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jesnow
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 28, 2022 5:42 am    Post subject: I tried Calculate Linux binhosted gentoo: First impressions Reply with quote

Summary: Gentoo with a public binhost: Pretty useful!

I've been a gentoo user for a good while now, and have been looking for a binhosted version with an installer for some time. Sabayon was not close enough to gentoo for my liking, cloveros worked out of the box and gave me a schooling in extreme system tuning (that I didn't want). Gentoo itself has even bowed to the inevitable fact that nobody wants to compile (eg) Rust every other week and provided binary versions of some big programs.

So I took Calculate Linux (https://www.calculate-linux.org/) out for a spin. Here is my report.

Why?

There are lots of reasons you might not care to compile everything all the time. Maybe the cpu cycles cost you money, like on an AWS EC2 container. Or you don't want to spend your work time on stuff that isn't directly related to productivity. For a while I maintained my work server from home on the weekends using remote desktop. Maybe you're running a small distcc compile farm and don't want to have compilation hassles on every single one of them. Or maybe you're even wondering if using a binhosted gentoo is just a more pleasing overall experience than installing from stage3 every single time. Calculate seemed like a good candidate os so I gave it a try.

Installation

The Calculate graphical installer is nothing to write home about. You tell it the usual language, keyboard layouts, mount points and boom, off you go. It gets the job done if the job is basically to let it do what it wants. The second you try to use your own preferred partition layout (for example) it starts running into trouble. It may in fact be perfect, I just found it confusing to use. They have versions using a couple different desktop environments and one that's bare bones, just a server. I had better luck with the nightly builds for some reason. I've used both the CLS and CLD iso's. When you create the boot usb (some instructions or a utility would be nice, but we all know how to do this), turn off secureboot and boot from it, you're presented with a graphical bootsplash and a spinning wheel ie no boot messages. I would usually want to see those, especially when I'm working with a new machine.

There is a graphical installer (cl-install) and a text installer. These seem laid out in a logical fashion, but I found that when scrolling back and forth between the pages it would lose my settings. I also found that it buried essential functions way down the page where if you didn't know to scroll to them you would miss them. I don't install a lot of different operating systems, but about 3-4 minutes from the boot of the live usb to running the install. I'm sure there are people who can do a stage3 install that fast but they aren't me. It took me a few tries to achieve a bootable partition, so i guess that time counts too. Still faster than stage3 by a long shot.

The installer tends to make strange choices about partition sizes, giving / way too little and /var/calculate (more on that in a second) and /home far too much, so you definitely want to set that up by hand rather than rely on their choices. Partition sizes in bytes? I mean really, they could have made that easier to manage.

But so after the installer has done its thing and you reboot and remove the usb, voila you have a gentoo system. You can "emerge --sync && emerge -Dua @world" if you want. No 'N' for a binhosted distribution. BUT using their "cl-update" script will do everything, and provides a little nicer amount of information than the gentoo way. My one criticism there is that when it (rarely) emerges something from source it doesn't tell you anything about what's going on, just "Installing..." for however long the emerge takes. It will default to using binary packages unless you mess with use flags or want something obscure they haven't compiled yet. But use the cl-update utility, it is faster and more efficient, and you'll love watching those precompiled packages flying by at warp speed.

Similarities/Differences

Basically aside from the kernel, profiles and new utilities they provide, it's gentoo (openrc, not systemd, though I think you can have that). They like to put everything calculate into its own partition. Why I don't know. But it seems like maybe you could rm -r /var/calculate and aside from pointing make.conf at the proper rsync servers and source repositories, you'd still be in business. I haven't tried it. It comes with utilities for easy setup -- for example cl-install-video was a breeze and so was cl-install-network. It also comes with utilities for building and branding your own calculate-derived distro. The big differences aren't on the disk, it's really just gentoo with some added bells and whistles, very nice. 100% of your existing gentoo knowledge applies.

The differences lie in the documentation, which is sparse and leaves out a lot, and the forums, which are nothing like our gentoo forums. Really gentoo is still the queen of distros in it's engaged and helpful devs and advanced users.

Good points of using calculate

It's really gentoo, compiled with vanilla CFLAGS and use variables. I find it very easy to use. The updater has far fewer issues with slot conflicts and blockers and so forth than gentoo does. I can't account for that, especially since it's still portage underneath it all. Otherwise, everything you're accustomed to is just where you would expect it. cl-install is like I said great, and gives more information than portage does, even though it's all portage under the hood.

