End of the road with Gentoo – new year, new experiences
Since my admittedly outdated last post, I’ve been keeping busy in real life – most recently, I was out of the country for seven days, braving airport security and experiencing relatively nice temperatures in Colorado.
I’ve also been apartment-seeking and dealing with my Logitech Z-5300 speaker system that one day mysteriously refused to power on. This was unfortunate as it left me without a convenient way to blast the latest 30 Seconds to Mars album at high volume. (OK… maybe I’ve also been overplaying the Glee soundtrack too.)
My taste in music aside, here are my conclusions from the experiment and what I plan to do for my computing environment in 2010:
My initial ambitions
To gain additional experience with Linux and figure out which open source applications make viable alternatives to commercial software. Being platform-agnostic, while maintaining as much data out of the privacy-reducing “cloud” as possible, is one of my top priorities.
Gentoo is certainly the distribution to pick for the additional experience goal. I have a much better understanding of the Linux filesystem and how package management works than I did in September, and I could probably maintain a Web or file server environment with Gentoo – even AFP worked nicely and more reliably than SMB once it was set up. I also gained additional experience with Songbird, KeePassX, Synergy and OpenOffice. These desktop applications are excellent examples of enabling a more positive user experience.
What didn’t go as expected?
My initial conceptions about Gentoo included a cutting-edge environment, with a difficult-to-master package management system and customization abilities that allowed for drastically improved performance. I learned that the stock version of Gentoo is very stable, but not necessarily cutting edge – many GNOME packages are still marked as ‘unstable’ for x64 architectures past 2.20, which was originally released in September 2007.
Unlike a Debian environment, where the ‘testing’ branch is reasonably usable for a non-project developer, the ‘unstable’ environment packages in Gentoo can completely break Portage, leaving you without a good way to manage software.
While desktop performance was quite in line with my idea of improved performance, certain elements are not quite at the level of more desktop-oriented distributions like Ubuntu. The bootup sequence happens in series by default and waits on a DHCP response before even thinking about GDM/KDM or other services; turning on parallel-boot options for reduced startup time caused my network adapter to need several mashings of “ifdown eth0; ifup eth0″ in a terminal before it would consider acquiring an IP address.
Cloud computing and privacy
Through the experiment I also did not succeed with my goal to keep data out of the ‘cloud’ as much as possible. Through numerous reinstalls, filesystem changes and hardware swaps, I found that the most reliable and convenient way to save and access data was to store it with Google – either in Gmail, Documents or another service. It’s the little things, like how Thunderbird will not save a SMTP password until you first send a message with that account… and then you have to fire up KeePass, and by that time you may be dealing with another message and forget about the original email.
I will be working on reducing my dependence on Google in the new year by migrating documents, keychains and other important files to a server in a local datacenter, which is not subject to the USA PATRIOT act. I expect this will be a long and slow process of learning and breaking old habits.
What’s next for me?
- My main machine now boots Windows 7 Professional. This is due to the recent Steam holiday sale – one of my favourite games right now is Torchlight, which is heavily influenced by Diablo/Diablo II. I also enjoy having a Windows machine around for Visual Studio development.
- During January, I will be installing Fedora 12 and trying to make some additional games work using some of these instructions.
- I also now have a second machine running Xubuntu 9.10. I chose XFCE as the computer has a limited amount of memory and disk space, and makes a perfect test environment for Linux applications.
- In the future, I might try managing an Asterisk installation from the Xubuntu system for more experience with telephony server administration.