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rockclimber88
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2007 4:26 am    Post subject: Is Gentoo practical? Reply with quote

I started using Gentoo about 8 months ago when I got this fancy new laptop and I wanted to use the most customizable operating system that existed to get the very best performance out of my new toy. A friend recommended Gentoo because it would help me learn linux (before I was just using Ubuntu so I hadn't really learned anything about the behind the scenes processes).

So something that has been coming to my attention while searching around on the forums for various answers to stuff is the nubmer of angry postings of disgruntled users who left Gentoo with a bad taste in their mouth. The only reason I didn't post this under one of those threads is that most of them that I find are kind of old and it's always a little weird replying to something that somebody said a long time ago. But most of them have the same general opinion. That Gentoo is too complicated. And at first I thout they were just whining because Gentoo isn't perfect and they want everybody else to fix their problems. They all get a lot of flak for usually being their first post in a forum etc.

But most of what they say is legitimate. I mean, to be honest I kind of like having something to fix on my computer because I suck and it gives me something to do rather than coming up with something worthwhile like going outside but most people aren't like that. Most people would like to have an operating system that works. where you can spend more time getting stuff done on your computer than you do taking detours when portage messes up and dealing with problematic unstable releases etc.

I just recently checked out Ubuntu again because I was installing it on a friend's computer... and guess what?... their wireless drivers just work! like magically! and you can just click a button and it tells you what it will update and then does it.

I don't really understand why Portage has to be so messed up and why I have to fear all of the bugs that I will have to deal with after every update. Why can't I have an OS that compiles software from source, has USE flags and all that great Gentoo stuff but also allows me to get stuff done without getting distracted fixing my computer every ten minutes?

So my question is: Is Gentoo really just an operating system for people who enjoy fixing their computer? Because that is actually kind of legitimate. I mean, I've learned more about how my computer works with Gentoo than I'm sure I would have with any other OS but is it really a practical OS in any way?
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tylerwylie
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2007 4:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gentoo's great if you like working on your operating system moreso than your actual work.
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2007 2:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

lol! It does feel like that sometimes ;)

I will say that getting Gentoo running is a lot more laborious than other distros, as it requires lots of actual thinking. It does nothing for you - You HAVE to read the handbook and figure it out. This puts a lot of people off.

As you say 'tho, it teaches you a damned lot as you go through the process.

Once you get it running, it's just as good as any other distro. More efficient if anything, since with other distros they install lots of stuff you don't actually need, but 'might'.

One plus Gentoo has is that, unlike almost every other distro, major underlying changes, like a GCC or libc upgrade, doesn't require to upgrade the whole system off a new install CD - It's just handled as yet another regular package upgrade (Albeit a scary and potentially system borkening one :P)

I would definitely not recommend it to someone who wanted something that Just Worked however.

Gentoo is definitely the hacker's (real not press) distro ;)

I'm starting to grow out of it - As I learn more, I find the default ebuilds to be incredibly restrictive, and have taken to hacking them to make them work they way *I* want. None of this pulling in loads of not-actually-necessary dependencies stuff.
The most powerful thing in Gentoo is the Portage ebuild system - I'd go so far as to say the ebuild system IS Gentoo - If you took that away we'd basically have Debian/Slackware. ;)
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2007 2:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's odd. I always hear these complaints, yet it's rare for me to have anything to fix, ever. Last thing I had to fix, was a broken package from a third-party overlay (not Gentoo official, so that makes it even less of a problem) about two months ago. I update every two weeks or so, and I regularly install new software, so don't think my computer is in some vegetative state either. I'm also running ~amd64 (Unstable!). It's very perplexing to me.

To be honest, I get much more work done on Gentoo than I ever did on Ubuntu/Fedora/Arch/Sourcemage or any other distributions. Like many people, I went to other distributions and found myself coming back.

I guess it's just a science of getting it all worked out or something, or perhaps I'm just a plain lucky son of a gun.. :?

/me shrugs
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2007 2:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

rockclimber88,

Any OS, even Windows, is just a tool to get a job done. Choose a tool you are comfortable using and that works for you.

Many of the people leaving Gentoo didn't ask themselves what they wanted before they started and found that gentoo was not for them.
There are several typical themes.
1. I update every day and don't have any CPU cycles for doing actual work.
Well, there is no need to update every day. Monthly or weekly is adequate for almost everyone.

2. I did an major update now <app-foo> is broken and I really need it *now*
Thats just bad planning. Would you upgrade a binary distro, you needed right now.

3. Gentoo is no like <some-binary> distro.
Thats right, its not. Gentoo gives you all of the controls and expects you to use them.
You don't really install Gentoo as a distro, you make yor own unique distro, using the tools provided by Gentoo.