Other things to know
That installer. It really isn't intuitive. It really just wants to nuke the disk you're installing on, so I just let it do it. Dual booting windows on the same disk is a bad idea anyway, get another disk. The default partition sizes bit me in a bad place. My first attempt at a custom kernel ended badly. They supposedly have a binary kernel, and a kernel building utility. The latter didn't really work for me, but it's likely my ignorance.

It is written by Russians, so there's an outside chance that they are all GRU and stealing your every keystroke. But I don't think so. There was a long thread about this. The documentation is really sparse, partially in untranslated russian, and the forums are a very sleepy place. Fortunately we have the gentoo forums.

Conclusion

Calculate linux is a good Gentoo. Is the installer so good that it's a snap to get to a functioning gentoo? No. But it's all gentoo once you get it installed, and is a fine experience after that. It's very tempting just to use calculate for all my machines. Spinning up a distcc server out in the cloud is like the perfect use case for it. Same thing for a big rendering job. Or not wanting your boss to be wondering what all that compiling you've been doing is for.

I would invite people to share what they're learned about calculate linux here in this thread.

Cheers,
Jon.


Last edited by jesnow on Sat Dec 03, 2022 3:51 pm; edited 4 times in total
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NeddySeagoon
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 28, 2022 11:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is also an experimental binary gentoo
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jesnow
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 29, 2022 11:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I want to add that you can let calculate get pretty out of date before you run into issues
trying to update it. Like six months is not a problem. that makes it perfect for the kind
of box that sits in the corner by itself most of the time.

Cheers,
Jon.
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jesnow
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 03, 2022 3:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Also:

Installation: cl-install (command line or gui) basically gets you to a stage3 (for the cls variant) or live desktop system (the cld variant) with no need to chroot anything. I mean I feel like chrooting the tarball, reboot and pray is a gentoo rite of passage that everybody must suffer, but when I set up a system for whatever reason, it sure is more convenient to have an install script to do it.

Setup: The cl-setup utilities (sadly very tersely documented) are pretty easy to recognize what they are for:

Code:

/usr/bin/cl-setup-audio
/usr/bin/cl-setup-boot
/usr/bin/cl-setup-boot-live
/usr/bin/cl-setup-locale
/usr/bin/cl-setup-network
/usr/bin/cl-setup-session
/usr/bin/cl-setup-system
/usr/bin/cl-setup-themes
/usr/bin/cl-setup-update
/usr/bin/cl-setup-video


They do an amazing job of automating what looks like a straight up handbook install with reasonable features. for example, after doing a metal install on one system by hand last month, after I discovered cl-install-video, I realized you just had to type cl-install-video --nvidia and it did everything. I also re-did the one I did by hand with cl-setup-video --amdgpu, now both systems are running perfectly. No muss, no fuss.

Rolling your own:
Creating your own branded gentoo-based distribution with your own custom packages that runs off their binhost (or off of the gentoo source repositories) is made pretty easy by the cl-builder set of scripts (again with a gui dashboard). The experimental binary gentoo Neddy mentioned ought to be the work of an afternoon, once you understand how cl-builder works. You basically install into a builder-specific prefix (which they confusingly call a container but it isn't), and it creates the scripts that will do the install and the setup once you bake the iso or the usb drive. It does seem pretty elegant, though like all things calculate, a steep learning curve if you're not them. There's nothing like the support infrastructure gentoo has.

Binhost vs Gentoo
Calculate *is* a binhosted gentoo created with sane options. When you change the use flags on a package and do "emerge -DNua" it compiles from the gentoo source repos, or whatever source repo you set. Some packages seem to compile from source by default, like llvm. If you stick with "emerge -Dua" it will install from their binhost by default. You can use the regular portage tools all day long without breaking calculate (this was not true for Sabayon, you had to be really careful not to break it).

Documentation: Double plus ungood, guys, really if you don't already know calculate, their documentation isn't going to get you up to speed. Negative points for choosing a name that is hard to differentiate on google searches. their entry point to the documentation portal is here:

https://wiki.calculate-linux.org/

their new wiki-based documentation format has gotten much better since I started playing with it, I think it's being rapidly improved. t The english-language documentation however such as it is is flawless, with no hint of "Russlish" or of the obscenity based Russian sublangauge known as "Mat".

Community:

Their forums are here:
https://forum.calculate-linux.org/
Their "user map" surely doesn't show all the calculate users (I have 4 systems of my own that don't show up), but 80-90% seem to be in Russia, and the forums reflect that, mostly Russian. The English language forum has 1.1K total posts, the Russian on is 6.3K as of today.

