Official website for Linux User & Developer

Gentoo 12 review – the product of an established community

by Michael Reed

Say “Gentoo” and most people think of a source code based DIY distro. However, this is a pre-built desktop system that comes as 3.4GB disk image. Michael Reed takes it for a spin…

Gentoo 12 review - the product of an established communityPros: Good community behind it. Lots of desktops and applications.
A good way of demonstrating desktop Linux.
Cons: Beyond using it as a demonstration appliance, you’d have to be a
Gentoo expert. A bit unwieldy for every day use.
Gentoo Homepage

First released in 2002 and based around source code rather than pre-compiled binary packages, Gentoo has become famous for the flexibility it offers. However, the Gentoo live DVD is a different beast altogether, leveraging existing Gentoo technology to provide a ready-made desktop that boots from removable media such as a DVD or a USB flash drive. It’s a comprehensive system with a wide variety of applications along with a selection of the current desktops. The disc includes current versions of Gnome 3, Xfce, E16, Fluxbox, LXDE and XBMC and KDE4, and there is a distinct bias towards KDE applications and desktop applications in general.

Gentoo 12 review - the product of an established community

If you’ve used a recent build of KDE4, you’ll already have an idea of what to expect from the KDE4 desktop. As with most of the desktops environments on the disc, the backdrop contains icons for: the bug tracking system, installing Adobe Flash, a link to the Gentoo IRC channel, a link to the support forums and the user handbook. Those icons give a clue to one of the advantages of the lineage of this distro: it’s the product of an established community.

With several desktops and such a huge set of installed applications, this thing’s a monster. Exploring the application launcher confirms what we expected, this application load-out is extremely broad. On the one hand, this means that this might be a viable complete desktop system in situations in which adding additional applications via the package manager is inconvenient. On the other hand, there is a lot to wade through, including a lot of smaller, slightly obscure KDE applications (KBruch, the fractions tutor anyone?). Amongst the more mainstream applications, there’s quite a lot of redundancy and overlap. For example, there are at least five fully fledged web browsers, and this holds true for every category of application.

Gentoo 12 review - the product of an established community

There is no GUI hard disk installer included with this live DVD, and this fact won’t surprise long-term Gentoo users as even the regular distribution relies on manual installation from the command line. It is, however, possible to carry out an installation from any working Linux installation, including the Gentoo live DVD. The fact remains that the lack of a GUI installer is at odds with what people have come to expect from a live distro.

The way in which it handles persistent storage of user data is an important feature of a live distro. Again as there is no GUI for doing this in Gentoo, you’ll have to set up the partitions and create the needed file by hand. Although, the location for the file is quite flexible. Once persistence is up and running, it should be possible customise the distro using Gentoo’s Portage package management system that fetches source code packages ready for compilation. Frankly, it’s for time-served Gentoo enthusiasts only and probably not the intended focus of the live DVD.

Gentoo 12 review - the product of an established community

A live system from the developers of one of the most techy DIY distributions was always going to be a strange animal. It might sound a bit mean-spirited to point it out, but although Gentoo is a well established distro, it’s not as well known as some of the others. Consequently, if you want to install it or begin to modify it, you have to be familiar with the the Gentoo way of doing things. It’s important to remember that in the case of a desktop distro, you might, for example, be forced to give a non-expert instructions over the phone, and that just isn’t going to work in the case of Gentoo.

Verdict: 3/5
In theory, this live DVD image could be used to provide a Linux desktop on portable media, but its bulk and relative inflexibility mean that it wouldn’t be our first choice in that role. It is however a first class portable demonstrator of what desktop Linux can offer. Existing Gentoo experts will probably be pleased with it.

  • Tell a Friend
  • Follow our Twitter to find out about all the latest Linux news, reviews, previews, interviews, features and a whole more.
    • Pingback: Review: Gentoo 12 | ReviewLinux()

    • Fantastic distro but I think its for advance user not beginner friendly.

    • amightywind

      The Gentoo system is under continuous, gratuitous change. You risk decapitating your machine every time you update. The release process is total chaos. One day you are working just fine, the next you have 1000 packages to compile. If any problem occurs with the X Window system you’re done. I gave up after 4 years of nursing and cajoling the system. I had one python update problem too many. Who wants to spend that much time administering a system? If you value stability you will stay away. I recommend Fedora or Ubuntu.

