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NYCosmos
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 7:40 am    Post subject: Gentoo for my first Linux Distro Reply with quote

Hello Gentoo!

I'm building a computer (a first) with new components and I decided that I wanted to have a Linux operating system (also a first) on a partitioned hard drive (Windows idling on the other "in case", I suppose, but I'm mostly fed up with Windows). This is to be mostly a personal desktop computer with capabilities for graphics/video design. I don't do much gaming anymore, and I don't mind waiting until Steam-on-Linux if I have problems with graphics drivers and such on Linux.

I would say I am moderately tech-savvy. I do not do coding or programming, but I know my way around a computer and my professional work has involved navigating and organizing databases and merchant systems in addition to modding computer games on my own time, so I am fairly confident in my abilities to learn something new. I think I am most intimidated by the Linux terminal and the C language commands, which is totally foreign to me.

I have researched some other distros too, but feature-wise, Gentoo seems like it would best suit my needs and propensities when it comes to dealing and managing systems. I don't want a bunch of pre-packaged and presumptuous goop. I just want something fast, stable, clean, and controllable (and I like XDE). The issue is, I don't quite understand the scale of difficulty involved in getting Gentoo running for someone who is otherwise a novice - an ambitious novice who is willing to learn, but nonetheless a novice. Gentoo also seems like it has a great community here.

With all that being said, do you think it is feasible for someone unfamiliar with Linux and programming to get started with Gentoo if they're willing to put in the effort, or is it really just a waste of time and energies are better spent learning Linux on another distro? I don't exactly want to be without a computer for a week because I can't even figure out how to install or boot the thing (perhaps I am overestimating the difficulty?).

Thanks in advance,
NYCosmos
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My first linux distro was gentoo. that of course means I have a hard time using any other distro because gentoo is just plain better.
if you have time and are willing to learn then gentoo is your best choice, mainly because you will learn alot. once you learn how gentoo works, all other distro´s will be a piece of cake for you.

so I would say: go for it. you wont regret it.
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 11:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

NYCosmos, Welcome to Gentoo. :)

You've included a key phrase in your question: "...if they're willing to put in the effort." With that caveat, the answer is, "Yes!" However, I'd like to set your expectations correctly. On your first install as a newbie, you'll probably still be changing and tweaking things after a week. Start with the Gentoo Handbook and, once you have a basic console only install running, check out the Gentoo Desktop Documentation Resources. In general, Gentoo's documentation is excellent. You'll also find that the forums are an outstanding resource.

- John
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 3:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you are new to Linux and 'intimidated by the Linux terminal' then you are really jumping into the deep end if you decide to install Gentoo as your first experience of Linux. The learning curve will be like the north face of the Eiger. That said, you will learn a huge amount about Linux and how it works. From what you've written, and the way you've written it, I reckon you would be able to face the challenge. But be prepared for a lot of reading, and many failed attempts before success. Personally, I find the kernel the most difficult thing to get working properly, because of all the configuration options, but the Pappy's Kernel Seeds Web site has some helpful notes on the configuration options.

If you want to dual boot with Windows, I recommend not overwriting the hard disk's MBR and instead using EasyBCD to set up the Windows Boot Manager to chainload GRUB (the most common Linux bootloader) in a partition. That way, if you make a mistake on the Linux side of things your Windows installation will be untouched. You can read about how to use EasyBCD in The best way to dual boot Linux and Windows. However, if your PC uses UEFI then you cannot use EasyBCD. You may already be completely familiar with the concept of hard disk partitions. But if you're not, read up on partitions and partitioning first. The first time I installed Linux I spent two weeks reading up on partitions before I had the courage to repartition my laptop's hard drive and install Linux.

Good luck!
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 5:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NYCosmos,

Welcome to Gentoo.

The key phrase in your post is
NYCosmos wrote:
... who is willing to learn ...

Don't worry about C as you won't need it.

The handbook, already linked by others, is an excellent resource. You will find that hardest part the initial install and boot into your own system, thats a rite of passage into Gentoo.
If you get stuck, you will find lots of people here willing to help you help yourself.

