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The problem with Gentoo: my reactions

One of the articles Tyler passed me this morning was a brief post on three problems with Gentoo by Dion Moult. There are a few things he’s mentioned that I definitely agree with. Having used the distribution for a little over a month, some minor changes would go a long way to making the experience less painful and more usable.

Updated Documentation
This is the biggest factor that I think impacts Gentoo uptake, adoption and continued use. While the installation guide is very detailed, it’s beginning to show its age: there’s no mention of the ext4 filesystem, and it only details XFS briefly. Since choosing a filesystem and partitioning scheme is one of the first things that needs to be done during the installation process, it’s important to give the most amount of information possible to prevent users from having to change things down the line.

Likewise, the X.org configuration guide discusses the difference between using /dev/input/mice and /dev/mouse as a pointer input device, but both configurations neglect the more recent evdev and HAL. To their credit, the wiki maintainers indicate that the information is out of date, but getting X.org up and running is absolutely essential for a desktop or workstation configuration.

Dion mentions that things should just work out of the box. As far as hardware goes, my only difficulty so far has been getting my mouse to work (due to the evdev/HAL issue mentioned above.) I run an nVidia card and by following the nVidia guide, I had no issues with getting accelerated graphics working. Likewise, after installing GNOME and setting USE flags, my external hard drives and USB devices are now working consistently.

Since my main machine is a desktop, I haven’t really investigated the usual problem points of hibernate and standby. One thing that might improve compatibility would be an installer or set of meta-packages that takes care of the hardware usually present for desktops or laptops. For example, a set of common wireless modules, power management tools and ACPI/DSDT fixes would provide a convenient way to get a netbook or laptop user up and running.

Better communication between developers and users
I also agree that when developers maintain a dialog with their users, it’s much easier to understand the rationale behind program design decisions or why a package isn’t included in the distribution. As of this point, I have no idea why the default KDE version in Gentoo is 3.5 – and searching through bug reporting databases isn’t an easy way to figure this out. I expect it’s due to stability concerns, but at least make the reasons behind that known. Providing easy instructions for adding overlays or unmasking packages to achieve a user’s goals also helps foster good relationships.

The Songbird ebuild is another case in which I don’t know what to do. Is there a way to install the package or not? I’m satisfied with the stability of Songbird on my own system, but there’s no clear and easy way to get it loaded into Portato.

Perhaps the only way to really understand the Gentoo installation process is to install Gentoo itself, then try again and use what you’ve learned. 🙂

  1. fauli
    December 20th, 2010 at 11:03 | #1

    Regarding your notes about documentation: The Gentoo handbook/documentation covers packages that are in stable, that’s what we support. So at that time X.org Server 1.6 just went stable which had no evdev interface if I remember correctly, the current guide covers udev/hal/evdev appropriately.

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