The Pan Pipes of Gentoo Linux, Always at the Source

Skyrim. It’s bad enough they built it for feeble console controller play, completely ignoring the greater capacities of PC horsepower and keyboards. But it also means spending time with that bloated, plastic Windows 7. That’s ok, though. You hardly notice the trapped feeling of flimsy lego block walls when you’re immersed in a good game.

Yesterday, though, perhaps as a subconscious reaction to the fascist shackles and narrow hallways inflicted upon us by proprietary operating systems like Windows 7 and OSX, I went a little nuts. Back to the search for my new workstation OS, I left the stench of caustic proprietary industrial chemicals and instead entered the stench of man sweat, heavy gears, lifting, and grease.

Gentoo users are what Arch Linux users imagine themselves to be: real men. You don’t even get in their club unless you pass through the Klingon pain stick ritual, where where if you come out alive at all, you’ve at least bludgeoned, bruised and bloody. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And those who survive, are brothers.

Ok, yes, slightly neanderthal brothers, I admit. You see, Gentoo has left the citadel, gone out into the wild plains, where these brothers live the natural life under the stars, pounding naked on drums while dancing around a bonfire, building and strengthening bodies and minds, and, well, do their druidic rites for whatever purposes, while the rest of the world rides in their silver spaceship to the sun.

Gentoo confuses me. He’s primal, wild and passionate. Painfully intelligent in such an exotic way. He’s a beast. And a spirit. And I can’t help but love him. He’s how I used to be. Before I was civilized by the unified space people. Before I compromised my dreams and aspirations in the name of convenience and responsibility.

Gentoo is a warrior, a kung fu master who can juggle the primal elements, and teaches you by forcing you to confront yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. It’s the essence that counts. And if that essence isn’t strong, persistent and true, you will break. That is the beauty. That is what binds us together.

Gentoo takes a lot of crap from people who say the only reason he’s there is because he’s obsessed with optimization. Gentoo is obsessed with optimization. He’s a kung fu master. But one does not know true meditation until the body and mind are one in optimized harmony. One does not know true meditation without a deep knowledge of self. And honor is what’s inside, not what is perceived by others.

That being said, Gentoo does make building a Linux box much simpler than using tape and paperclips. Their install image can be booted, or mounted locally for an install without having to reboot. Gentoo makes it easy to chroot into an environment where you can build the system, then just reboot in to carry on creating your own little world. Created however you, as the strong individual, might want it.

Over time, Gentoo has become more accommodating of people wanting to take the fast track, providing some selectable profiles that will make sure you get some of your dependencies handled for your bigger, future dreams. Like a desktop environment. You can’t help but imagine him sneering at you for taking a pre-packaged route. But he tolerates your weakness, knowing you’ll eventually find your own strength together.

Normally you wouldn’t find Gentoo “fraternizing” with someone like me, a one-night stand. But I’m not your average Joe, easily intimidated, quick to anger and burying any secret lack of self-confidence. I got in Gentoo’s face, meaning to take him on, no malice, no baggage, nothing to prove – only to see. You can’t describe such things. They can only be experienced.

And it was good. Gentoo has done an excellent job bringing all the various source packages that make up a traditional Linux OS and supporting stuff together. The dependency matrix through their packaging system, portage, is quite good. The difference is, you have to decide what you want. Do you want your IMAP client to support TLS encryption? You better make sure you compile with the dependencies in place.

If you stick to the pre-packaged sources in portage, and set your USE flags properly (which tell what you generally like compiling in support for), Gentoo is mostly hassle-free. I suppose some people may not know, but yes, Gentoo cooks every program on your system from scratch, downloading the source code for you, and doing its best to make sure you have already compiled the other things you’ll need to successfully compile what you currently want.

Users of other Linux distributions often accuse Gentoo users of obsessing about performance tweaks that Linux lets you do, such as taking advantage of very specific hardware capabilities your system might have, and experimenting with different approaches at compile-time optimizations you can sometimes exploit to boost the zippy-ness of a given program. Such things are obsessive. They can also be fun. And sometimes even useful in a practical sense.

But where I have found Gentoo most convenient is the fact that everything on my system, regardless of optimizations, I have compiled locally, myself. This means that when I want to experiment with a new software release that no distribution has yet conveniently packaged up for me, I can very easily compile it, just by downloading the source. I already have the header files or object files on my system for any dependencies this new package may require. And this can be very nice, because I don’t have to go searching for the correct “development” libraries that most binary Linux distributions would require you to install, in order to compile other programs against those libraries.

I could very happily build a life with Gentoo as my main workstation. If I weren’t a superficial bitch underneath it all. I want shiny, pretty, and I want everything done for me right now, and in the future, and I want it to not look home made. I want him to do everything for me, and I don’t want to have to do anything for him. That’s how it should be. And I’ll settle for a bit of a body fat, if he’ll take care of me. I’ll even smile.

That’s why I’m back in Fedora right now. Gentoo handled an install of root on LVM and RAID just fine, too, btw. Well, as long as you passed the right kernel parameters and built the initrd properly. You have to tell those burly men what to do. Just like Fedora requires it, but for no good reason. Debian from the future is on the flipside still, while I’m trying to make things work with Fedora. Good, faithful Debian Sid.  I wonder what you’ve been thinking, what updates have come since I’ve last been there. Maybe tonight I’ll see.

You know, Gentoo is real shit. Anything more bare to the metal that this and you’ll be crossing the boundaries over into science. Right now, no matter which desktop Linux distribution I eventually end up with, I’ve got in the back of my mind that I’ll be slipping out of the shiny citadel every once in a while, on those clear nights, with the curiosity and pull of the deep woods, to join Gentoo again – under the moon and stars, the bonfire only a small pinpoint from above, yet the raw source of all we have become.

The saga contiues: Psychotic SUSE 12.1 Linux – A Mythological Nightmare