Unfortunately for you, Gentoo is about choice. You get to see and use all the controls that binary distros hide from you by making choices for you.
As a novice (we all remember when we were novices) you won't always make the right choices. Indeed, you won't know what the right choices are for you until your system is up and running.
Thats not really a problem because you can change your setting mid stream if you so choose. Its your choice. There is no need to reinstall Gentoo. My original install from mid 2002 still works. Its on its 3rd set of hardware, which is now end of life.

Thats lesson one - don't reinstall. Its a bad habit you learned on another OS.

I would not be quire as blunt as Fitzcarraldo and talk of 'failed attempts' but you will stray from the straight and narrow from time to time. Thats when you learn the most, fixing it.
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 7:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for your help guys, I've decided to go forward with it. I have burned a CD with the Gentoo ISO and have also burned a CD with SystemRescueCD, as per The Aforementioned Partitioning Guide to test out on my laptop before the real thing.

So if I understand this correctly:

1. Defrag and Reduce Size of Windows 7 Partition

2. Use SystemRescueCD to create partitions for Gentoo Linux using GPart
- I understand what is he demonstrating in the guide with the partition directories, but I don't know what /dev/sda specifically refers to. Is this how I should setup my partitions (exactly like in the guide) or is that just his personal example and there is a more obvious/general way for me to designate my partitions?

3. Reboot to Windows 7 and use EasyBCD to install the GRUB bootloader in the Linux partition I made for it (wherever I put /boot, right?) and not MBT.

4. Load the Gentoo CD I burned and continue with the installation as per the Gentoo Handbook.

Is that mostly correct?

EDIT: Are the forums really slow for anyone else? I keep losing connection and timing out only to the Gentoo forums.
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 7:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, forums are slow. There's an apparent back-end database issue at the moment, which we'll get solved shortly.

/dev/sda is a "device name" and is Linux terminology for your first hard drive. The partitions show up as separate devices: /dev/sda1, /dev/sda2, and so forth.

I think that step 3 actually comes after you've mostly completed the basic install (step 4). Although I haven't done that myself, the recommendation is to have EasyBCD set the windows bootloader up to "chain load" Grub. Grub needs to be installed before you can do that.

- John
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 7:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Got it, thanks. I think this will become more clear to me as I actually get to doing the steps. It is so exciting and bewildering at the same time!
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 1:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Overall I am happy with what I've been able to do so far, however I would really like to know some basic console-related commands. It too me forever to figure out how to navigate using the links program in the boot cd to get to the mirror for the stage 3 files.

I partitioned the hard drive without any issues and I was on my way installing Gentoo problem-free until I downloaded the Stage 3 files, because I realized I had forgotten to mount the CD onto the proper dev/sda partition and the download quickly ran out of room and the program descended into a never-ending error log. I didn't know how to go back and fix it, so I gave up on it. I am happy that I realized what was wrong and I what I have to do next time to fix it, but I think I'll just wait to do that on my new computer than mess around with my laptop further. I am pretty sure I understand fundamentally what is involved step-by-step in the installation of Gentoo, but my total unfamiliarity with using console commands (the C stuff, yes?) is making it a bit cumbersome. I am confident I can get it done in the end though.

Anything notable I should be really mindful of going forward though?
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 2:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just reboot the install CD. Your partitions will still be there. Mount them as per the Handbook (the step you missed) and press on with no harm done. There's almost always a way to rejoin the install in progress (at some points not quite this simple, but still pretty easy).

Incidentally, the SystemRescueCD had a GUI and traditional (i.e., graphical) browser. You can do the majority of the Gentoo install from within that GUI and have easy access to the Handbook, the mirrors, and any other resource you want to use (e.g., Google).

- John
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 3:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

NYCosmos wrote:
3. Reboot to Windows 7 and use EasyBCD to install the GRUB bootloader in the Linux partition I made for it (wherever I put /boot, right?) and not MBT.

