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Also, as Robbins pointed out on his blog, the foundation’s charter had been revoked, meaning that the Gentoo Foundation no longer existed.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

Comments on "Gentoo: “We’re Not Dead”"

yougotrooted

When Robbins left, the people controlling gentoo ruined it. There was no longer a vision, just a bunch of dudes fighting.

Reply
csmart

This does appear to be a common feeling among the community. I wonder what Gentoo developers are thinking..

-c

Reply
jshanab

I use Gentoo on 6 machines. While I admit it is not as great as the initial experience I had with it, I still prefer it over the ununtu and fedora based distro\’s that I also use daily. (I run mostly a monolithic kernel with one module loaded at boot, Not initrd)
What may be misleading on many sites that like to put out stats on distro popularity is the difference a source distro has on those stats. I never downloaded from distrowatch. I continuously upgrade the machines. What has bitten me was the choice to remove packages and clean out the portage tree so aggressively. I ended up with difficulty updating machines left updated too long. I think and auto fallback to archive servers could of increased sync speed and still allowed the occasional machine to get up to date easily.
I have some ideas to help out and someday I want to contribute, to give back more than just on the forums.

Reply
slackline

Been using Gentoo for something like five years now. Have installed on SPARC x86 ARM and more recently PPC (Playstation 3) and x86_64.

Portage is a delight to work with none of the circular dependency hell that bothered me with RedHat6.1 and easy to clean out packages and dependencies unlike Slackware (which I moved to from RH after one too many circular dependency hair-pulling session!).

I don\’t think the stats on stable packages are overly important or fair (but then I run testing(/unstable) on all but PPC) as new packages/updates appear in testing/unstable relatively quickly.

There has been a lot to change the perception of Gentoo of late, not only is there more activity on the front page and the amalgamation of various developers blog posts, but also the development of documentation to aid those intererested in becoming a developer (see http://www.gentoo.org/proj/en/devrel/handbook/handbook.xml ).

The forums have remained as active as they\’ve ever been, and there are regular updates and patches to lots and lots of packages. I don\’t see why any distribution has to \”be seen\” to be \”alive\”, the activity is there if you get involved!!

Reply
jjss

The author treats the subject unprofessionally. Gentoo is not for masses, it\’s rather a tool to build an ecosystem, composed from dozens of machines. I see no reason to post misleading statistics, like how now KDE, GNOME in distro is, while not posting real advantages of the system. I got 6 hundred routers based on Gentoo and guess what, surprisingly I see no reason to install KDE on them.

There is plenty features which differ Gentoo from standard distribution and treating it as it was usual half-year-lasting Ubuntu is just horribly wrong.

Having said this, if you don\’t mind, I would put in my 2 cents and describe something which is *not* available through any other package manager in *any* of the distro the author is aware of.

simply, the Linux Kernel. We in Gentoo have six or seven *branches* and about 90 versions of kernel, including dozens of stable. This is what people *need* and *use*.

* sys-freebsd/freebsd-sources
Available versions:
(6.2-r5) ~*6.2-r5!b!s
(7.1-r1) ~*7.1-r1!b!s
(7.2) ~*7.2!b!s
(7.2-r1) ~*7.2-r1!b!s
(7.2-r2) ~*7.2-r2!b!s
{symlink}
Homepage: http://www.freebsd.org/
Description: FreeBSD kernel sources

* sys-kernel/cell-sources
Available versions:
(2.6.18-r6) ~*2.6.18-r6!b!s
(2.6.19_rc5-r1) ~*2.6.19_rc5-r1!b!s
(2.6.19_rc6-r1) ~*2.6.19_rc6-r1!b!s
(2.6.24-r1) ~*2.6.24-r1!b!s
{build symlink}
Homepage: http://www.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/people/geoff/cell/ps3-linux/
Description: Full sources including the cell/ps3 patchset for the 2.6 kernel tree

[I] sys-kernel/gentoo-sources
Available versions:
(2.6.16-r13) 2.6.16-r13!b!s
(2.6.25-r9) ~2.6.25-r9!b!s
(2.6.26-r4) 2.6.26-r4!b!s
(2.6.27-r8) 2.6.27-r8!b!s
(2.6.27-r10) ~2.6.27-r10!b!s
(2.6.28-r5) 2.6.28-r5!b!s
(2.6.28-r6) ~2.6.28-r6!b!s
(2.6.29) ~2.6.29!b!s
(2.6.29-r1) ~2.6.29-r1!b!s
(2.6.29-r2) ~2.6.29-r2!b!s
(2.6.29-r3) ~2.6.29-r3!b!s
(2.6.29-r4) ~2.6.29-r4!b!s
(2.6.29-r5) 2.6.29-r5!b!s
(2.6.29-r6) ~2.6.29-r6!b!s
(2.6.30) ~2.6.30!b!s
(2.6.30-r3) ~2.6.30-r3!b!s
(2.6.30-r4) 2.6.30-r4!b!s
(2.6.30-r5) 2.6.30-r5!b!s
(2.6.30-r6) ~2.6.30-r6!b!s
(2.6.30-r7) ~2.6.30-r7!b!s
(2.6.30-r8) ~2.6.30-r8!b!s
(2.6.31) ~2.6.31!b!s
(2.6.31-r1) ~2.6.31-r1!b!s
(2.6.31-r2) ~2.6.31-r2!b!s
(2.6.31-r3) ~2.6.31-r3!b!s
{build symlink ultra1}
Installed versions: 2.6.30-r4(2.6.30-r4)!b!s(21:29:40 08/16/09)(-build -symlink)
2.6.30-r5(2.6.30-r5)!b!s(00:43:29 10/04/09)(-build -symlink)
Homepage: http://dev.gentoo.org/~dsd/genpatches
Description: Full sources including the Gentoo patchset for the 2.6 kernel tree