Many users come back to Gentoo after going back to <other distro>.
I wish you well and good luck finding a distro that suits you better then Gentoo.
You will always be welcome if you return.

Cyker,
Take away portage and you would be left with Linux From Scratch. I'm here because I really didn't want to use a notebook as a package manager.
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2007 3:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As NeddySeagoon says, use what you are comfortable with. Gentoo takes a lot of time to initially get things configured how you want them, but eventually, you end up with a stable and fast system that works the way you want it.
For me, I use Gentoo on my all of my servers and I don't regret it. It gives me the exact system that I want and nothing more to bloat it. For my desktop systems, I actually use Windows most of the time because I am more productive in my Windows desktop. It's what I am comfortable with. I still have Gentoo desktops, and I'm using one now, but things just seem to work better for me and I'm more productive in my Windows desktop. Of course, it seems that Vista is even changing this for me. I find myself more often in my Gentoo desktop than Vista desktop lately. :)
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2007 4:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well the only times i have really broken my system is when i have to make a mass upgrade since i forgot to like in a year (<-- VERY BAD IDEA NEVER WORKS). Apart from that everything have always worked for me, the only things i had ever had problems are with unessential or just for the looks programs (i.e. cedega, compiz, etc) but those with a little bit of work and a lot of READINGS can be solved. If you really want to know what's going on, want to minimize what programs do, don't have unnecessary programs, then go for gentoo, if you want to have an easy to install, configure and to "manage" and not really interested of the process go for ubuntu, opensuse, fedora, actually any rpm distro.
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2007 6:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I haven't broken my system in years. It's kind of boring, really. I pine for the days when updating more than ten packages at a time was a flying by the seat of your pants affair, and every other month or so would have a period of downtime as I fixed something critical. They were magical times, when boys were separated from men. Or something.

Don't get me wrong, a Gentoo with a stable upgrade path is a better one. (I don't consider the expat issues that big of a deal, really.) And really, despite other people's encounters, I believe it's a stable path. I've run ~amd64 on three different boxes, alongside longlived x86 installs (my recently-replaced router box was pushing two years, which is not bad considering how often I play around with installs), and haven't had a major problem in a long time.

Not to boast, though.

It's something that takes time to get right. You can know how to prod emerge, and revdep-rebuild, and so on, but until you have a good understanding of their interactions, that's not complete administration. There are times when I've looked at an action emerge was going to take, and while it wasn't exactly an error, it alerted me that something was wrong in a subtle way that only people using the distro for years would pick up on. Gentoo is definitely an administrator's distro, for a lot of people that is unacceptable despite the benefits, and they quickly depart it. But for others (especially those who enjoy this kind of thing), it's great. So as Neddy said, one needs to be comfortable with it.

I guess with the above, I echo Phenax. After a while, you just "know" Gentoo and a lot of tasks become second nature, in a Zen understanding kind of way. I don't think Gentoo tools are black magic, by any means, they are just deep, and occasionally nuanced.

Random incomplete tips for the budding Gentoo user:

* Use a breakbox if you can early on, when you're still getting your Gentoo legs. Put it on something you don't care about too much and go nuts. Even if it isn't your only Gentoo box, have that be the one where you try out an overlay, or switching to ~arch, or whatever.
* Don't plow through big updates. My "rule" is as follows: less than a month, unless the package list is huge, emerge -uDN world is safe. Otherwise, do things in parts, if the system is working fine. emerge -uDN cups, make sure that works, make sure everything works with the new glibc, and then (and ONLY then) move on to KDE or the next thing with 20 or so packages to upgrade. It saves a lot of headache, leaves a system with a better chance of being usable after each step, and makes determining what broke much easier.
* NEVER plow through dispatch-conf (or whatever you use to update your config files). If you can't spend time on each config file immediately after an update, making sure you merge the configs correctly, leave it be and don't reboot/restart any related services until you can get to the configs. NEVER reboot with a dispatch-conf run pending.
* Pay attention to every new package and changed USE flag in an emerge -pvuDN world. A new package here means new deps, obviously. Find out if the deps are optional, see if you should perhaps be using a different (new) package to replace that USE flag that just went away. Trust emerge, but never blindly accept it.
* Clean out your world file every now and then, removing packages that are deps of other packages in world, unless you remember wanting that specific package. (That is, unless you were writing code that used it, you probably don't need libpng in your world file, you only want USE="png".) This can clear up funny problems or point you to better alternatives, especially with virtuals. (Example: I had a FAM library in my world file (I don't even remember the name of it) and it would occasionally spin and take 100% CPU in KDE. One day I did some cleaning and let emerge install gamin, which was the default choice for FAM, which turned out to work much better.)
* Use --depclean. Even if you always --pretend it, just do it to get a sense of things. You may not run the --depclean, but you may still identify some packages you can remove. Look for stuff you don't use anymore when poking around in your world file (or the bold items in emerge output, these days).
* Run one of those cruft scripts, or write your own, for older boxes, but by all means, only if you're perfectly comfortable with it. Verify its output before removing anything.
* Look at /var/log/messages every now and again.