Note that EasyBCD does not install the GRUB bootloader. EasyBCD edits the Windows BCD on the Windows C: drive to make it point to where GRUB was installed when you installed Linux. When you boot your PC, your PC runs a small amount of code in the MBR (Master Boot Record) at the start of the HDD. That code launches the Windows Boot Manager, which will display a boot menu. One of the menu entries will be Windows, another entry will be Linux. If you select the latter, the Windows Boot Manager -- one bootloader -- will kick off GRUB -- another boot loader -- and GRUB will then display its boot menu. You will then select an entry in the GRUB menu and that will kick off Linux. The terminology is that Windows Boot Manager 'chainloads' GRUB.

Just to confuse you a bit, there are two versions of GRUB. One is called 'GRUB Legacy' and the other is called 'GRUB 2'. If you install 'Gentoo Stable', the stable branch of Gentoo e.g. 'x86' or 'amd64' 'arches' (architectures), that branch still uses GRUB Legacy. If you install 'Gentoo Testing' (a.k.a. 'Gentoo Unstable') e.g. '~x86' or '~amd64' arches, that branch of Gentoo uses GRUB 2.

The way a boot loader works is that a small portion of its code resides in the MBR of the HDD or in the boot sector of a partition (it depends where you decide to put it when you install the boot loader). When that code is executed, it jumps ('vectors') to more code on the partition itself which, amongst other things, takes care of displaying the boot loader's menu and processing your selection.

Now, to confuse you a bit more, a bit of background information: EasyBCD does things a bit differently depending on whether you tell it you have installed GRUB Legacy or GRUB 2. If you tell EasyBCD you have installed GRUB Legacy, EasyBCD edits the Windows BCD to make the Windows Boot Manager jump to the boot sector of the partition on which you put the Linux /boot directory (the 'boot partition'). The GRUB code in the boot sector of the boot partition then jumps to more GRUB code in a subdirectory of /boot. Actually, because both GRUB Legacy and GRUB 2 use this 'stepping stone' method, providing Linux is installed on the same HDD as Windows you could tell EasyBCD that you installed GRUB Legacy even if you in fact installed GRUB 2. If, on the other hand, you tell EasyBCD you installed GRUB 2, EasyBCD will ignore the boot sector of the boot partition and search for the second stage GRUB 2 code (a file named core.img) in the subdirectories of the /boot directory on the boot partition, and edit the Windows BCD to point directly to that disk address. The reason EasyBCD does this is in case the /boot directory is on a different HDD (not a problem if using GRUB Legacy, apparently).
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 3:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

John R. Graham wrote:
Incidentally, the SystemRescueCD had a GUI and traditional (i.e., graphical) browser. You can do the majority of the Gentoo install from within that GUI and have easy access to the Handbook, the mirrors, and any other resource you want to use (e.g., Google).- John


That would be excellent, but how do I have the SystemRescueCD going at the same time if it is on a separate CD from the Gentoo install CD?

EDIT: Just to clarify, I used the SRCD GUI and GPART to make the partitions.

Quote:
Note that EasyBCD does not install the GRUB bootloader. EasyBCD edits the Windows BCD on the Windows C: drive to make it point to where GRUB was installed when you installed Linux. When you boot your PC, your PC runs a small amount of code in the MBR (Master Boot Record) at the start of the HDD. That code launches the Windows Boot Manager, which will display a boot menu. One of the menu entries will be Windows, another entry will be Linux. If you select the latter, the Windows Boot Manager -- one bootloader -- will kick off GRUB -- another boot loader -- and GRUB will then display its boot menu. You will then select an entry in the GRUB menu and that will kick off Linux. The terminology is that Windows Boot Manager 'chainloads' GRUB.

Just to confuse you a bit, there are two versions of GRUB. One is called 'GRUB Legacy' and the other is called 'GRUB 2'. If you install 'Gentoo Stable', the stable branch of Gentoo e.g. 'x86' or 'amd64' 'arches' (architectures), that branch still uses GRUB Legacy. If you install 'Gentoo Testing' (a.k.a. 'Gentoo Unstable') e.g. '~x86' or '~amd64' arches, that branch of Gentoo uses GRUB 2.

