Damon Cortesi's blog

Musings of an entrepreneur.


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I did it. I’m in the process of replacing Debian on one of my boxes at home with Gentoo.

Ok, now calm down out there..it’s not the end of the world. Up is still up and down is still down.

For at least the past four or five years, I have been a diehard Debian fanatic. In my formative college years, I pretty much tried every distro known to man - my hobby on the weekends was installing operating systems. My first linux experience was with RedHat in my freshman year (and I had some problems of my own). After three weekends and thirty installs, I finally got my redhat system perfect…and then my hard drive crashed! Nevertheless, I was hooked. I progressed from redhat to SuSE to slackware with many in-between and ultimately settled on Debian.

Debian was a dream to me. I never had to worry about rpm-hell and the lovely release structure meant I could run a stable box and still get the latest and greatest gaim or nmap. Over time, though, I became somewhat frustrated with Debian for that exact reason. Being able to pull from stable and unstable was a great benefit, but also became a pretty big hassle. Apt-pinning is great, but it does have it’s limitations. Frequently, there were packages I wanted to install, but glibc incompatabilities would ruin my day. Yes, there is Debian Backports, but their breadth of packages left quite a bit to be desired.

It’s amazing what love does to a man and I was in love with Debian. So I kept using it, stringing things together and making do with what I had. It was still better than anything else around. And yes, I had heard of Gentoo and the flocks of people saying it was the ‘next best thing’ and even gave it a try. But I wasn’t impressed. Everybody always posed it to me as a performance thing. We live in the days where dual-cpu systems are the norm and 4Ghz chips are nothing - what do I need an extra few flops worth of performance for? The days I waste compiling it from scratch negates the benefit! And so I rolled.

Then something happened. I got a new job. And with that new job, came a new laptop. And on that laptop, I was putting Linux. I’ve tried to run Debian on laptops and desktops and it does a pretty decent job, but it’s not what it does best. So I decided to go with something different. I’d heard great things about Ubuntu, so I figured I’d give that a shot. Ubuntu is a beautiful distribution - easy to install, pretty by default, easy to maintain. But being Damon, I like to run bleeding-edge software. What was difficult to maintain in Debian, was even moreso in Ubuntu. Being that most of the other guys at work ran Gentoo, I decided to take the plunge.

Despite the lengthy and tedious install process and endless nights of Google searches for help on installing Gentoo on a T42, I had a pretty decent system going. And if I needed the latest and greatest, I could emerge that specific build. So, for me the greatest benefit of Gentoo is not that everything is “optimized”. The greatest benefit of Gentoo is that due to the fact that your packages get compiled, you don’t have to worry about library dependencies! Portage makes it easy for me to run the latest and greatest software and not “break stuff” on my system. Furthermore, Gentoo has all kinds of great documentation. Because it’s a no-frills distribution, many people have had to figure things out by themselves and posted about it online. The Gentoo Wiki has also been a lifesaver.

So why did I replace Debian with Gentoo on my home box? More likely than not just for something new to try. That box had an excessive amount of cruft on it from when I used to host my domain out of my home before moving to John Companies. So it was either remove all the cruft piece-by-piece or reinstall from scratch. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, but I have LVM over raid-1 over raid-0 on that box and the initial Debian install on that box was a very painful experience, not to mention keeping it up-to-date. Building a new initrd was a very painful process. So I decided to see how painful it would be to do so using Gentoo. I was pleasantly surprised when I found this HOWTO on installing Gentoo on an LVM2 root partition - It couldn’t have been easier. Minus a spelling error and some unchecked kernel modules, it was one of the few times I got a somewhat-complicated Linux install up and running on the first try.

So now I’m running Gentoo, I emerge every day, and emerge world on a regular basis. Despite that, I still run Debian on my colo and on another box here at home but now it happily co-exists.

Why didn’t somebody explain Gentoo like this to me earlier?!

As an update, having Debian and Gentoo try to co-exist is causing some problems. I installed Prelude-IDS on my Gentoo box recently. It was no problem at all - a couple emerges, and I was running the latest development version. I thought I would install a sensor on my Debian box, but unfortunately there isn’t a Debian package for the development version. No problem, I thought, I’ll just compile it. Unfortunately, the Debian package for one of the required libraries is not up-to-date enough. sigh I’m growing weary.