* sys-kernel/git-sources
Available versions:
(2.6.32_rc1) ~2.6.32_rc1!b!s
(2.6.32_rc1-r1) ~2.6.32_rc1-r1!b!s
(2.6.32_rc1-r2) ~2.6.32_rc1-r2!b!s
(2.6.32_rc1-r3) ~2.6.32_rc1-r3!b!s
(2.6.32_rc1-r4) ~2.6.32_rc1-r4!b!s
(2.6.32_rc1-r5) ~2.6.32_rc1-r5!b!s
(2.6.32_rc1-r6) ~2.6.32_rc1-r6!b!s
(2.6.32_rc1-r7) ~2.6.32_rc1-r7!b!s
(2.6.32_rc3-r1) ~2.6.32_rc3-r1!b!s
(2.6.32_rc3-r2) ~2.6.32_rc3-r2!b!s
(2.6.32_rc3-r3) ~2.6.32_rc3-r3!b!s
(2.6.32_rc4-r1) ~2.6.32_rc4-r1!b!s
(2.6.32_rc4-r2) ~2.6.32_rc4-r2!b!s
(2.6.32_rc4-r3) ~2.6.32_rc4-r3!b!s
(2.6.32_rc4-r4) ~2.6.32_rc4-r4!b!s
(2.6.32_rc4-r5) ~2.6.32_rc4-r5!b!s
{build symlink}
Homepage: http://www.kernel.org
Description: The very latest -git version of the Linux kernel

* sys-kernel/hardened-sources
Available versions:
(2.6.25-r13) 2.6.25-r13!b!s
(2.6.26-r9) 2.6.26-r9!b!s
(2.6.28-r7) 2.6.28-r7!b!s
(2.6.28-r9) 2.6.28-r9!b!s
(2.6.29) ~2.6.29!b!s
{build symlink}
Homepage: http://www.gentoo.org/proj/en/hardened/
Description: Hardened kernel sources (kernel series 2.6)

* sys-kernel/mips-sources
Available versions:
(2.6.27) ~*2.6.27.21-r1!b!s
(2.6.28) ~*2.6.28.9-r1!b!s
(2.6.29) ~*2.6.29.1!b!s
{build cobalt impactdebug ip27 ip28 ip30 ip32r10k symlink}
Homepage: http://www.linux-mips.org/ http://www.gentoo.org/
Description: Linux-Mips GIT sources for MIPS-based machines, dated 20090324

* sys-kernel/mm-sources
Available versions: (2.6.28_rc2-r1) ~2.6.28_rc2-r1!b!s
{build symlink}
Homepage: http://www.kernel.org/ http://www.gentoo.org/
Description: Andrew Morton\’s kernel, mostly fixes for 2.6 vanilla, some vm stuff too

* sys-kernel/openvz-sources
Available versions:
(2.6.18.028.064.7) ~2.6.18.028.064.7!b!s
(2.6.27-briullov.1-r2) 2.6.27.2.1-r2!b!s
(2.6.27-briullov.1-r3) [M]~2.6.27.2.1-r3!b!s
(2.6.27.9999) [M]**2.6.27.9999!b!s
{build symlink}
Homepage: http://openvz.org/
Description: Kernel sources with OpenVZ patchset

* sys-kernel/sh-sources
Available versions:
(2.6.13) *2.6.13!b!s
(2.6.14) *2.6.14!b!s
(2.6.15) *2.6.15!b!s
(2.6.16.20) *2.6.16.20!b!s
{build symlink}
Homepage: http://dev.gentoo.org/~dsd/genpatches
Description: Full SuperH sources including the gentoo patchset for the 2.6 kernel tree

* sys-kernel/sparc-sources
Available versions: (2.4.34) *2.4.34!b!s
{build symlink ultra1}
Homepage: http://www.kernel.org/ http://www.gentoo.org
Description: Full sources for the Gentoo Sparc Linux kernel

* sys-kernel/tuxonice-sources
Available versions:
(2.6.28-r10) 2.6.28-r10!b!s
(2.6.28-r11) ~2.6.28-r11!b!s
(2.6.29-r4) ~2.6.29-r4!b!s
(2.6.30-r6) ~2.6.30-r6!b!s
(2.6.31) ~2.6.31!b!s
{build symlink}
Homepage: http://dev.gentoo.org/~dsd/genpatches/ http://www.tuxonice.net
Description: TuxOnIce + Gentoo patchset sources