The way a boot loader works is that a small portion of its code resides in the MBR of the HDD or in the boot sector of a partition (it depends where you decide to put it when you install the boot loader). When that code is executed, it jumps ('vectors') to more code on the partition itself which, amongst other things, takes care of displaying the boot loader's menu and processing your selection.

Now, to confuse you a bit more, a bit of background information: EasyBCD does things a bit differently depending on whether you tell it you have installed GRUB Legacy or GRUB 2. If you tell EasyBCD you have installed GRUB Legacy, EasyBCD edits the Windows BCD to make the Windows Boot Manager jump to the boot sector of the partition on which you put the Linux /boot directory (the 'boot partition'). The GRUB code in the boot sector of the boot partition then jumps to more GRUB code in a subdirectory of /boot. Actually, because both GRUB Legacy and GRUB 2 use this 'stepping stone' method, providing Linux is installed on the same HDD as Windows you could tell EasyBCD that you installed GRUB Legacy even if you in fact installed GRUB 2. If, on the other hand, you tell EasyBCD you installed GRUB 2, EasyBCD will ignore the boot sector of the boot partition and search for the second stage GRUB 2 code (a file named core.img) in the subdirectories of the /boot directory on the boot partition, and edit the Windows BCD to point directly to that disk address. The reason EasyBCD does this is in case the /boot directory is on a different HDD (not a problem if using GRUB Legacy, apparently).


This certainly got progressively more confusing, but I get the gist of it. I don't know much of the actual differences, but I like the sound of a stable Grub better than the alternative.
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 3:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The SystemRescueCD is perfectly fine as a support environment for the install. (Not that this is totally necessary, but SystemRescueCD is Gentoo-based. In fact, almost any bootable Linux CD will do.) After you get the GUI running, open a terminal session, and then just pretend you've booted the Install CD. Perform the install steps in the terminal window and use the GUI to browse the web, access the mirrors, read the Handbook, check your email, and, well, you get the idea. :wink:

"Grub Legacy" is stable grub in Gentoo. It's what you'll get if you follow the Handbook.

- John
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 3:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

John R. Graham wrote:
TThe SystemRescueCD is perfectly fine as a support environment for the install. (Not that this is totally necessary, but SystemRescueCD is Gentoo-based. In fact, almost any bootable Linux CD will do.) After you get the GUI running, open a terminal session, and then just pretend you've booted the Install CD. Perform the install steps in the terminal window and use the GUI to browse the web, access the mirrors, read the Handbook, check your email, and, well, you get the idea. :wink:


8O

... so I don't even need the Gentoo ISO disk?

23 Skiddddoooo this is the most helpful tip ever!
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 12:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NYCosmos wrote:
8O

... so I don't even need the Gentoo ISO disk?

23 Skiddddoooo this is the most helpful tip ever!

I used to use an Ubuntu CD for my Gentoo installs, but I've moved up a step and have a full Gentoo install on a USB key which I carry around with me. :P

As far as grub goes, I'd definitely recommend grub-legacy over grub2 at first. It feels a much cleaner bootloader, and I think fits the general feel of Gentoo better than grub2.
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 12:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NYCosmos wrote:
... I would really like to know some basic console-related commands. ...
Two options for you:- John
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 1:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NYCosmos wrote:

8O

... so I don't even need the Gentoo ISO disk?

23 Skiddddoooo this is the most helpful tip ever!


No, you don't need the Gentoo disk. There is also a small howto for using non-Gentoo LiveCDs.
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 11:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NYCosmos, if you are following the Gentoo Handbook and therefore installing Gentoo Stable (x86 or amd64, as opposed to ~x86 or ~amd64) then you will be installing GRUB Legacy. Be aware that the instructions in the Handbook are for installing GRUB Legacy in the MBR, which is contrary to what I recommended earlier. Note that, in the GRUB shell, the command "setup (hd0)" will put GRUB Legacy's Stage 1 code in the first sector (the MBR) of the first HDD. The command e.g. "setup (hd0,2)" would put GRUB Legacy's Stage 1 code in the first sector of Drive 1, Partition 3. In GRUB Legacy the first HDD is numbered zero, and the first partition on an HDD is numbered zero. It's a long time since I tinkered with GRUB Legacy, but if you were installing GRUB Legacy on, let's say, /dev/sda3 then the commands in the GRUB Legacy shell would be:

