How I came, and returned, to Gentoo Linux


    Gentoo Linux Logo

    My Linux roots actually started back at Indiana University (Bloomington) where I was a graduate student with the School and Environmental Affairs in September, 2002. One of my majors was in Information Systems and I was lucky enough to take a Vector-based GIS course where our instructor, Craig Wayson, introduced all of us to Unix. I remember that day very well because one of the first questions he asked us was if anyone ever used Linux. Nobody did, and to be quite honest, I had no idea what Linux was.

    I was never a happy Window’s user being a longtime Commodore Amiga 500 guy (I used my Amiga until August, 1996). I had to use Windows 95 when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan because they had no other operating systems in town. When I returned to the States in 1999, I just stuck to using Windows. Plus, being a graduate student at Indiana University, I could easily buy Window’s software on the cheap (Windows XP Professional only cost me $5 US). When Craig mentioned about Linux was similar to the Sun Solaris OS we were using in class, I decided to give Linux a try.

    By mid-September, I had installed Red Hat Linux 7.3 on my custom Pentium 3 desktop. It did not impress me due more to my ignorance of Linux and RPMs then with Red Hat. Yeah it was nice to SSH to one of Unix boxes at the GIS lab so I could run ArcGIS but after the class ended, I lost interest. Red Hat Linux 8.0 did not switch me. I tried SUSE Linux but I could not install it. Finally I settled for Red Hat Linux 9.0.

    In April, 2003, the Linux guys from UITS at Indiana University were promoting Gentoo Linux at the 2003 Linuxfest. I remembered it very well, first they spent one hour showing students how to install Red Hat Linux. After the session ended,most of the students left and a new, more geeky, crowd arrived. I just remembered them saying that it was now time to show off a Linux distribution for the power Linux user which of course was Gentoo.

    UITS gave a great presentation of Gentoo and I can see why they were one of the first ones to host a Gentoo Mirror in the US. They kept telling us that installed Gentoo for the first time was not easy. They even demonstrated a Stage 3 install, which at that time, was not easy. I just remembered that I wanted to try Gentoo when I got the chance.

    It was actually quite funny on how I started to use Gentoo. By September, 2003, I had moved back to Seattle. I was still impressed by Gentoo so I decided to order a LiveCD. At that time, Daniel Robbins, the creator of Gentoo, still mailed the LiveCDs from his house with a very detailed installation guide.

    I decided to install Gentoo over my Red Hat Linux partition on my Dell Inspiron 8100 notebook which I dual booted with Windows XP. The first time I installed Gentoo, I failed. Even worse, I thought I lost the Windows XP partition because I could no longer access it with bootloader. I had no choice but to try a second attempt at installing Gentoo. This time I was successful (the previous attempt I accidentally skipped a line which meant that GRUB had not installed correctly). I installed XFree86 but it looked funny so I thought I installed it wrong. Thanks to the local LUG guys, found out that XFree86 always looks, well, flaky when you install it. I wish I had known because by that time, I made a third, and now, successful install of Gentoo.

    Once I got Gentoo installed, I emerged and compiled KDE from Portage. Then I emerged Quantas Plus, an open source web development tool, that glued me to Linux. The performance of Gentoo was on my notebook was noticeable. By the end of September, the Gentoo users had helped me compile the 2.6 kernel, still in development, for my notebook which further improved performance. I had finally converted to Linux doing things the “Gentoo Way”.

    I brought my Gentoo notebook when I moved to Vietnam back in May, 2004. I installed Gentoo on my custom built AMD64 desktop in April, 2005. About six months later, I was migrating my AMD64 desktop to modular when things started breaking. Since I had no time to fix, I decided to install Kubuntu which I had earlier installed on an Opteron server for my previous employer making myself one of the first Ubuntu users in Vietnam.

    I kept my eyes on the Gentoo community but the excitement of this distro seemed to be waning, even among devote Gentoo users. Still, I wanted to return back to Gentoo since it was really the only distro I knew how to use. By March, 2006, I found myself running openSUSE Linux on my beloved Thinkpad T60. openSUSE got me interested in Linux again but as my friend told me, I kept doing things the Gentoo way. While manually compile your own kernel when Yast can do it for you. I ran SLED for about a couple months thinking a stable system would be good. Wrong, I broke it within a couple weeks upgrading it. After awhile, there was really no difference between my SLED install and openSUSE 10.2.

    Last September I tried Sabayon, an Italian flavor of Gentoo. It was awesome! I still did things the Gentoo way which, well, does not go well with a stable minded distribution. By mid-October, openSUSE 10.3 was back on my Thinkpad T60. It would suffice but within a month, I was not happy with Yast again though things seem to work.

    Last December I started to test DesktopBSD and PC-BSD, two different flavors of FreeBSD. When I started using Ports, I was impressed. Portage is a great copy of the Ports package management system. I decided to install PC-BSD on my custom desktop since I see a lot of potential with PBI. After using PC-BSD for over a month now, I wish I had tried FreeBSD earlier. I really love BSD!

    Since I am now compiling with PC-BSD again, I started to get the urge to try Gentoo again. It is amazing at how similar Gentoo and FreeBSD is (Daniel Robbins was a FreeBSD developer before creating Gentoo so you can see FreeBSD’s influence). I was exhausted when I tried to install Gentoo last month and I ended up trying Debian Etch for a week (a really great distro). Finally, after being well rested, I made another, rather easy, attempt at installing Gentoo on my Thinkpad again. I did it! 🙂

    As usual, wow, I am so amazed at the difference Gentoo has made in the last couple of years. I know back in September, I was unsure about the future of Gentoo Linux. The Gentoo Community is currently facing some problems. We would like Daniel Robbins to take a more active role, if at all possible. If not, well, Gentoo will survive. Portage 2.0 is will definitely put itself at the top of the Linux package management systems. PlusGentoo has many more innovations, one being their Gentoo/FreeBSD Project.



    Gentoo meets FreeBSD, wow, what a combination! I have never taken part in any Linux projects before but I think this particular one might actually interest me.

    Another challenge which I can do the Gentoo way 🙂


    1. I’m thinking of using Gentoo myself but am completely ignorant on Linux. I know the typical way is to point to more “easy-to-use” distros but I would like to, as you said, learn Linux, the “Gentoo way”. Your entry as reconfirmed my suspicion: that if I learn Gentoo, I will have learned not just linux, but a few other things from other OS’s (FreeBSD and, in the latter, Mac OS X since it uses BASH for it’s terminal).

      One question though: I heard that Gentoo developers are thinking of implementing c shell in replacement of BASH. Now I have little understand of what this would mean for, the noob. Would I have to learn BASH or Cshell or both at the moment?

    2. If you learn Gentoo, Slackware, or Arch Linux, you definitely will learn alot about Linux. If you spend time with FreeBSD, NetBSD (the hardest install ever) or OpenBSD (I want to try it), you will learn about the Unix systems.

      It is your pick on what you want to use. I am not a fan of the Ubuntus though I do like to run Linux Mint on my laptop (Laptops are just too damn picky to run my favorite distros).

      I am running Arch Linux on my desktop now. I love it so far. I had some reverse dependency issues with Gentoo last Saturday which killed my KDE settings. Instead of recompiling them with revdep-rebuild, I decided to try Arch.

      Arch is nice, very BSD like. Give it a try AFTER you try Gentoo.

      Do not worry about the shells, you can choose whatever shell you want to use. I prefer Bash myself and will always use it 🙂

      Best of luck.

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