After many, many attempts, I have finally managed to get Gentoo Linux up and running on my PC. It took numerous tries to get it working and I had to disable ACPI for some reason in order for my network card to be detected (I have no idea why this is since ACPI deals with power management, but I was advised to try it and it worked so I’m not too bothered about why). Now I just have to configure X manually which should be fun – although I have done this to a certain extent before when other distros haven’t properly detected my monitor and graphics card (or rather, they detected them and installed the drivers, but didn’t bother configuring anything!).
For those of you who don’t know, Gentoo Linux is one which you install more or less from scratch – from partitioning the disks and creating filesystems manually (something which even distributions such as Debian usually do for you) to installing a boot loader. Whilst that may sound difficult, it really isn’t that bad if you follow the instruction handbook which is detailed and explains every step in relatively simple terms. You can also have some of the steps performed automatically if you don’t want complete control.
Gentoo also has a great package management system which outstrips any other I have ever seen. Not only does it get the package you want (you can even specify the exact version number if you want to for any reason) but it also calculates the dependancies for you. Now I know that Debian and other package managers supposedly do this for you, but in my experience apt-get is a nightmare to use and never gets the latest packages and security fixes for me. Also, Gentoo allows you the option of downloading binary packages or to compile from source. Usually binary packages (or even RPMs) make installing software much easier, but Gentoo’s emerge system automatically downloads all the correct packages, configures and installs them – with only one command. Want KDE? Just type emerge kde and you’ll have everything done for you, freeing you up to go and do something else instead of waiting at a command prompt for the first package to finish compiling so that you can start the next one.
BTW, do not try Gentoo as your first Linux package. It is not very user-friendly unless you know what you are doing – stick with Red Hat, Fedora, SuSE and the like if you want to be guided through with nice graphical interfaces. Having said that, if you do have an inkling of what Linux is and are prepared to get your hands dirty at the command prompt then it’s the best “hackers/techy” system I have come across. It is also only useful if you have a fast internet connection (or a connection to a machine which does) because in order to take full advantage of the package management system you need to keep the file repository up to date (which you can also do with only one command).
Also, never ever compile KDE from source unless you have a dual processor machine with 1+Gb of RAM or plenty of patience (and preferably both). It took the best part of two days for it to compile on my machine, and that was with xfree already installed.