Code:
grub> root(hd0,2)
grub> setup(hd0,2)

The first command tells GRUB Legacy that the GRUB Legacy configuration files are in the directory /boot/grub/ on Drive 1, Partition 3 (i.e. sda3). The second command tells GRUB Legacy to install the GRUB Stage 1 code in the boot sector of Drive 1, Partition 3 (i.e. sda3).

In other words, the above commands would not put any GRUB code in the MBR, which we want to be left alone as it contains code for the Windows Boot Manager.

P.S. Have been trying to post this but the Gentoo Forums have some sort of database problem today. I'm having great difficulty accessing these forums.
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 5:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That is quite a big step for someone not accustomed to Linux. I kinda doubt there is one proper way to install Gentoo. It's sucha openended distro. For me installing Gentoo required lots of notes scribbled down and quite a bit of bloody mindedness.

Gentoo will surely make you know about your system better and if you're a kind of an emotional beast that make decisions on hunches you will almost develop a kind of intuitive idea about how the machine works.

If things get messed up you have nice support on the forums from those that know every technical detail in case stuff goes very wrong. The system also gives quite a good hint about which direction you should take in case stuff is out of order. So far I do not trust the autogenerated files Gentoo makes. They seem to kind of mess things up so I often just delete them or edit as I like later on.
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 6:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

its about learning to configure, and you start doing that on day 1
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 9:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

John R. Graham wrote:
NYCosmos wrote:
... I would really like to know some basic console-related commands. ...
Two options for you:- John

Some command line "cheat sheets" might be useful:

http://www.cheatography.com/davechild/cheat-sheets/linux-command-line/
http://fosswire.com/post/2007/08/unixlinux-command-cheat-sheet/

I found I picked up the basics just by running through the install guide but still refer to guides like this to remind myself of commands that I don't use very often.
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 27, 2012 1:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

John R. Graham wrote:
NYCosmos wrote:
... I would really like to know some basic console-related commands. ...
Two options for you:- John

For a newcomer to Linux I would also recommend Scott Granneman's Linux Phrasebook. The writing style is oriented to newcomers and it covers all the basics. I found it very helpful when I started using Linux.
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 27, 2012 6:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you want live support start an IRC client (I use konversation as it's a lovely GUI, irssi is the usual one people like in terminal, quassel is also very nice, I'm sure someone else can recommend a gtk one (xirc?)) and login to chat.freenode.net -- then /join #gentoo and you'll find about 1000 people who are only there to help, or be helped. #gentoo-chat if you want to talk about anything other than support.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2012 5:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

NYCosmos wrote:
... so I don't even need the Gentoo ISO disk?


As others have alluded to, you do not. I would still use at least a Gentoo minimal install ISO boot just to avoid surprises and receive support. You essentially really just need a modern kernel booted environment with networking and file system support of whatever you wanted along with some very basic system commands that are usually prevalent everywhere.

I'll even argue that unlike other distros, you can actually break away from finishing an on-going basic non-bootable install and come back to it later. Of course it's good to know exactly where you left off and how to resume getting your environment back to the same state. :)

NYCosmos wrote:

[...] step-by-step in the installation of Gentoo, but my total unfamiliarity with using console commands (the C stuff, yes?)


No. Gentoo is not asking you to learn any programming language like C either. You're using a shell environment called Bash. Bash is almost the defacto-standard in any other Linux distribution for a command line (there are other shell flavors). Once you're somewhat familiar with it here, you're familiar with a Linux terminal(console) environment almost anywhere. Bash has built in commands and the rest are just installed commands made available to you so you can mount a filesystem, change your real root filesystem on the fly across filesystems, move through, list create and modify files and directories and so on. That environment and the commands you're running within it are often written in C, yes, or bash scripts that may in turn run other scripted languages such as python, perl, etc. Unless you go digging, you won't even see these details. However, you're using the programs as the documentation is stating to do, but you're not actually programming--there is a huge difference. Programming is the creation (writing) of programs which are used to perform some expected function. Much like your car, you don't care and are most likely blissfully unfamiliar with all the underlying details of what engineers did building that system. You ultimately just care that it works well and you can use it to steer down the road.

