Well it’s been a couple of months now since the start of Experiment 2.0 and I’ve had plenty of time to learn about Gentoo, see its strengths and… sit waiting through its weaknesses. I don’t think Gentoo is as bad as everyone makes it out to be, in fact, compared to some other distributions out there, Gentoo doesn’t look bad at all.
Now that the experiment is approaching its end I figured it would be a good time to do a quick post about my experiences running Gentoo as a day-to-day desktop machine.
Gentoo is exactly what you want it to be, nothing more. Sure there are special meta-packages that make it easy to install things such as the KDE desktop, but the real key is that you don’t need to install anything that you don’t want to. As a result Gentoo is fast. My startup time is about 10-20 seconds and, if I had the inclination to do so, could be trimmed down even further through optimization.
Packages are also compiled with your own set of custom options and flags so you get exactly what you need, optimized for your exact hardware. Being a more advanced (see expert) oriented distribution it will also teach you quite a bit about Linux and software configuration as a whole.
Sadly Gentoo is not without its faults. As mentioned above Gentoo can be whatever you want it to be. The major problem with this strength in practice is that the average desktop user just wants a desktop that works. When it takes days of configuration and compilation just to get the most basic of programs installed it can be a major deterrent to the vast majority of users.
Speaking of compiling programs, I find this aspect of Gentoo interesting from a theoretical perspective but I honestly have a hard time believing that it makes enough of a difference to make it worth sitting through the
hours days of compiling it takes just to get some things installed. Its so bad that I actually haven’t bothered to re-sync and update my whole system in over 50 days for fear that it would take forever to re-compile and re-install all of the updated programs and libraries.
Worse yet even when I do have programs installed they don’t always play nicely with one another. Gentoo offers a package manager, portage, but it still fails at some dependency resolution – often times making you choose between uninstalling previous programs just to install the new one or to not install the new one at all. Another example of things being more complicated than they should be is my system sound. Even though I have pulseaudio installed and configured my system refuses to play audio from more than one program at a time. These are just a few examples of problems I wouldn’t have to deal with on another distribution.
Well, it’s been interesting but I will not be sticking with Gentoo once this experiment is over. There are just too many little things that make this more of an educational experience than a real day-to-day desktop. While I certainly have learned a lot during this version of the experiment, at the end of the day I’d rather things just work right the first time.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).