Gentoo is one of the most talked and noted Linux distributions that have been in active development stage for last 6-7 years. Although there are only a limited number of followers for Gentoo when compared with some other distributions such as Ubuntu, Gentoo has been delivering a best Linux distribution suited for power users. Let’s have a look at the nature of Gentoo first.
Gentoo was developed to fill a gap in the Linux distribution sphere. Customizability was this gap and no other Linux distribution offered the level of customizability and configurability the inventors of Gentoo looked for. Therefore, they decided to create their own distribution. As a result, Gentoo was highly customizable and configurable. But this advantage came with a cost. Due to extreme customizability and configurability, Gentoo was considered as one of technical Linux distributions, so the general public was little reluctant to adopt Gentoo for their general use. The Linux power users loved what Gentoo offered and the same reputation scared general users away.
There were a few issues in Gentoo that really didn’t work for the general Linux user. But on the other hand, these were the core strengths of Gentoo which offered the extreme configurability and customizability that it is reputed for.
Gentoo usually ships with minimum software packages. It comes with the most essential Linux packages where a user is able to setup a working operating environment. When it comes to other Linux distributions, they provide the end user with a number of pre-installed software such as word processing packages, graphics design packages, and various other utility tools. But in Gentoo, all that should be installed by the user who installs the Gentoo system. Due to this nature, the power users had the ability of installing many software by compiling to match the hardware of the PC running Gentoo. This gave the users a unique advantage over other Linux distributions that installed pre-compiled and generic binary Linux packages. Since Gentoo packages are compiled on the hardware that they run, all unnecessary binaries do not get installed in the target system. This made software run faster in Gentoo systems. Therefore, many performance conscious power users and system administrators adopted Gentoo from the beginning.
Gentoo comes in three stages. Stage one is just a tar ball with the tools that can be used to download the kernel, compile it, and install it. In addition, it offered a few utilities where users can download software and install them by compilation. This stage built a unique operating platform that has been configured and compiled for the PC’s hardware. This system gave the ultimate performance, customizability, and configurability. The Stage three was almost comparable to any other end-user Linux distribution which gives you most of the software pre-installed. The Stage two is a system somewhere in between the above two extremes.
Gentoo is one of the first Linux distributions to offer automatic package management. This implementation was a few steps ahead of its time. Almost all the other Linux distributions used manual installation methods for their package management when Gentoo offered a repository based automatic package installation and maintenance. The system was called ‘portage’ and ‘ebuilds’ were used for package management. By simply issuing a command, one could install a new package or update an existing one. Later, Gentoo’s repository based package management system was adopted by many other Linux distributions and enhanced further.
At present, Gentoo plays somewhat a passive role in the Linux distribution arena. This is mainly due to the fact that some other distributions such as Ubuntu are making progress in capturing the Linux market. But, Gentoo is still available for the power users and Gentoo will continue to offer their distribution for this category of Linux users.