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Feature: Gentoo

Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

By Susan Linton on August 07, 2008 (4:00:00 PM)

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When the long-awaited Gentoo 2008.0 release finally hit mirrors last month, the two largest groups of users found themselves out of luck: x86 users discovered that their live CD wouldn't copy the kernel during install, and the AMD64 image wouldn't fit onto a standard CD-ROM. This was not a great start for a distribution whose comeback may rest upon this release. Updated ISOs were released two days later, though, and those work well for getting a quick Gentoo install ready to customize.

Gentoo was once the darling of the Linux distribution world, thanks in large part to its Portage package management system. Portage takes the source code for any given package and compiles it to the user's specifications as set up in configuration files. When I began using Gentoo in 2003, everything worked like clockwork. Results were practically guaranteed and always to my liking. I had stability and a slight but noticeable increase in performance. But the greatest thrill of running Gentoo was the sense of ownership. No other system in the world was exactly like mine, and mine was exactly as I wanted. That's hard to achieve with binary distributions.

As time passed, however, the project's founder moved on and the quality of Gentoo began to decline. Packages no longer compiled cleanly, and some of the workarounds caused instability. I was on the verge of giving up on Gentoo, but I wanted to wait for the new release before deciding. This is the story of my two Gentoo installs.

Installation #1

My story begins with the first release of the live CD installers. I'd been waiting for two years for this release because I didn't have any luck with 2006.0 and didn't have time to start from scratch. When the updated ISO was released, it delivered an improved installer, making it easy for anyone to achieve a starter Gentoo system.

When I booted the live CD, I found myself in a sparse Xfce 4 desktop. Two installers are available: a graphical version and a terminal version. They're similar in operation, but I opted for the graphical version. I was disappointed that the installer didn't see all the partitions on my disks due to a limitation in SATA kernel support, but a nosata boot cheat code should have allowed me to use the older ATA drivers. It didn't work. Instead, I ended up having to install on an older, slower secondary disk.

The first step in installing is working on partitioning (if needed), and the second step is defining which partition to use. I couldn't use my centralized /boot partition because the installer won't install onto a partition with any files present, so I just designated a / (root) partition and clicked Next. The installer completed setting up the filesystem, installing basic system elements such as the compiler, bash, and startup scripts, and copying the Portage distfiles. Then it stopped.

From a chrooted environment, I began searching for elements missed by the aborted install. I found that I had to add users, set the root password, and edit the /etc/make.conf file. I changed the CFLAGS to better match my machine, using CFLAGS="-march=athlon64 -O2 -fomit-frame-pointer -pipe". Next, I listed an ACCEPT_KEYWORDS, which sets the branch of Portage to stable or unstable trees for various architectures such as x86, AMD64, and SPARC. I also set LINGUAS="en en_US", MAKEOPTS="-j2", VIDEO_CARDS="nvidia vesa nv fbdev vga", and INPUT_DEVICES="keyboard mouse evdev joystick".

Next came setting up the USE flags, which control the hardware, features, and options built into your software. For example, if you'd like Portage to build MPlayer with support for popular video formats, you might add win32codecs to your USE flags. You also might add dvd and dvdread. You don't need to be leery of this process; just consult the online guide or the one included with Gentoo at /usr/portage/profiles/use.desc.

Other settings you'll need to address with manual installs:

  • time zone -- set in /etc/conf.d/clock
  • default X session -- set in /etc/rc.conf
  • host name -- set in /etc/conf.d/hostname
  • domain name -- set in /etc/conf.d/domainname

Next I emerged the kernel sources (which unpacks the kernel source into /usr/src and adds Gentoo patches), built the kernel, ran LILO, and changed /dev/ROOT to the actual partition in /etc/fstab. After booting my new basic Gentoo system, I rebuilt the system to use my new configurations with the command emerge -e world, and emerged KDE-meta, the Portage package that installs the KDE desktop environment in its entirety. If you prefer GNOME, just emerge gnome. Happily, 730 packages installed or rebuilt with only one compile-time error to fix.

The error happened when compiling cURL. The error output die 'ldap and kerberos (gssapi) not playing nicely try version >=7.18.1' and USE=-kerberos emerge curl to fix. Since version 7.18.1 is still in unstable, I used the latter and added net-misc/curl -kerberos to /etc/portage/package.use. For details, see the USE flag documentation and the Portage Handbook.

