Gentoo Releases 11.2 LiveDVD to Crickets

by Susan Linton - Aug. 09, 2011Comments (11)

gentoo linuxAh, Gentoo. Gentoo was once one of the most popular distributions going. But somewhere along the line it declined. It's become a fringe distro that even with dedicated developers and loyal users can't seem to get its mojo back. I used Gentoo for several years and perhaps the reasons I moved on might be the same others did as well.

In 2002 Gentoo was sitting at number three on the Distrowatch Page Hit Ranking. It's been falling down that list every year since. This year it's at 18. Version 11.0 was released in March and I don't think anyone reviewed it. The Rolling Programmer tried, but "hit a brick wall." Regardless, I don't think it's not-so-ease-of-use that took Gentoo down. I lay the blame at Moore's Law.

In 2002 and the surrounding years, compiling Gentoo from Stage One actually showed real benefits over the more generic-style binary distros that had to cater to a larger common denominator. Real performance increases were possible and definitely distinguishable in comparison. But as hardware became more and more powerful, these increases became less and less pronounced. Even when I moved on several years ago they were almost non-existent. So, now the main advantage of using Gentoo is probably either bragging rights or a learning experience.

Another lesser reason for Gentoo's decline was the departure of Daniel Robbins. Like with Mandriva's loss of Gael Duval, it takes away some of a distro's momentum and identity to lose its founder. Imagine what Ubuntu might be like if Shuttleworth suddenly departed. Oh it'd still go on, but it wouldn't be the same. Can you imagine Linux without Torvalds?

One other major stumbling block has been the absence of a hard drive installer on its DVDs. I think it would be beneficial for Gentoo to provide a binary installer in the ilk of Toorox or Sabayon. I know that's almost sacrilege to say, but I think it's the truth. Even with Stage Two and Three tarballs, it still takes a lot of work to get a Gentoo system up and running properly. It just became more trouble and too time consuming than it was worth to me.

Which leads right into the fourth reason I think Gentoo has been in decline. Compiling each application is a time consuming process especially if you're upgrading something like KDE. It could take hours to compile all those KDE packages. I remember when Firefox and the kernel were long compiles too. (Gentoo did provide a few binary packages, but just a few.) Generally, folks just don't have the patience for that much anymore.

So, Gentoo 11.2 LiveDVD was released this past Sunday and barely got any press. To me, a former Gentoo lover, this is sad. The improvements sound intriguing. The main change is Linux kernel 3.0. The number of distros moving to Linux 3.0 is starting to grow, but Gentoo is still probably the third or fourth so far. New desktops include KDE 4.7.0, GNOME 3.0.0, and Xfce 4.8. Some software updates are LibreOffice 3.3.3, Mozilla Firefox 5.0, Chromium 13.0, Opera 11.50, Amarok 2.4.3, and MPlayer2 2.0. The Live DVD actually comes with a lot of software, including Porthole and Zero Install for adding addtional applications. A link on the desktop will take users to the Install Handbook.

I've said it before, if Gentoo would provide a binary installer like Toorox, more people would give it a shot. As it is, I think Toorox and Sabayon are tempting Gentoo users away. But for the patient or self-improvement types, Gentoo Linux can provide an experience unlike anything else.


One of the many rotating background images included on the DVD


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I agree. I once tried Gentoo out, but could never get everything I wanted setup properly. I then moved on and installed Slackware 13.37 and life is grand. Gentoo still intrigues me, but with all the hassle of trying to get the system up and running, I'll stick with Slackware.

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LOL The Rolling Programmer article is full of crap and the user attempting to install Gentoo is obviously a noob who can't debug for shit. You on the other hand want to use distrowatch as a way to compute the popularity of Gentoo when in FACT distrowatch is ignored by most of the Linux Experts, So go take that shit somewhere else.

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Crickets? well maybe people are too busy to notice, but I for one am downloading ASAP.... I need to test some of the new i7 laptops and this is an excellent way to do this. Besides, Gentoo is a very cool distro!!

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You're not making any sense.

You claim a Live DVD was not well received because ... it's based on a distro where you have to compile all the packages yourself.

But, erm, this is a Live DVD. You don't have to compile anything.

Then you point to someone having problems installing Gentoo, as a typical example of why it's not popular, but the person in question had problems because apparently he couldn't even follow simple instructions, instructions that are no more difficult than those for Ubuntu. No really, even my 8 year-old nephew could do it.

