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Revisiting Gentoo Linux

I spent a part of today installing Gentoo Linux in a spare PC. If you’ve not heard of it, Gentoo is yet another Linux distribution. It stands out from the rest in that practically everything you install is actually compiled from source code locally. It’s not my first experience with Gentoo… I had a go at it when it was newly launched around 2002. It’s a hacker’s distribution. Not very much fun, and if you asked me, I wouldn’t  want to use it or recommend it. But I have a project underway now that Gentoo would be useful. So, I’m back again exploring Gentoo.

If you know me… I’ve been playing with Linux since the era of Yggdrasil, the times when the Linux kernel wasn’t even at version 1.0. It’s a long long time ago. Somewhere along the way, I relegated Linux to the role of backend server. I not only want something that “just works” on my own desktop/notebook (i.e. the one that I actually sit in-front of to use), but also something that works “beautifully”. Linux was not the answer. I’m plenty happy to have Linux run my servers though.

The state of Linux has improved by leaps and bounds over the years. Maybe Linux-proponents keep encouraging me to go back to it (i.e. to put Linux on my desktop/notebook). But then again, user expectations have also lept forward in those years. I still don’t think Linux is quite there yet to replace, say, Windows 7 or Mac OS X on the desktop/notebook. However, I will concede that Linux has indeed become a lot easier to manage for a newbie. Pretty GUIs, installer wizards, etc.

So, with that mindset, I set about downloading the Gentoo Linux minimal CD image. (“Minimal” still worked out to be 115MB.) I burned the ISO onto a CD, mucked around the drive boot order, and in no time (aside from a couple of prompts)… Gentoo Linux came up. There was the livecd# prompt and a nice blinking cursor.

Hmm. Cool, nice live CD environment to explore around a CLI. I’m not intimidated by a CLI. I’m quite comfortable with a bash prompt. But… erm, I want to install Gentoo into the PC. So what should I do?

The screen was full of text… the kind that would probably frighten noobs. The kind that some noobs would have just declared “doesn’t work”. However, nothing in that screen told me what I was supposed to do next. I want to install Gentoo, but there was nothing intuitive to take me to the next step.

For a brief moment… I thought maybe I used the wrong CD image. But nope, up there on the screen clearly confirmed this was the Minimal Installation CD. Why is it not helping me install Gentoo?

So I was forced to go back to the Gentoo website and hunt for documentation. It was then that I realized… the Gentoo folks really do want you to read the instructions. It’s the kind of longish complicated installation instructions that would surely frighten away noobs.

Alright, Gentoo is not for noobs. What I experienced was a mismatch of expectations vs reality.

I just thought, perhaps, things should have evolved to become somewhat intuitive. Yup, even for a hacker’s Linux distribution.

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