After moving into my new system, I added many of my favorite applications, such as XawTV, Njam, and the GIMP. Again, I had no problems with Portage or stability. This new install reminds me of Gentoo's glory days. Is Gentoo back? Before I can say that it is, the installer needs to work for users who have no prior Gentoo experience.

Installation #2 (2008.0-r1)

The second machine I tried has a Gigabyte GA-M51GM-S2G motherboard with SATA drives. Again, no shared /boot was possible for me when using the installer, so I picked a / (root) partition and let the installer go. The first few steps were as described above, but this time the process continued with the configuration steps that make the installer desirable. It allows setup of the root password, user accounts, time zone, network, and some system settings. A package-selection step is next, with limited choices. However, by using it you can get a basic Xfce 4 desktop from which to continue. Then it installs a bootloader, but doesn't add the other Linux systems on the machine to the bootloader's list. My only real complaint is that there's no eject mechanism when the installer is finished and rebooting.

Since I wanted to test the installer as a new user might, I began emerging important components without touching any configuration files. A basic /etc/make.conf file was in place, containing very conservative CFLAGS (compiler environment settings) and no USE flags. I emerged GNOME, the GIMP, and 300 other packages, finishing with only that same cURL error. For someone with experience or desire, this error isn't a showstopper, but for a newcomer it might be.

This install worked fairly well, but some USE flags would have made the applications more enjoyable. Also, it seemed to take longer compiling applications on this much faster machine when using the generic CFLAGS as set up by the live CD when compared to my everyday system that was optimized for the architecture.

As of this writing, Gentoo's stable branch includes software such as Linux 2.6.25-gentoo-r7, Xorg-x11 7.2, KDE 3.5.9, GNOME 2.20.3, OpenOffice.org 2.4.1, Firefox 2.0.0.16, and GIMP 2.4.2. In addition to compiling applications from source, Gentoo also offers binary applications (bins), which can save time for some of the notoriously long builds with little or no strategic advantage, such as Mozilla Firefox or OpenOffice.org. In these cases, for example, you would simply type emerge mozilla-firefox-bin.

Conclusion

After working with my new system for a couple of weeks, I'm happy with Gentoo again. Portage works wonderfully if you stay within the stable branch and set sane CFLAGS. The resulting applications are stable and responsive. The new 2008.0-r1 installer works great with a few limitations, but this is still Gentoo. You can get a starter system going with the live CD, but you probably will need to read some documentation to achieve a full-featured desktop system. If help is needed, there is a friendly user forum available and a wiki of howtos as well.

Gentoo still isn't for everybody, but those who accept the challenge won't be disappointed. You too can have the sense of ownership and satisfaction of running a system like no one else's.

Has Gentoo gotten its act together? Only time will tell, but it sure looks like Gentoo is back on the right path. I'm sticking with it.

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on Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.93.188.113] on August 07, 2008 04:44 PM
I sure hope the Gentoo manages to come back. I learned a ton a bout Linux internals when I was using on my iBook 5 or so years ago. I was sad to see the project apparently implode, but I couldn't afford to use a flaky distro. A bit of an aside, but the background image on that double-wide desktop shot is great. Where can that be found to download?

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Re: Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 127.0.0.1] on August 07, 2008 05:01 PM
Eff yeah! The good ol' "watching crap scroll by makes me an instant linux guru" saying. In the very first post, too! You win teh intarwebz.

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Re(1): Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.127.55.102] on August 07, 2008 11:21 PM
"Eff yeah! The good ol' "watching crap scroll by makes me an instant linux guru" saying. In the very first post, too! You win teh intarwebz."

Wasn't what the post said, but good job leaping to conclusions! Have a silver star.

Gentoo is (was?) essentially a step between Hold-My-Hand Linux Distro X and Linux From Scratch. A good sort of "learn by doing" experience. Gentoo's installer used to be, essentially, a web page telling you how to install it manually. And it left you with a barely-functional system. Figuring out exactly what you want (with the helpful online documentation), and installing it, and keeping an eye on what it's doing ("oh, if I'm installing Amarok I need xine-libs too? interesting" "hmm, looks like it has a USE flag that I can use to cut out those features I don't use...") is pretty useful, if your mind works that way.

I'm sure you learned a lot about Linux just by installing the preconfigured, prebuilt, one-size-fits-all Ubuntu binaries through the gui, though.

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Re: Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.241.190.93] on August 07, 2008 07:45 PM
I got that background from kde-look.org, through the "Get New Wallpapers" button in the configure desktop module. I think it's called Night 2.0.