You also seem to have missed the main point of Gentoo, which is configurability, not optimised binaries. I use Gentoo because it allows me to specify the exact dependencies I want for each package, such as adding experimental features, or removing support for things I don't need. This allows me to have a GNU/Linux install that's exactly tailored to my needs, far more than is possible on any binary-based distro. Switching to binary packages would completely defeat the whole purpose of Gentoo, although some are available for larger packages like LibreOffice, for example.

The actual speed difference between a generic i386 package and an optimised package is only a couple of percent, so that was never any real advantage. Multiple cores, threading, SSE/MMX instructions, etc. provide real speed advantages, but not basic CPU optimisation.

And the time taken to compile is irrelevant too, since it happens in the background on a idle CPU and I/O priority, so I really don't need to care how long it takes.

The idea that "Gentoo is hard" is a myth. Once you get past the initial setup, and add the desired USE flags, the rest is pretty much automatic ... forever, since it's a rolling release.

Which brings me to my penultimate point. Did you ever consider that perhaps the reason there's no fanfare for this latest release is the fact that Gentoo users don't actually need to use "upgrade" discs, they just "emerge --update" forever?

It's just a Live DVD. They have their uses, of course, but it's not exactly the central purpose of Gentoo. However "popular" it is, or not, it has more than enough support to continue providing regular package updates, and that's good enough for me. What else matters?

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I agree with nearly everything Susan says. I used Gentoo on all our computers for many years, but the combination of increasingly negligible speed benefits and an increasingly directionless Gentoo community made it less and less worthwhile to put up with compile times and occasional breakage when distros like Slackware were almost as fast to run (and actually booted much faster for a while, with minimal edits to boot scripts) and much, much easier to install and maintain, with almost no breakage ever.

Gentoo's "portage" still makes it potentially an amazing distro, but its development community has zero vision and doesn't understand that there's more to a good distro than the packages. A great example was the distro's website: it wasn't updated at all for ages and nobody even cared. Developers actually seriously argued in the forums that it wasn't worth worrying about. Users argued that a project's *looking* like a silly mess translates into fewer users/testers and so worse software, but the developers just want to code and forget about PR (even the documentation, once so good that users of other distros referred to it, fell behind), so the distro has sunk into fringe/hobby status and there it will probably stay.

I agree that it's sad: it's still technically an outstanding distro, but it will probably continue to die a slow death over the next few years because the project is run so aimlessly. In fact the only thing I don't agree with is the claim that it offers a good learning experience and/or bragging rights: Linux From Scratch is much better if you really want to spend time understanding what's under the hood, and takes much, much more effort to produce a fully working modern desktop if that's what the "bragging rights" refers to! A Gentoo install doesn't teach users a heck of a lot: it just takes a heck of a long time.

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I think the question of whether a distro is dying or not, should not be based on its popularity on distrowatch, but should be based on the volume of its devoted users and the developers. The latter is more important, because if bugs keep creeping up or essential packages remain outdated, devoted users will get discouraged and turn away. I don't know if such metrics are available (developers in and out), not just for gentoo but for any distro.

The nature of Gentoo makes it also unpopular. The lack of installer doesn't help and also the fact that although you can have a base system within the hour running (not with the first attempt) it's far from a desktop system. This precludes the typical distro-reviewer to have a review done within a few hours and post it on his/her blog (and preferably the same day a new version of Ubuntu/Fedora/Suse comes out).

About the performance (and compiling) I haven't decided. I would like to see some tests and surely not how many seconds it takes to boot. Maybe, with newer hardware it may not be noticeable (which also makes compiling not such a big deal, especially if one sets a powerful rig doing the compiles and feeding those to less powerful machines). But except for number-crunching, let me ask this scenario, if someone can get 10% more performance because the distro is optimized for the atom processor, wouldn't he/she use the extra battery time on his/her netbook for finishing up some work. Can we get 2, 5 or 10% more? I don't know if there's a definite answer.

About learning with Gentoo: I started learning a lot when I started writing my own e-builds, that is an experience. LFS is a learning experience for the low level components, but after having done it two times I will not do it again and I will let portage take care of the details.

Overall, although the stated points in the article are fair (with smaller objections on definite answers or funtoo for DR followers), my biggest objection are the chosen criteria for a dying distro and the consequences that this statement may have on less informed or less aware readers.