One of the best things about Calculate is that it leverages and adds to the already extensive and excellent gentoo base of documentation and user community, as basically any Calculate install is as Gentoo as any Gentoo install.

Cheers,
Jon.
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yagami
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 20, 2022 11:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice review :)

I have been using calculate linux for some years now... sometimes I use the bin packages, sometimes I go into all testing and all source. The different in using it isn't much different from gentoo, being that someone that knows its way in gentoo can use Calculate without issues.

Some points in your review:

* The installer, especially the text based one, is pretty good. Yeah, it will be a pain to discover how to set all the switches and etc, but its very good for automation.


Quote:
Basically aside from the kernel, profiles and new utilities they provide, it's gentoo (openrc, not systemd, though I think you can have that).


Here is what I think you missed a big point of calculate. **the templates** !!!. the calculate template system is very very good, think ansible or nixos.
You set the templates, and you run the calculate utils, and it will set the state of the gentoo distro, always the same way.
Its PRETTY GOOD... I have dived a little into it, and it is extremely powerfull and works rather well.

The bad side is.... well... I think learning Nix language is easier :P :P :P Documentation like you mentioned, is very "shallow" and basically the only way to learn to use templates is to check the examples they have on the distro. Also ... i really don't like its syntax, it would be wonderfull if it was something "python like".


Quote:
They like to put everything calculate into its own partition.


That is because, well, i haven't tried it, so I don't really know if this is true, but in **theory**, if you set all your templates correctly, you could almost do a "erase your darlings" with calculate. ( https://grahamc.com/blog/erase-your-darlings ). Saying, you only need your /var/calculate to set your gentoo calculate exactly the same way every time. ( not really exactly the case, because templates allow to be putted also directly on /etc as xxx.conf."clt" ).


Quote:
My one criticism there is that when it (rarely) emerges something from source it doesn't tell you anything about what's going on, just "Installing..."


There is some options of cl-update, one of them ( -e ) is to show the update list in portage format. in that format you can checkout which is gonna be source or binary.
One thing I did with the utility, is a simple script to compare the "ini.env" of the server and your local. If its the same, there isn't update, and only takes <1 second, instead of all that time.


Quote:
t's gentoo (openrc, not systemd, though I think you can have that).


Its gentoo.... the majority of time I used calculate linux was with systemd. First it began as a "challenge" or "test to see how it works", and then just stayed. Calculate has no issues with it, and doesn't try to "convert you back into openrc". The only difference, is that you have to do it ( and there are some carefull details, but nothing special if you know your gentoo ), and then you have to compile some packages that aren't binned (systemd) or are not with the systemd use flag.



About the documentation, I will say, that it is, along side with "marketing", the biggest minus of the distro.

The community, well, the main dev is most of the time on chat channels and is pretty nice dude, always helpful and available to fix or change one or two things, if it makes sense.
There is also Adrien from linuxtricks that does a gnome edition and mirror, and some blog/videos about calculate: https://www.linuxtricks.fr/wiki/utiliser-gentoo-et-calculate-linux



Summary:

The main point I like about calculate linux, is that features or qualities aside, its gentoo usage/workflow, or promotes the usage like gentoo. that was my main dislike of distros like sabayon for example, which seemed to try to "hide" the gentoo nature.
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Tom_
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 31, 2022 1:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NeddySeagoon wrote:
There is also an experimental binary gentoo

Does anyone know if it will remain experimental ?
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 31, 2022 3:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tom_,

See the Project Wiki Page and the links from it.
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jesnow
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2023 5:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks @yagami for your comments, all of which I agree with.

yagami wrote:
Nice review :)
Here is what I think you missed a big point of calculate. **the templates** !!!. the calculate template system is very very good, think ansible or nixos.
You set the templates, and you run the calculate utils, and it will set the state of the gentoo distro, always the same way.
Its PRETTY GOOD... I have dived a little into it, and it is extremely powerfull and works rather well.

The bad side is.... well... I think learning Nix language is easier :P :P :P Documentation like you mentioned, is very "shallow" and basically the only way to learn to use templates is to check the examples they have on the distro. Also ... i really don't like its syntax, it would be wonderfull if it was something "python like".


I agree, I wish there were more documentation on how to use the templates, there is almost none. And no expalanation to what they are *for*. There is clearly a design philopsophy behind calculate, and a way they expect you to use it, but they don't tell you about any of that. You sort of already have to be adept at using calculate in order to use it "their way".

And in my case the whole point is to be able to modify config files like I do on my regular gentoo machines.

Cheers,
Jon.
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