Susan

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Re: Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 89.12.17.12] on August 07, 2008 08:59 PM

I don't see when Gentoo imploded. Every distribution has problems one in a while. Running Gentoo I was actually most of the time able to fix the problems myself.

How about this one:

http://ploum.frimouvy.org/?194-hardy-is-a-hard-time

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OT: Wallpaper

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.249.238.80] on August 08, 2008 05:31 AM
It's only 1600x1200, but I think this is the wallpaper from the first screenshot:

http://kde-look.org/content/show.php/Pico+do+Breu+?content=59742

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.199.118.195] on August 07, 2008 04:55 PM
I'm also hoping that Gentoo returns to a more favorable position within the Linux community. I've tried Ubuntu from time to time just for quick installs, but it's never felt as responsive as a Gentoo system. Portage is still a mess, but is works.

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Re: Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.63.51.213] on August 13, 2008 04:54 PM
I have actually switched from Red Hat/Mandrake/Ubuntu/LinuxMint to Gentoo in the last year. Barring installation headaches (I never got the CD based install working properly) Gentoo by far is the best distro I have used (particularly because of portage)

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 83.241.11.135] on August 07, 2008 05:43 PM
Used to like Gentoo... even with all problems....
However then i tried FreeBSD and i just can't leave it....
If you think windows is slow and gentoo is fast, you should really try out FreeBSD 7 (especially on multicore)

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Re: Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 198.23.5.10] on August 09, 2008 01:48 AM
Too bad you can't play video intensive games like: WOW, EVE-online, Conan.. etc on FreeBSD.

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 60.234.206.1] on August 07, 2008 10:30 PM
Well I installed Gentoo 2008.0 a few weeks ago, was completely in love with it and then my crappy motherboard decided to **** itself and my gentoo installation, and my kubuntu installation and my debian installation all along with it. So I had to start again. With my replacement DFI motherboard in place I've got as far as Windows Vista and Kubuntu being installed but haven't gotten round to Debian or Gentoo yet. :( The 2008.0 release is most definately kick ass though and for the short couple of weeks I had it installed before my motherboard melt down I was loving it and barely booted into another O/S.

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 128.193.220.51] on August 07, 2008 11:30 PM
It's always nice to hear from people using the installer. I'm not sure everyone realizes this, but the installer is not intended to let people avoid reading the documentation, and it even says this. It's just intended to let people who already know what they're doing to do it faster.

I still think it's a more beneficial experience to do it by hand, since learning about Linux internals is a big reason for many people to use Gentoo.

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.191.162.58] on August 08, 2008 12:30 AM
For me, the point with Gentoo is to build a system from scratch that's optimized for the exact hardware that I have - with a strict regime for applications and so on. That's fine, but my second point isn't. To run it stable and up to date as long as the machine is operative.

The problem is all about confidence. In my book Gentoo is the ultimate "distro" but the organisation seems volatile and appears to be in need of structure and stabilitymeasures. Looking forward to that day, but Gentoo lost a lot of time and trust. Some statements explaining the delays of 2008.0 - made by Gentoo staff - did indeed lower my expectations.

I'm prepared to revisit Gentoo - but not until they have hammered out a rock solid organisation. Consistency and reliability are key issues.

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.165.214.123] on August 08, 2008 12:54 AM
I also don't think Gentoo ever imploded. I've stuck by it for 5 years now and have been happy for the most part. No distro has better documentation, and very few can match the fervent community support.

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LiveCD installer doesn't work

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.34.213.7] on August 08, 2008 04:32 AM
The AMD64 version of 2008.0r-1 LiveCD installer is still broken. You can run the desktop just fine, but when you reboot grub is broken.

How can you say a distro is back on the right path when the install cd doesn't even work? Just being honest and fair...

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 200.83.9.182] on August 08, 2008 05:59 AM
A question for all of you, Gentoo testers. Do you require to manually write an UDEV policy file for each removable device in your system, to enable automounting? Somewhere in 2006 someone had that great idea in Gentoo, and I don't want to know how to write an UDEV policy file. Is that madness still there? Am I wrong?

Thanks ;=)

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Re: Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 121.72.187.10] on August 08, 2008 09:00 AM
Not to my knowledge, I had several drives auto-mounting including a USB drive or two without writing a UDEV Policy file by hand. Gentoo 2008.0 has done what lots of other distros has done with a lot of improvements to things like HAL etc.

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 83.18.171.115] on August 08, 2008 09:11 AM
actually, installing openoffice from source has a advantage - source package is from go-oo.org and binary is straight from openoffice.org. and they are way different - the one from go-oo.org has tons of patches which add extra features.