If those points worry you or seem wholly unacceptable, this may not be the distro for you. Sorry. It's a tough thing to say, especially without offending, but in my experience, not being mindful of things like the above will just lead to worse problems later.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2007 1:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gentoo works for me, but I don't use it "properly". I have a pretty standard set of packages (230 at the last count)
almost all of which are in portage. Every year or 18 months or so I wipe my system and re-install from the
current Gentoo snapshot (2007.0, at present); that way I can be pretty sure the stuff will compile. Then I leave
the system pretty much alone until the next re-install.

A couple of years back some packages were sufficiently buggy that it was worth tracking the upgrades, but now
the standard stuff pretty much works. X is complaining about the keyboard and fonts on shutdown, and someone's
broken the hardware acceleration on the Savage drivers, but neither are a real problem for me. I did try to fix
the Savage driver problem, but got nowhere; it'll probably work in the next release.

I use Gentoo because I can tailor it exactly to my laptop (a Thinkpad T23), and it loads fast, and runs reliably.
Since I've been running it for a while I have a couple of scripts that handle most of the install; last time I installed
it setting up from a Stage 3 tarball took me a couple of hours, and then the machine just sat there for 12 hours
or so compiling all the other stuff. Then it all worked. (I emerge stuff with "USE doc" set, and the distribution
doesn't, so from around 2006.0 I have had to unset the doc flag for hal, dbus and dbus-glib or there's a circular
dependency - that's the only build glitch I've found).

So using Gentoo isn't a major pain, unless you want it to be, and I certainly find that having the source available
as documentation is a real help from time to time. OTOH, most of the current Linux binary distros "just work",
so many people would probably find _them_ an easier option.

Will
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2007 8:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

bssteph wrote:
Random incomplete tips for the budding Gentoo user:
..

Nice one bssteph; hope you don't mind, I've nicked the lot :D
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2007 1:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

tylerwylie wrote:
Gentoo's great if you like working on your operating system moreso than your actual work.


Curious thing is that I am using Gentoo precisely because I don't like to waste my time fixing trivial issues, I just preffer when things just work. Go figure...

Like someone else said above, it is just a matter of choosing the tools you are comfortable with. For some people that might be Windows. FreeBSD, Mandrake or PlayStation II. For some others, it is Gentoo, to each, his/her own.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2007 4:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

lonrot_m wrote:
Well the only times i have really broken my system is when i have to make a mass upgrade since i forgot to like in a year (<-- VERY BAD IDEA NEVER WORKS).
Beware of absolutes--I update my system about once a year (plus critical GLSAs) and it works quite well. :wink: It requires a bit more care and planning than usual, is all.

In that vein, building on this excellent piece of advice:
bssteph wrote:
* Don't plow through big updates. ...[D]o things in parts, if the system is working fine. ... It saves a lot of headache, leaves a system with a better chance of being usable after each step, and makes determining what broke much easier.
I'd like to add: don't forget that your system is highly modular in operation as well as package management--you can temporarily shut things down to apply updates. True, in most cases the Linux/UNIX architecture makes it possible to update software while it's running, but big overhauls (especially of a desktop system) are often easier and faster with X and most services stopped. Each new process spawned during a big update is at risk to "break" from mismatched shared libraries (when some have been updated while others are pending). If you keep your expectations and usage reasonable during huge merges, you often won't see any breakage at all.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2007 5:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I use Gentoo because I have the time to learn and also fix my Gentoo box.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 2:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My main desktop at home is Gentoo, and I also have my firewall, and a wireless router running Gentoo. And I also have very few problems.
I update about every 2 weeks. (with -Duvta system, then world) And a kernel upgrade about once a month. (gentoo-sources)

Typically, I do a -Duvtaf first on the desktop because the other machines get their updates from the desktop.

The firewall goes last, coz if I break that one, every-one complains at me :(

I have the odd problem, but fixing them is one of the reasons I like gentoo.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 4:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

NeddySeagoon hits the spot.
Updating, not used correctly, disgruntles most gentoo-ers.

