The first item I should address is what I would think is a perceived "bad point" about a 24-hour system setup time. Although some may consider this compile time to be excessive, this is not 24 working hours. All together, I spent about three hours in front of the machine, and most of this was spent watching Portage do its thing.
The second thing I want to address about the time is my case is an extreme that, if you choose to use the Gentoo system, you don't have to go to. Only if you want to bootstrap your system and compile everything from the ground up are you required to go through these steps. You can, and many people choose to, install from the Stage 2 or Stage 3 tarballs, which have many packages precompiled using standard directives. In using the compiler directives that I chose for my processor, I have noticed a speed improvement by what I would estimate to be about 10% to 15%. My main reason for choosing the Stage 1 tarball was to become intimately familiar with building the Gentoo system from the ground up. Additionally, the Gentoo group does provide ISO images with software precompiled using compiler directives for specific branches of processor families (for example, Athlon/Duron, Pentium 4, Athlon-XP). These offer the optimization without the hassle of the wait of compiling.
A huge plus that has kept me with the Gentoo system is the ease with which I can add packages to, remove packages from and update packages installed on my system. Essentially, all of these are accomplished using the emerge command. For example, to install OpenOffice on my machine, I dropped into a shell and typed emerge openoffice. After a two-hour optimized compilation period, OpenOffice was available to me and my users (my wife). When a security patch was offered for OpenSSL, in order to update it and my entire system, I merely typed emerge -u world. All the packages I had installed on my system that had updates available then were updated.
Another huge plus that I have found has little to do with the Gentoo distribution itself but the support community and the Gentoo Web site. Gentoo's documentation is surprisingly commercial-grade, even more so than some documentation for the commercial distributions. The Gentoo group's reliance on XML and CSS for its Web site gives it a uniform look, feel and implementation. It's clean, robust and functionally usable.
As far as support is concerned, any question that I have asked has been answered within minutes of posting it to the mailing list. Generally speaking, the users I have encountered have been warm to newcomers, and they appear to be interested in cultivating a large base of users for this product. It's rare in the technical community to find seasoned users who are as adept at answering the questions of newcomers such as myself as they are at helping other seasoned users solve technical problems.
Last, but not least, an operating system with no application support is not a good thing. With Gentoo, there are no worries. The Gentoo community has produced more than 4,000 applications in the Portage/ebuild format (from completely free software such as Ximian's Evolution to proprietary software such as VMware), and the library keeps on growing. And if you can't find an ebuild for a particular product, you always can download the source and install it as you would on any of the other Linux distributions.
Gentoo Linux offers an option for the user who wants an easily and highly customizable system that also can be kept up to date with ease. If this is you, I highly recommend looking at this metadistribution.
Sean Bossinger manages the University Technology Services Support Center at Florida International University. In his copious free time, he enjoys playing in the park with his wife, Tracy, and two rambunctious sons, Donovan and Logan.
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