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Gentoo's signs of declining quality control and ineffective organization

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.74.36.40] on August 08, 2008 10:59 AM
I had used Gentoo in the past and I respect it a lot because 80% of what I know about Linux inner workings I have learned it on a Gentoo box. However, I am really disappointed, maybe sad, to say that I don't trust it any more.
I was long waiting for the last release because I had upgraded my rig and all attempts in installing the previous release had failed. The need if not for more frequent releases but at least to stick to the scheduled releases and not postponing them, is to cover users who have aquired newer hardware.I really don't care if a distro releases 1 or 3 releases a year. What is really important for me from now on, is if they stick to their schedule, because this is a sign of how effective the underlying project organization is.
Nobody mentioned the declining quality control. A release after many months should normally be treated as an event with major significance. In my opinion, it is unacceptable to public release non-working versions. What would happen next to the security updates, that are of lesser significance as of a major release, what about broken packages etc. Moreover, you can't really count on what is posted on the website, the 3 month delay wasn't updated for quite a few weeks, and the last months there is not any sticking to any schedule.
I do respect a lot the time of the volunteers, my comments are not for them since I believe they are doing the best. I am just saddened though, that Gentoo is just a hobby that can't be taken seriously anymore, and for the above reasons (broken confidence, signs of declining quality control, signs of loose and inefective organization) made me to move to another distribution.

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 126.66.64.1] on August 08, 2008 11:24 AM
During those 3 years with Gentoo (choosing it after 3 years with Debian) I'm still sticking to it. It gives me control, usability and verstility. I miss some features though but I'm just freak who wants to automate everything :-)

If you need to set up 1200 servers get Ubuntu, Kubuntu or any other.... let God bless you, but you'll fail to automate them :-)

Instead, choose Gentoo. Pick up only useful tools (kernel of your choice, your services, tools for automating), prepare central Portage tree and distfiles... All of the sudden.. you are in control.

Nothing truly changed during those years, only OSS is bigger, faster, smarter.

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.176.245.55] on August 08, 2008 11:25 AM
Hard to tell. Gentoo was my first distro. Back in 2003 as well, with release 1.4 if I remember well. But sometime around 2006 they totally lost me. As you stated, things were getting out of control. Now, thanks to Sabayon 3.5, I decided to give Gentoo one more shot (Sabayon is cool, but I still like Gentoo a little bit more). I installed Gentoo 2008-r1 as well and have been using it for about a month now. I don't like the stable Gentoo though, so I use the ustable version. Everything works great! There's one thing that bothers me though: If you use Gnome, once you install Thunar, you can't get Gnome to use Nautilus when clicking on the "Places" menu. It's really annoying.

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 92.81.36.40] on August 08, 2008 10:27 PM
post

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What a useless review

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.148.150.64] on August 08, 2008 10:33 PM
I was a Gentoo user, liked it, but gradually settled on what apps I want and moved to Slackware. I do not recognize Gentoo in your review.

"I'd been waiting for two years for this release because I didn't have any luck with 2006.0 and didn't have time to start from scratch" Huh? What "start from scratch"? You did not upgrade your system?

"The error happened when compiling cURL. The error output die 'ldap and kerberos (gssapi) not playing nicely try version >=7.18.1'". Excuse me, how come this message can be called an error and how is it related to compiling?

"Since I wanted to test the installer as a new user might, I began emerging important components without touching any configuration files." Are you sure that what you did is what a new user might do? Or do you mean a Windows user? Or just a plain idiot? Why not try to figure out what a new Gentoo user might do?

How come that I have read your review and still do not understand if the 2008.0 image is helpful in installing Gentoo the normal way? Is it still a set of packages that can save me download time and traffic or what?

Gentoo things of interest are Portage speed, USE flags consistency, applications stability and if there are any apps that fail to get to stable on time, packages granularity, choice for slotted libraries, any changes to the layout of configuration scripts ... That is, things you do not bother to write about.

Conclusion: another review of a normal distro based on the assumption that all Linux must be Ubuntu.

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Re: What a useless review

Posted by: Chris Spencer on August 09, 2008 06:54 PM
"Conclusion: another review of a normal distro based on the assumption that all Linux must be Ubuntu."


Why the hell do you people always feel the need to take unwarranted shots at Ubuntu? I don't use Ubuntu personally, but I'm tired of all the cheap shots the elites keep throwing.

Don't hate Ubuntu because it manages to do what your distro failed to do - just work. You actually spend your time WORKING, as opposed to distro installation and maintenance being the work.