Thankfully, you're not fighting with a joke of a command line console that is MSDOS. You have command line TAB completion help where you can literally see your available commands, save on typing and entry errors. You have command history you can scroll through (up and down arrows). There are man(ual) pages with actual documentation on using those commands. And beyond all that, the Gentoo install documentation has never failed me in 6 separate installs over years. You can read it, follow it, not remember much of it past much of a week later and still have a successful ongoing install because most of the initial details you won't need to do again. It's almost worth suffering with another 'popular' distribution for a year or more while pulling your hair out in order to appreciate that you only need to install a Gentoo system once. This bears repeating so I'll restate it directly: you don't need to learn any intricacies of the Bash shell, C language, xyz (insert language), unix or hedge fund wizardry in order to install and use Gentoo. Having that kind of knowledge never hurts though. :lol:

In older days, the scarier parts for a beginner to learn on a command line were really details about a particular text editor you elect/forced to use and editing/navigation of your actual command line. Most of this has been mapped for ease to your arrow keys, home/end, backspace, etc. and so on work as you would expect. None of it is bad or essentially hard. I believe they still default to nano for an available editor which is easy to use with low expectations on experience.

Think of a Gentoo install as a box of Legos. Really really good legos, not that cheap box. These are the legos you see the cool kids playing with. You've got documentation, pretty pictures and thousands of fans waiting in the wings to help you with ideas and questions. Portage is the build system that does all the heavy lifting building the packages you want, installing them and keeping track of them for you over time. That is one of the biggest headaches of any operating system, not just Linux variants. The basics of using portage is what will be important in learning the Gentoo way. You've got basic building blocks that function and you can pretty much build whatever you want.
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Navar
Apprentice
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Joined: 20 Aug 2012
Posts: 281

PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2012 6:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some further suggestions that are not Gentoo specific but can cause some headaches particularly in multiboot setups.

Get familiar with UEFI (particularly GUID/GPT) vs a traditional BIOS if installing on newer hardware.

With a newer large format drive (usually 1TB+), be familiar with Advanced Format (AF) drives (4096 byte sectors (4K) vs traditional 512) so that partition sector boundaries are at appropriate multiples. Filesystems generally handle and default to at least 4K alignment already but partitioning programs still tend to default to the old standard. You can see your actual setup by using a command of (as root)

Code:
fdisk -l


Look at your logical vs physical sector sizes. Even if your drive is having its firmware pretend to offer 512 byte logical sectors with 4096 physical, you will want to ensure proper alignment (2048 sector or 1 MiB boundaries (there's an option in gparted to make this easy)). Either way make sure the value picked (4096/512 =) is a multiple of 8.

Notation matters, particularly when dealing with grub. Native to grub's own command environment, it uses an (hdx,y) scheme, where x is a physical drive, y a partition and both begin at 0. Within Linux itself large storage block devices such as hard drives now use an sdxy form, where x is alpha beginning with a and y is numeric starting at 1.

grub sees (hd0,0) as the first available drive and partition 1. This is (usually) equivalent to /dev/sda1 in Linux. /dev/sda would refer to the entire drive, MBR portion inclusive. /dev/sda1 refers to that entire first partition on sda, boot sector inclusive. You'll find in the grub documentation that if you're installing to the MBR you're aiming at /dev/sda or (hd0) depending on use. If installing the grub boot loader to a particular volume/partition boot sector/record it could be /dev/sda2 for the 2nd partition on sda or (hd0,1) in grubspeak. Note: partition numbering does not have to follow physical layout on disk (partition 2 (e.g. a recreated partition in free space at the end of drive) in this case could actually reside on sectors past partitions 3 and 4. Always important to keep in mind).
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