Disdaining Gentoo

Gentoo Linux has its problems. Gentoo once heralded the source-based distribution revolution. You could setup your system at a very low level, compile everything, tweak everything, optimize everything. It was great for a time.

Gentoo Linux has its problems. Gentoo once heralded the source-based distribution revolution. You could setup your system at a very low level, compile everything, tweak everything, optimize everything. It was great for a time.

I used gentoo for about eight years on my home desktops and production servers. My work computer is still gentoo, in fact. But in the second half of my time with gentoo, things went from bad to worse. Gentoo had its own internal struggles and, to their credit, things went mostly smoothly for end-users. Except for the breakage.

Breakage is a fact of life on gentoo. You can either save yourself the headache now by holding off updates, but once you do you’re in for a world of hurt, or you can do regular updates, say weekly, and you’ll find on average one snag per update. You’ll be lucky to get through an update without an issue. Gentoo used to be quite a bit better than this but this is what it’s devolved into.

I’ve been frustrated with gentoo for a long time. Initially the inertia to move distros took some time to overcome but about a year ago I did. I tried a whole swath of distributions looking for a nice one. I settled on CentOS. It’s alright for a desktop but it’s not going to do you many favours. Still, I stuck with it. I used it for a few months and I started to miss gentoo.

So I went back to gentoo. My thought was that maybe my legacy install was the cause of all my problems and perhaps a clean install would make things go smooth. No.

Soon after the clean install, a few months ago now, updates would break. On all of my gentoo systems it got to the point that overcoming the breakages eventually proved too much work or apparently impossible.

So, this past week I installed Ubuntu and then wiped that soon after for kubuntu. Who knows if it’ll last but at least things just work. My usb wireless device, which worked at 10-20% packet loss on gentoo works flawlessly and out-of-the-box on ubuntu.

There is a thread on the gentoo forums titled “I’M DONE – 4 YEARS of Gentoo is ENOUGH.” It was started in 2006, is still going strong, and has 26 pages of posts. It is the clear testament to the deep rooted problems that exist in gentoo.

Save your sanity.

10 thoughts on “Disdaining Gentoo”

  1. A distro that removed its creator was doomed from that point on. It was fun to go through the lengthy install and the speed was unheralded..but now all the infighting has ruined whats left. Daniel Robbins still contributes his own packages to sabayon another gentoo based distro, and his own site Funtoo.org has is packages and projects available.

    1. I suspect Robbins was as much a part of the problem as anybody else. But, you’re right, infighting will kill any group. I can only hope they reorganize from the ground up. Personally, I don’t think a large-scale source-based distro is feasible. It’s too difficult to get everything working.

  2. Interesting. More than half of that poll thinks it’s even better or hasn’t changed. Considering that most people go to forums to complain, this poll doesn’t look all too bad.

    Plenty of other distros out there. I got sick of Ubuntu and moved to Arch. You have to love GNU/Linux, where even if things get rough, there is always another corner of it that welcomes you home.

    Where in Windows would you go if your welcome wore out?

    1. You have a point but I notice that forum is full of a lot of people with fanboy behaviour. Meaning, I’ll complain about something and they’ll respond not with a solution (because there is none for gentoo breakage) but they’ll respond with snarky comments or over-used replies like update early update often…I’ve tried every combination of that, things still break. Gentoo really does have a problem and they’ve been ignoring the real fundamental problems of their source-based distribution: It doesn’t scale to tens of thousands of packages. Nobody can be blamed for that. It’s just a huge problem. Many package maintainers just ignore gentoo bug reports because they know their packages on other distros just work.

  3. I had a similar experience to you with Gentoo – 6 years as a real diehard, but it just got worse and worse. I eventually jumped ship and settled on Sidux, after trying Ubuntu Studio and then 64Studio.

    Sidux is a slightly tweaked version of Debian Sid.

    Sidux has everything I liked about Gentoo, minus everything I didn’t. It’s pretty edgy, and yet I’ve found it to be very stable indeed. Now been using it for over a year and a half, and haven’t looked back once.

    Gentoo was great while it lasted, but I really grew tired of the amount that stuff would break while updating. Sure, Sidux occasionally has a hickup here and there, but considering it’s Debian “testing”, it’s positively a dream to run compared to Gentoo at the time I stopped using it.

    1. I’ll have to take Sidux for a spin. I’m always willing to try new desktops. I’ve tried the few major ones and they’re all lacking somehow. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. I have used Sabayon Linux, which is customised Gentoo (Testing/Unstable Branch), for over two and a half years. Updates via Portage used to break my installation quite frequently a year or two back, but Portage has got better in my experience. Fingers crossed, but upgrades via Portage have not broken my installation in at least 18 months. My problems these days all seem to stem from upstream (KDE and X.Org being just two examples), which of course is in no way Gentoo’s fault. I can honestly say that I find Sabayon (Gentoo) to be getting more robust, not less so. My updating philosophy has changed and is now to not upgrade something for the sake of upgrading it; I only upgrade a package if it has a security vulnerability or a bug or new functionality that I want/need to use. Even doing this, I find the occasional upgrade does not disturb much. Perhaps I am lucky, but, as I say, my experience has improved, not worsened.

    1. I tried Sabayon once just because it had the slickest desktop in a livecd at one point. What I’m really looking for is a well-serviced, established desktop. ubuntu, red hat, centos, suse, etc. I’ve settled on CentOS 5 because it’s still using KDE 3.5. Can’t give it up. I hope they improve KDE 4 soon.

  5. I find it really odd that you having issues with Gentoo now. There was a point a year or two ago (I think) that I was having a lot of issues with breakage but I do not have a standard setup either. I am still using a non-standard setup (Hardend, mix of stable and unstable packages, layman overlays, and local overlay ) but it has been much smoother. I have been using Gentoo since 2002 and I really think that it is better than it has ever been.

    1. I don’t get it. An acquaintance online also doesn’t see as serious a problem with the breakage as I do.

      I don’t do anything out of the ordinary at all. I guess I have a lot of USE flags (it’s a desktop, after all), but I don’t do anything off-the-path, not at all.

      I developed this weekly sync, glsa-fix, update world, revdep process. Inevitably I would start getting broken compiles on average once per merge. Usually I’d have to go to the forums to find out how to fix it (I am so sick of going to the forums for these merge problems). If not that, then it would be some insane migration like apache 1 to 2, kde 3.5 to 4, udev, kernel 2.4 -> 2.6. They just keep introducing insane migrations. It kills me. I would like to mask kde4 for example but what happens is inevitably your other software you really need starts to break when an upgrade comes in…so you end up masking everything?

      What I don’t get is why my process of doing nothing out of the ordinary causes so many frustrating problems. This buddy I mentioned and a few others don’t seem to understand what I’m talking about. I don’t get that at all. How can you operate gentoo and not get these problems? Clearly a lot of people do get these problems and they don’t put up with them. But whenever someone doesn’t have these problems, I view that as the exception, and it drives me crazy wondering how they do it.

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