Gentoo, the most popular source based distribution, has turned ten years old. What benefits does a such a system provide over its binary distros? As Linux becomes more and more popular, is there still a place for source based distros?
The major downside to building your system from source code is of course, time. What would take a few seconds on a binary system such as Debian, might take 5 minutes on Gentoo. It could even take days to install KDE. The question is whether the benefits of a highly optimized system, both in CPU architecture and features, outweighs the cost.
For a lot of people it doesn’t. They don’t want to spend time building and tweaking their system, but rather just want it up and running quickly.
There is another area where Gentoo really shines however, knowledge. Free software enables knowledge, and knowledge is power. Nothing offers power like understanding and building your own system. You craft it, you create it.
Using Gentoo for just three months could teach a user more about Linux than the use of other systems could in three years.
sudo emerge -av thank-you
This week Gentoo has turned 10 years of age, so something has kept this distribution around. Sure, it might be the thrill of pushing a system to the max and squeezing out each and every inch of performance from the computer, or maybe because it’s the simplest and most effective way to build your own unique system.
Linus once said: “Do you pine for the days when men were men and wrote their own device drivers?” The same could be said for Linux distros today: “Do you pine for the days when men were men and compiled their own distros?” It would have to be much more politically correct these days though, of course.
Part of the advantage to free software is the ability to study it and learn how it works. One of the great strengths of Linux is the ability to get right into the core of the system and take a look, learning how it works and then being able to fix things if they break.
What’s the common fix for a Windows problem? “Reboot.” If all that fails? “Reinstall.” Linux on the other hand, offers plenty more tools and empowers the user. It’s also very logical and straight forward. It doesn’t try and hide how things work. Sadly however, distros are increasingly heading this way. Bucking this trend though, are many of the source based distros. True to their roots – solid, flexible, empowering.
So while the overall uptake of binary distros might be up, there will always be those who prefer to do things differently. Those who prefer to have more control over their system and who enjoy creating something themselves. It’s a real sense of achievement and a great educational experience which will pay off for years to come. For this reason there will always be a place for Gentoo.
Thank you Gentoo for making the last 10 years so interesting and fun. Here’s to the next ten..