* sys-kernel/usermode-sources
Available versions:
(2.6.16-r3) ~2.6.16-r3!b!s
(2.6.16-r4) ~2.6.16-r4!b!s
(2.6.16-r5) ~2.6.16-r5!b!s
(2.6.18) ~2.6.18!b!s
(2.6.18-r1) ~2.6.18-r1!b!s
(2.6.18-r2) ~2.6.18-r2!b!s
{build symlink}
Homepage: http://www.kernel.org/ http://user-mode-linux.sourceforge.net
Description: Full sources for the User Mode Linux kernel

[D] sys-kernel/vanilla-sources
Available versions:
(2.4.37) (~)2.4.37!b!s
(2.4.37.5) (~)2.4.37.5!b!s
(2.6.16.62) (~)2.6.16.62!b!s
(2.6.19.7) 2.6.19.7!b!s
(2.6.23.17) 2.6.23.17!b!s
(2.6.24.7) 2.6.24.7!b!s
(2.6.25.20) (~)2.6.25.20!b!s
(2.6.26.7) 2.6.26.7!b!s
(2.6.26.8) (~)2.6.26.8!b!s
(2.6.27.10) 2.6.27.10!b!s
(2.6.27.12) (~)2.6.27.12!b!s
(2.6.27.31) (~)2.6.27.31!b!s
(2.6.27.32) (~)2.6.27.32!b!s
(2.6.27.33) (~)2.6.27.33!b!s
(2.6.27.34) (~)2.6.27.34!b!s
(2.6.27.35) (~)2.6.27.35!b!s
(2.6.27.36) (~)2.6.27.36!b!s
(2.6.27.37) (~)2.6.27.37!b!s
(2.6.28) (~)2.6.28!b!s
(2.6.28.9) 2.6.28.9!b!s
(2.6.28.10) (~)2.6.28.10!b!s
(2.6.29) (~)2.6.29!b!s
(2.6.29.4) 2.6.29.4!b!s
(2.6.29.5) (~)2.6.29.5!b!s
(2.6.29.6) (~)2.6.29.6!b!s
(2.6.30) (~)2.6.30!b!s
(2.6.30.3) 2.6.30.3!b!s
(2.6.30.5) (~)2.6.30.5!b!s
(2.6.30.6) (~)2.6.30.6!b!s
(2.6.30.7) (~)2.6.30.7!b!s
(2.6.30.8) (~)2.6.30.8!b!s
(2.6.30.9) (~)2.6.30.9!b!s
(2.6.31) (~)2.6.31!b!s
(2.6.31.1) (~)2.6.31.1!b!s
(2.6.31.2) (~)2.6.31.2!b!s
(2.6.31.3) (~)2.6.31.3!b!s
(2.6.31.4) (~)2.6.31.4!b!s
(2.6.32_rc1) (~)2.6.32_rc1!b!s
(2.6.32_rc3) (~)2.6.32_rc3!b!s
(2.6.32_rc4) (~)2.6.32_rc4!b!s
(2.6.32_rc5) (~)2.6.32_rc5!b!s
{build symlink}
Installed versions: 2.6.29_rc8(2.6.29_rc8)!b!s(19:11:29 03/22/09)(-build -symlink)
2.6.29.4(2.6.29.4)!b!s(01:23:19 07/20/09)(-build -symlink)
2.6.30.5(2.6.30.5)!b!s(21:10:42 08/19/09)(-build -symlink)
2.6.32_rc1(2.6.32_rc1)!b!s(01:03:04 10/04/09)(-build -symlink)
2.6.32_rc3(2.6.32_rc3)!b!s(22:19:28 10/10/09)(-build -symlink)
2.6.32_rc4(2.6.32_rc4)!b!s(21:47:08 10/13/09)(-build -symlink)
2.6.32_rc5(2.6.32_rc5)!b!s(23:19:49 10/18/09)(-build -symlink)
Homepage: http://www.kernel.org
Description: Full sources for the Linux kernel

* sys-kernel/vserver-sources
Available versions:
(2.2.0.7) 2.2.0.7!b!s
(2.2.0.7-r1) ~2.2.0.7-r1!b!s
(2.3.0.36.14-r1) [M]~2.3.0.36.14-r1!b!s
(2.3.0.36.19) [M]~2.3.0.36.19!b!s
{build symlink}
Homepage: http://www.gentoo.org/proj/en/vps/
Description: Full sources including Gentoo and Linux-VServer patchsets for the 2.6 kernel tree.

* sys-kernel/xbox-sources
Available versions: (2.6.16.26) ~*2.6.16.26!b!s
{build symlink}
Homepage: http://www.kernel.org/ http://www.gentoo.org/
Description: Full sources for the Xbox Linux kernel

* sys-kernel/xen-sources
Available versions:
(2.6.18-r11) ~2.6.18-r11!b!s
(2.6.18-r12) ~2.6.18-r12!b!s
(2.6.20-r7) [M]~2.6.20-r7!b!s
(2.6.21) [M]~2.6.21!b!s
{build symlink}
Homepage: http://xen.org/
Description: Full sources for a dom0/domU Linux kernel to run under Xen

Aren\’t you fed up yet? ;-)

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