I'd like to add two more points to his list to counter:
rockclimber88 wrote:
I don't really understand why Portage has to be so messed up and why I have to fear all of the bugs that I will have to deal with after every update. Why can't I have an OS that compiles software from source, has USE flags and all that great Gentoo stuff but also allows me to get stuff done without getting distracted fixing my computer every ten minutes?

4. Don't globally enable unstable arch flags like ~amd64 or ~x86

5. Do not use `emerge --depclean`
Forget about conserving disk space, it's ridiculously cheap these days.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 5:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Phenax wrote:
It's odd. I always hear these complaints, yet it's rare for me to have anything to fix, ever.


I just thought I'd add my own sentiments into this thread, having just buckled down with gentoo for a serious solid five days. I have to agree wholeheartedly with the poster. Most people don't like fixing their PCs all the time, but when I've got free time like I do, this is honestly a lot of fun. Gives me something to do. *laughs* And I've learned so much from it, no matter how annoying it may be. I guess the feeling of having something mess up, but able to fix it after is rewarding or something.

With respect to the quote, however, *I* get tonnes of errors, even for the simplist things, but perhaps that's because I'm a noob that hasn't yet gotten how all this works. Who knows. Although sometimes I WISH it could all just work. But right now I'm able to suck it up and work with it.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 9:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I started with linux and gentoo in 2003. I had never used linux before that, except for trying KDE now and then at the university.

First install took 3 weeks (after university/weekends)
Second install took 5 days
Third install took 3 days
Current install took 2 days

All installs using XFCE.

Why did I install 4 times? Since I was new to linux, I installed lots of stuff. I like the idea that you could choose your own software (that's why I didn't go with KDE or Gnome), but to *find out what's out there* I had to install stuff. Lots of stuff. Eventually things got full, conflicts, I was a n00b and did a reinstall instead of fixing the mess.

Now I know exactly what tools and apps I need. I don't experiment much anymore, but when I do, I now know enough to fix things up afterwards. I run my own company and I'm totally dependant on this computer.

So when you're new to linux in general and gentoo in particular, expect to install loads of crap, just to get an idea of what's out there. Be prepareed to reinstall. There's no shame in that.

I sync maybe once a week, often after I've found updates on the web to programs I use, and then pick single updates. I do a world update maybe every other month or so. I like being able to have my computer on for months at a time without incidents, to update key apps quickly after new releases... to me, gentoo is very practical!
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 6:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah, I update my box 3 times a week :)
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 7:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gentoo works well for me when I always remember to keep my system updated (say at least once a week or so). The nightmares begin when you stop updating for months at a time and then suddenly need to update.

Since I can't guarantee I will always keep my system up-to-date, I make sure I always have a few spare partitions lying around. These are useful for installing the Latest Ubuntu or other distro-de-jour to show friends who are considering switching to Linux but they are also a life-saver if I let my Gentoo system lapse beyond easy repair.

It is much easier to re-install Gentoo than it is to update a system that is way out of date. One of the really great things about Gentoo is that you can do a re-install in the background while still using your old system. If you are careful to keep all of your own stuff on separate partitions then you can re-install with almost no downtime. AFAIK, you can't do this with other distros which require you to use the install media instead of a chroot.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 7:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

@BitJam,

what usually happens when you don't update the whole system (world) every other week? What problems arise that makes it easier to reinstall from scratch? Not trying to be a prick here, just curious. I update world maybe 6 times a year, and I rarely have any problems what so ever. Do you use unstable ebuilds?
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 7:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NeddySeagoon wrote:
Take away portage and you would be left with Linux From Scratch. I'm here because I really didn't want to use a notebook as a package manager.
Many a true word spoken in jest...
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 7:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

@odegard,

I have health problems that sometimes keep me from working on my system for months at a time. I run a mostly stable system. There are several problems that can arise when you delay updating for too long. One problem is that ebuilds can be removed from Portage or renamed. Bigger problems happen when you need to do a big migration (like a major GCC upgrade) many many months after everyone else did it. Your system can get filled with cruft and a simple emerge -uDN world not only takes a very long time but fails repeatedly sometimes leaving your system in a less than fully functional state. When you need to re-emerge almost every package on an out-of-date system, a re-install is usually faster and easier.

Even when you update frequently there can be problems like the recent libexpat fiasco. A new version of libexpat went stable at the same time (for me) as some major kde stuff and some major X11 stuff. A simple emerge -uDN world failed and left KDE/X11 unusable. Packages would not emerge so revdep-rebuild was of no help. The only way I could solve the problem was to emerge the old version of libexpat and use that to bootstrap my way out. If I had delayed updating for many months then the problem could have been even worse. The older version of libexpat could have been removed from Portage or some other part of my system or toolchain could have been broken as well.