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Re(1): What a useless review

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.240.75.43] on August 09, 2008 10:17 PM
and I add that Ubuntu is a very good catalyser for the FOSS development, dragging a new public which can invest time on Linux in general too. I have Gentoo on my personnal pc since 5 years, but prefer Kubuntu for office, because of the huge community that can port some exotic software that I need to test (many in video, and audio domain).
But the fact is that when a new version of Kubuntu (or Ubuntu) becomes official, I've never been able to update my system without breaking it totaly. On Gentoo, since 5 years, there was many major updates (GCC, modulary xorg, modulary KDE, new system layout...), and I've never encountered any serious problem, and when it was difficult to find a solution, the mailing list, the forum, the wiki, and the official doc (so good) has always gave me a key for fixing it.

Nice article by the way ^^ I can remember my first install with the minimal Gentoo CD x86 as a noob, this was my first approach of Linux, and I still use it today.

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Re(2): What a useless review

Posted by: Chris Spencer on August 10, 2008 06:21 PM
But the fact is that when a new version of Kubuntu (or Ubuntu) becomes official, I've never been able to update my system without breaking it totaly. On Gentoo, since 5 years, there was many major updates (GCC, modulary xorg, modulary KDE, new system layout...), and I've never encountered any serious problem, and when it was difficult to find a solution, the mailing list, the forum, the wiki, and the official doc (so good) has always gave me a key for fixing it.

Now this is what the F/OSS is lacking right now: constructive criticism. Instead of saying "Ubuntu sucks!", he just calmly pointed out one of it's shortcomings and left it at that. The F/OSS community is really lacking in the maturity department right now, and you'll find that constructive comments like that are few and far between nowadays.

Now, what you said is completely true, but I will make these 2 points:

1) Gentoo isn't really a real distro, it's a more of a meta-distro, so it will always be easier to update and cleaner to install.
2) Most inexperienced users won't have any desire to upgrade the distro anyways, as this was proven true when half the country refused to change from Windows 98 to Windows XP.

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Re(3): What a useless review

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.56.161.221] on August 11, 2008 11:39 AM
2) Most inexperienced users won't have any desire to upgrade the distro anyways, as this was proven true when half the country refused to change from Windows 98 to Windows XP.

I think, you missed 2 points with this claim.
Firstly, there was no more DOS. Everyone knowing and loving DOS would refuse changing to XP
Secondly, you have to _pay_ for the upgrade.

In my opinion those two points are really decisive and are not even worthy considering when upgrading *ubuntu.

On the other hand: I've read somewhere that there was another Software called "Windows ME" which was released earlier... :D

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Re(1): What a useless review

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.63.51.213] on August 15, 2008 12:39 PM
It is good when Ubuntu just works. However when I first started Ubuntu a few years, they had an old version of pidgin and it kept on crashing when I logged onto Yahoo. Coming from Windows, which had the latest version available that worked fine with Yahoo this was frustrating. I eventually discovered getdeb which had the latest version.

When I switched to Gentoo, it brought back the choice in letting me have the latest version for "almost" any software I would want. It may not always work smoothly, but at least the choice is there.

Unfortunately, given all the choices, I am still stuck with a Gnome system because it is the most tolerable one of the three DEs available. So I am back to Windows to do any actual work. Windows may suck out of the box but with a few UI hacks, it becomes quite tolerable (except for the multiple workspace which is still buggy in compiz-0.7.6 and gnome-2.22

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Gentoo 2008.0: Return to greatness?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.101.207.184] on August 21, 2008 11:40 PM
"Since I wanted to test the installer as a new user might, I began emerging important components without touching any configuration files. A basic /etc/make.conf file was in place, containing very conservative CFLAGS (compiler environment settings) and no USE flags. I emerged GNOME, the GIMP, and 300 other packages, finishing with only that same cURL error. For someone with experience or desire, this error isn't a showstopper, but for a newcomer it might be.

This install worked fairly well, but some USE flags would have made the applications more enjoyable. Also, it seemed to take longer compiling applications on this much faster machine when using the generic CFLAGS as set up by the live CD when compared to my everyday system that was optimized for the architecture."

A new user would check the Handbook and discover that USE flags, a make.conf file -and- compiling errors are all part of Gentoo. What's the point in using Gentoo when you don't tweak your make.conf file? Honestly, you are not describing Gentoo users in the making, but rather fools who won't stick with Gentoo even if they got a working system without all of the aforementioned.

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