Extremely straightforward GUI installer too. Haven’t tried Gentoo but if it’s that complicated…I might have to wait until next summer (holidays)

  6. Like I’ve stated in my own blog, if you want Gentoo, you might as well use Sabayon. Sabayon IS Gentoo now due to all of the politics and thinking inside-the-box at the Gentoo camps. If what was said above is true regarding some of the Gentoo developers/community hating Sabayon, that speaks volumes to me of Gentoo Live 2008.0 using a Sabayon kernel.

  7. As you saw from the screenshots above, I did use the Gentoo LiveCD installer and not the Sabayon one by accident. However, this was a multi-distro DVD from Linux Format Magazine. I know they test to make sure the discs work, but is it possible that the Gentoo accidentally grabbed the Sabayon kernel from the installation disc? I don’t think LXF would have let such a grievous mistake happen, but if Gentoo “hates” Sabayon so much then I find it hard to believe they would use a Sabayon kernel. I’m not really sure what the situation is here.

    For all you Sabayon fans, stay tuned in the next couple of days when I publish the Sabayon review I’m working on.

  8. Actually i686 starts from pentium II.
    I use ArchLinux and I think that its potential is similar to Gentoo: I can recompile a piece of software (through ABS) exactly the way I want, BUT I’m not forced to do this sice Arch is based on binaries.
    I know you can do this with every distribution, but i.e. things in Debian are much more complicated (see -dev packages, etc..).
    Insted, Arch relies on PKGBUILDs (the equivalent of SlackBuilds or eBuilds). I’m quiet a noob but was able to create my own PKGBUILD for a program wich was not in the repos and that was very simple. I tried to do the same thing, successfully, with debian…but i spent double the time it took with Arch.
    Sorry for my poor English.

  9. Your english is just fine. Yeah, distros like Gentoo, Arch, and Sabayon have the unique ability to install packages from source without hassle. I hate compiling from source on Fedora because then the package manager doesn’t know about it unless i create a package. I tried to do that once and, despite using tutorials, I was unable to figure it out.

  10. Toorox is a Linux Live-DVD based on Gentoo uses only Gentoo tools setup is simple recompile once installed is long but when done its Gentoo apart from the wallpaper.But everything needs to be compiled ie not 1 codec is installed.

  11. Haven’t read the whole review, but there is a big, big error at the beginning. In third paragraph you mention that Gentoo is like Slackware, where all packages are installed via compilation. That’s far from truth. While gentoo mostly relies on source installation (binaries can be found in portage too), Slackware provide binary packages in .tgz extension only. For the packages not included in the main repo you can either get them from non-official repos, or install them by source. And that happened on any other Linux distribution, from Fedora to Ubuntu.

  12. “Gentoo is a distro like Slackware where all of the packages are installed via compilation.”

    I know this is about gentoo but you should consider trying Slackware.
    Slackware is all binary. Like Debian, Ubuntu, you name it.
    But it doesnt have any online repositories thus if you need packages not part of the DVD you need to compile them. Or download them from the internet. Most sources cant be trusted for that.
    What you say above though is totally wrong

  13. Slackware has repositories, unless you’re talking about not using slapt-get or swaret. If you want a totally clean system though then compiling and not using swaret or slapt-get or any other 3rd party source is not recommended.

    I don’t see how Gentoo would grab a Sabayon kernel unless the mess up was in the creation of the DVD media itself. Grub should call the proper kernel and if it’s using the Sabayon kernel, it’s an error on whoever made the DVD.

  14. Quote: “I’m one of those people who believe we should remove this sense of mysticism about how computers work. The more of the general public we can get educated on what’s happening with their computers, the better. They don’t have to all become computer Gurus – that’s extremely unrealistic to expect. But I’d like to see as many people as possible getting an idea of what’s going on under the hood. (You hear that Fedora, Ubuntu, etc?)”
    : End Quote

    Yes, its unrealistic. Most people just want things to work.
    The likes of Ubuntu attempt to give them something that just works.
    Thats fine. So why ought they listen to you? How arrogant!

    10 minutes (‘pointlessly’) fiddling with something like Gentoo would be enough to put ‘most people’ off Linux for life.
    Understand – Gentoo is a niche Distro. it (only) appeals to those who want to get under the hood (and then some!) in the first place.

    Gentoo is dying on its ass. There is a reason for that.