The problems can be further compounded because if your system is way out of date then you are less likely to get help. You usually have a unique combination of old and new package that can cause unique errors that no one has ever seen before. After almost 30 years of hacking on computers, one of my top rules for avoiding pain is to stick to well trodden paths. If you delay updating for too long then you are entering a terra incognita.

You say you update every couple of months without problem. I have no evidence to refute this since I usually either update at least every few weeks or I don't update for many months. I haven't thouroughly explored the threshold of how long you have to wait before things go to hell. When I am able to, I try to err on the conservative side hence my suggestion for updating every few weeks.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 8:27 pm    Post subject: I use Gentoo and Paludis Reply with quote

...because they are dirt simple and not in the way.
With other linux distros, I feel like I'm stuck wandering through GUI hell.
If I want GUI, there is Windows. I doesn't want GUI.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 9:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
It's odd. I always hear these complaints, yet it's rare for me to have anything to fix, ever


Same here.

furthermore, someone complained about wireless drivers. Sure, it might take longer to do for your original setup, but after that, how many times do you have to "fix" your wireless setup?

People are posting "well, I went a year without updating, then tried to do an emerge -Du world, and it didn't go smoothly". Well, yeah. I've seen horror stories going from Ubuntu 6.04 to 7.10 too. When you're talking about 12 months of software updating at a single time, you exponentially increase your chances of having a problem. I think I've emerged world once on my desktop in the time I've been using Gentoo, and even that went smoothly. Generally, I update bits and pieces as I need to, or when there's a glsa advisory for it. Updating gcc on ANY distribution has been known to cause problems, and shouldn't be done without proper planning.

I think being a meta-distribution tends to give people a bad image of Gentoo. In Fedora land, the thought of keeping updating it 15 months after installation is pretty much an impossibility due to their release cycle and life cycle. A re-install is you're only option. Likewise, in Ubuntu there are releases every 6 months, and updating from one release to another is often problematic. But because problems are happening to users who update Gentoo "without updating to the newest release", Gentoo gets labeled as being the only one with these problems.
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Cyker
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 10:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I suspect the reason none of you think you've had problems is because you haven't used another distro much, and you're so used to the little extra maintainance steps you do in Gentoo that you don't even think about them.

One of the biggest differences between Gentoo and other distros is that it is dynamic, constantly changing.

This is why I was saying in another thread that all this 2006.0->2007.1 stuff doesn't matter in Gentoo.

In other distros, the packages are static - They do not change significantly. This means there is almost no chance of something breaking, but it also means that you can't stay on the bleeding edge very easily when major changes are involved beyond bugfixes and tweaks.

In order to make the jump, you need to perform an upgrade from a new 'version' of the distro media.



Gentoo in contrast is dynamic and wants to be on the bleeding edge constantly - You can of course make and freeze your own overlay, but this is against its nature and requires Work. (And also if you try to re-join later, you're screwed because you've literally been left behind).
This means you'll always have the latest features (Well, portage tree maintainence not withstanding) in your apps, but this continuous upgrade cycle is an order of magnitude more dangerous than the static builds, so you can't just be care-free about it like you can with, say, Ubuntu.

Most Gentoo users learn this pretty quickly, and so problems tend to be rare, but realise that the extra care we put in is the only reason our boxes don't explode horribly ;)


But your choice of distro should and does depend on what you want out of it. Neither Gentoo nor Ubuntu are the be-all and end-all.



As for the updates thing, it's a matter of scale.
If you leave it for a month, and that month is a particularly busy month in the open software world, you're likely to have problems. You almost certainly won't be able to just run emerge --update world and let it run; You'll probably have to do a whole bunch of stuff or risk Breakage.

Leave it for a year, and it gets even worse. You will likely have to do a lot of make.conf and /etc/portage/* hacking, some revdep-rebuild'ing and a bunch of other workaround utility hacking to get it to work, and this requires Time.

With binary distros, as long as you haven't been screwing around with the system outside the package manager and distro config tools, you can often upgrade to the next major version quite easily.
This isn't always the case of course, but then what is? The risk tends to be a lot lower than with Gentoo however.


Gentoo is not an easy care-free distro, so why use it some may ask? For me, it is control and maintainance. Because we need to put more maintainance time into it, we have more and better tools to help us than other distros. Control is another big reason - Being able to hack the ebuilds brings near-LFS levels of control while still being able to off-load worrying about installation and dependency tracking to Portage.
Since I used to custom cofigure, compile and package most stuff when I was using my Slackware-LFS hybrid, this is like heaven for me :P
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