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With Gentoo I still run KDE 3.5 (I do not like the KDE 4 desktop) and I can have Okular-4.7, Kchmviewer-5, k3b-2 and other KDE4 applications without installing the combersome KDE 4 desktop.

What other distro can do that?

Bugs are reported and corrected litterally within hours.

I do not think Gentoo is dying.

It is a distro for people who know what they want.

Certainly not reviewer-friendly and most certainly not a "girlie" distro.

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I like Gentoo. I think it really shines when you want a more minimalist desktop. The USE flags lets you pull in only what you really need, rather than like binary packages include everything or only the most popular options. (Either of these can be annoying because sometime I want a rar feature without everything binary being big.)

If you like to install every program under the sun, then yes the compile times will get annoying, otherwise just one or two hours a week if you keep just one of the basics around.

Also for performance,bootstrapping, march=native and -fomit-frame-pointer help. A custom kernel without the debugging features can help as well, and though you can get that with any distro, the Gentoo documentation does warn you when certain features need to be enabled or disabled for something to work.

I don't think Gentoo is dying so much as the demographic of the Linux user is shifting. More away from people who want to tinker and control their system to people who want to just to get to the endpoint as soon as possible.

A binary installer might be nice (I once saw a youtube vid of someone trying to install the LiveCD by dragging the cd icon onto the hard drive) but without understanding a bit about portage (emerge, dispatch-conf, revdep-rebuild) it's a bit difficult to administrate the system. Having a bit of a trial by fire makes those that come out the other end intact helps give users the tools to really make the system thiers.

Plus I think Arch has managed to appeal to a lot of the same potential userbase, while being somewhat simpler via pacman, but with it's own ports system for when you want to tweak.

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To end my though above. Gentoo isn't so much dying as many of the other Linux distros are growing at a faster pace. I mean then just did change their init system to they could get better integration with other kernels like BSD, Mach or Darwin. Gentoo is primarily Linux, but not exclusively so.

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I have 17 OpenSuse Desktops and several MS$ Windows systems under my care. I have one in-house application that searches as TByte data set consisting of about 2 Million video clips, photos and documents in about 200 directories for identical files and flags these for deletion. The files are stored on a software RAID 5 array. The application is written in "C" and compiled with hardware on which it runs with -march=native -mtune=native -O3 compiler flags

The process takes about 8.5 hours when run on OpenSuse 11.4 (64 bit) or Gentoo (64 bit). After fully re-compiling the Gentoo installation with CFLAGS="-march=native -mtune=native -O3", the same application with the same data runs 2.5 hours to complete.

I wish Gentoo would use YAST as installer to download, install, configure and compile a new installation and updates. I could then upgrade the 17 OpenSuse boxes and the installed applications to Gentoo without spending says to get Gnome and Samba etc. to work.

Installing and configuring a PC with OpenSuse with Gnome, Libre Office, etc. takes about 10 minutes of my time at the keyboard.


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In my opinion, this articale was written by someone who used Gentoo as a ricer and that's not what Gentoo is about IMO.

Gentoo is not about minimal performance improvements. It's a nice bonus, but that's not what Gentoo is about.

Gentoo is about extreme customization. From the USE flags to being able to select exactly what versions of which packages you want and (if necessary) stay on a older version for years.

As far as compile-times being an issue...My desktop has 8 CPU cores and is EFFECTIVELY a Core i7 or high-end Core i5 and besides the time getting my USE flags just perfect, i'd say all the compiling to get me from starting the install to a full GNOME desktop was under 2 hours. I remember when with older Pentium 4's, this would take nearly 10 hours. IMO, compile-times aren't an issue anymore and will be even less of an issue in the future as CPU's are gaining more cores and getting faster, but application source code isn't getting much larger or much more complex.

As far as Gentoo either being for bragging rights or a learning experience, I completely disagree. For me, it's about choice. I had previously used ArchLinux and I was disappointed that you have one choice for packages and it was whatever choice the ArchLinux developers decided to give you. I switched to Gentoo because i wanted choice over what features i wanted in packages and what versions of packages I wanted. There were other reasons that facilitated my switch, yes, but i'll leave them out of here because i'd rather not stir up drama.

That's why no one is interested in the LiveDVD. Sure it's kind of cool, but it has no installer and even if you dd the image to your disk, you don't really get any of the benefits of Gentoo.

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