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Gentoo: “We’re Not Dead”

In 2008 the Gentoo Foundation ceased to exist, sending rumors of Gentoo's demise and ultimate death circulating around the Internet. Almost two years on, the distro is still here and celebrating its 10th anniversary. How close did the distro come to disaster, and where does it stand now?

Gentoo is the most popular source based distribution, recently celebrating their tenth anniversary.

Last week Linux Magazine took a look at what makes this distribution unique and why a source based operating system might be beneficial.

History

Back in April 1999 Daniel Robbins, the founder of Gentoo, started working on a new distribution called Enoch, writing some initial code which remains in Portage (Gentoo’s package manager) to this day.

On his blog, Robbins compiled a history of Gentoo, marking down the milestones along the way. After a brief hiatus from Linux to run FreeBSD, Robbins soon returned and thus reveals a starting date for when the distro first emerged, saying:

“Late 1999 – Must have came back to Enoch and done the Gentoo name change right about now – the “Gentoo” name was Bob Mutch’s idea – started incorporating some FreeBSD ideas into Enoch – Portage (as we know it today) was born.”

In 2004, Robbins suddenly resigned from his position as Chief Architect. There were a number of reasons for the move, primarily driven by the need to financially support his family, which he simply could not do by relying on user donations alone.

His final act was to create the non-profit Gentoo Foundation, signing all copyright and trademarks over to it and leaving the project in the hands of the board of trustees.

Rocky Road

Since Robbins left, the project has had some major ups and downs. Yes, it has now been emerging for ten years, however it has also been rocked by allegations that it is “dying”.

A few years back it certainly seemed that way. A new edition of the Gentoo Weekly Newsletter had not been released for some three months and the second release of Gentoo for 2007 was cancelled.

The website was rarely updated and from the user’s perspective things just weren’t getting done. Indeed, over time a growing number of developers grew dissatisfied and left the project for other distributions.

Also, as Robbins pointed out on his blog, the foundation’s charter had been revoked, meaning that the Gentoo Foundation no longer existed.

Time Heals All Wounds

So almost two years on, what has changed? Are the claims of a “dying distro” justified, and are things back on track now?

Linux Magazine contacted Gentoo offering them a chance to tell their side of the story and to provide some insight into what’s been happening with the foundation. We talked with Matthew Summers, a Gentoo Developer and member on the board of trustees.

Christopher Smart: Could you provide some insight into the issues regarding the “Leadership Crisis?” What has the leadership team done to address these issues and protect the project in the future? Is there anything you want to say to the community?

Matthew Summers: From what I can see, it appears that the individuals responsible for filing the corporate paperwork were unable to do so by the required date, so they had to file late. Simultaneously, the we experienced some infighting amongst Gentoo developers as well as some tension between developers, former developers, and various community members. This schism appears to have been amplified by the media. People were frightened by it, and we heard things like “Gentoo is dying.”

It is during this period that I became publicly active, trying to assist the Foundation recover. As a private user, I saw no serious decay in the quality of the tree or my running systems, but I was very interested in the continued health of the organization and community. So, I got involved. A new board of trustees was elected to the foundation that was able to successfully recover our status with the state. At this point in time, we are working toward full non-profit public charity status ( 501(c)(3)). The troubles are far behind us now. Gentoo is not, and never was dying. It was merely experiencing some minor technical difficulties.

The Gentoo community is rich with personality, and I have no doubt that it will continue to evolve and grow. It is inevitable that an organization as large as Gentoo will experience some rough patches, but the foundation is stronger now than ever, as are the developer and users communities. Gentoo is seeing a lot of growth in terms of new developers coming on board, and more generally, a renewed interest in the distribution as a whole. Rest assured, Gentoo is here to stay. Please join us, we’ll have some fun creating an excellent computing experience.

CS: How much development work has been happening within the project?

MS: I think an excellent illustration of the sheer amount of work that Gentoo has output is a video recently created by an excellent Gentoo developer named Patrick Lauer. He rendered the entire CVS commit history of the portage tree using code_swarm. It tool 48 hours to complete on a rather powerful machine.

The results and his commentary can be downloaded for viewing (1080p HD) at his blog, or on YouTube (720p HD). I think this demonstrates that Gentoo is rockin’.

CS: Where is the project going? Is there anything new on the horizon, or is it business as usual?

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