    1. What an Bumptious post!
      Gentoo is for people that want to know EXACTLY how to get under the hood and so is the boot messages.
      Looking at an orange progress bar stuck at some point due to an error… and not being able to understand which service (or device) to blame to… make me feel I’m booting some micro$oft OS.

      Gentoo is just a collection of compile scripts to incrementally build your GNU-Linux box above a “nothing by default” environment.
      If you don’t understand this… keep away.
      If you want a static and ready to use snapshot (such that you don’t need internet connectivity)… keep away

      The only bad of Gentoo is that reveals how fast is decreasing the number of person that actually like going under the hood to really understand how an open source OS created by the effort of a world-wide comunity.

      If there is still someone, plz, just respect him! Linux is the best informatics synonim of freedom, after all!

      an Ubuntu, Red-hat, Mandrake, Xandros, Fedora, Debian, Lfs and Gentoo user

  15. I had the same problem with the 2008.0 liveCD, it wouldnt work in virtualbox. So now Im going to try to install with the minimal CD on the harddrive. I will let you know if I get it to work.

  16. I did run into some difficulties trying to install Gentoo with the liveCD and minimal install. So I checked out the Alternative Installation part of their docs, and I found a guide for installing from Knoppix (or an existing linux install for that matter).

    So I downloaded the newest stage3 and portage snapshot and followed the guide ( http://www.gentoo.org/doc/en/altinstall.xml ) from there. Although its not the easiest way to install I found it convenient since I was free surf the net, watch videos and browse the Gentoo docs while installing. It took me about 2 days to get to a working system with Gnome and a fair selection of apps I like, due to my bad internet connection.

    For me it was a great learning experince, and I just might jump ship to Gentoo if I can successfully maintain it.

  17. I’m using Minimal-CD and start from scratch each time I installed it on any pc’s.
    First time, I installed it on my MBP and I followed the guide on Gentoo wiki. It’s strait-forward and everything works fine.

  18. I’ve never installed it successfully from the LiveCD. Doing so defeats (part of) the purpose of Gentoo and, from my experience, just doesn’t work. However, installing it from the minimal C.D. does work, on both my C2Q with 4GB R.A.M. and my Pentium III notebook with 128MB R.A.M. That’s part of Gentoo’s greatness.

  19. “I’ve never installed it successfully from the LiveCD”

    Yeah….if it doesn’t work, don’t offer it is how I feel about that.

  20. Another route:

    An easy way to try it out is to install Sabayon.

    Try it out, if you like it, stick in Sabayon or slowly migrate to your home-brew Gentoo

  21. Hi Eric

    The screenshots you used are of the graphical installer of Gentoo. Well, the graphical installer is pretty much broken. The devs admit it.

    I tried it after reading your blog. It didn’t work for me. Same has been the case with many others too. The true “Gentoo” experience is in its command line install. i have read people saying Gentoo installation is difficult that Slackware; but I was able to pull through at first attempt. I think you should go for it as well and write a review on that.

    Also check out http://intosimple.blogspot.com/search/label/gentoo

  22. Some suggestions about gentoo from my personal experience.

    1. Read gentoo handbook
    2. Install gentoo minimal system from cd via command line.
    3. Choose gui (gnome/kde/etc) and read manuals how to install and configure it.
    4. Install gui.
    5. Read..
    6. Install..
    7. …

    What i want to say? :) Firstly, you should read how to do something – then do it . My first linux distro was gentoo and i am still using gentoo. Good distro.

    P.S. Sorry for my English.

  23. this is the problem of the modern lazy world… that people just wants to make something work without understanding how it really worked under the hood. Now please don’t give me that b*ullsh*t phrase “it’s just works”. Or ever encourage this IJW mentality to the masses. Those puppet-masters want us to stick or dream of this IJW mentality because they want to control the masses, and leaving only the real understanding to them. Now don’t be too naive, into being easily tricked. Just because this is is linux doesn’t mean that dark subterranean motives such as these does not exist in open-source world.

    The engine of Gentoo is openness. Raw reality to its core. To try to install Gentoo outside of these principles is just wrong. If you want to be in Gentoo, you must pass the trial by fire.. It’s not an easy road.. But once you succeeds, it will change everything.

  24. I first got into linux in 2000 when my Java teacher turned me onto suse. Love linux. Tried distro anfter distro but i never was happy.

    Then I made myself learn to install and use Gentoo.

    And then I finally knew what FREEDOM ment in Linux

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