    • Pingback: Links 13/1/2012: CrossOver 11, Mageia 2 Alpha 3 | Techrights()

    • tangram

      “The Gentoo system is under continuous, gratuitous change. You risk decapitating your machine every time you update. The release process is total chaos. One day you are working just fine, the next you have 1000 packages to compile. If any problem occurs with the X Window system you’re done. I gave up after 4 years of nursing and cajoling the system. I had one python update problem too many. Who wants to spend that much time administering a system?”

      If you value stability you will stay away. I recommend Debian, RHEL, CentOS or Scientific Linux.

    • davemc

      I agree. Gentoo is not even for the advanced user anymore. Its more of a sick joke in the Linux world these days, but if your into self mutilation or masochism, then this is the distro for you!

    • Jason

      I’m not a beginner but I am definitely not an expert. I was using Gentoo for a little bit and after a couple of updates that really broke my system (probably to a point that someone with more knowledge would be able to fix but I couldn’t) so I decided to call it quits.

      I’ve been using Arch and am really happy with it. I also have a soft spot for Slackware because of its stability.

    • Sabayon which is based on Gentoo is not as problematic as Gentoo itself.

    • Randy Andy

      Gentoo – If it’s to strong, you are to week.

      You don’t have to be a developer or a programmer to understand and use this system. The only thing you have to do is to study and follow the well written documentation. Then you’ll learn a lot about Linux, not only distro specific stuff.
      Its release process isn’t chaotic, it’s the first rolling release distribution that still exist. More and more other distris tried to and will follow this scheme in newer time.
      Cause this, its continuous update process is more straight forward than of other distros, which updates in stages.
      The risk to damage the whole system is lower than on binary distros, cause every package would be compiled against really installed libraries, so the dependencies are fulfilled mandatory.
      Mostly you brake only a few packages, which could be solved easily cause you have leaned during the installation process how to solve things on the command line.
      Once you’ve built your system as your likings, updates could be compiled in the background while you’re working. So it’s no problem to compile hundreds of packages automatically.
      The needed time for that, is the price you have to pay for its outstanding independence regarding the usage of all existing sources and the influence of its easy feature configuration, combined with most of comfort in doing such a stuff.

      If you want to see a distro done right, compile it yourself!

      Regards, Andy.

    • mir3x

      I’m using Gentoo user for 5 years. All you need is to read messages and follow instructions.
      I think Gentoo Live is for users who want to test new features from unstable tree and as rescue dvd.

      You can break system only by installing badly configured kernel, but it’s not big deal. Or you get some troubles after reinstalling xorg. In any case there is nothing hard in correcting that.

      “If you value stability you will stay away. I recommend Debian, RHEL, CentOS or Scientific Linux.”
      Have you seen any non-patched packages in short term vulnerable to exploits if you say so?

    • StarCoder :-)

      emerge -NDuav –keep-going world
      emerge -a –depclean
      revdep-rebuild -i — -v –keep-going

      With those lines and a short check that they did not crash, no machine should become unusable. modules-rebuild and short command lines for X modules “just work” as well. Gentoo is practical, fast and efficient for who knows how to use it. And probably a curse for the others.

      After having been a Slackware and LFS user, I use Gentoo since 2003 (1.4) as my main system at home, in testing and with a few overlays and often home-made packages, and I have no real problems with it. Or when I have, I patch it myself, in my local overlay (never send an untried patch to maintainers, that might hurt…).
      Some updates may be long, sometimes revdep-rebuild is day-long on an experimental-multi-desktop systems laptop. But if you do things with a minimal common sense and do not hope all will work out of the box, Gentoo is more than fine. And when you work on continuous integration as I do now, it just looks like a dream. And there is never something like an upgrade on other distros.
      The thing is, I am not even sure Gentoo is a good system for most sysadmins if they are not coding ones (I am a coder who sysadmins happily with Gentoo when I have to). It is more of a coder system. I use it and am happy with it, but I never recommand it. Even if “stable” packages really are rock stable (yes, they are!), and forcing ABI-compatible only libs installation is easy and straightforward (one text file to edit, the UNIX way), too many bad sysadmins have become just advanced GUI users, sometimes even button pushers pretending to “work in computers”. There is no universal computer swiss army knife. Beginners should not use expert tools. Gentoo is not for the average user. That’s life ! :-)

    • I experienced twice in ~9 years that something was borked during an update, which wasn’t a fault upstream:
      baselayout and libpng

      The main problem is, that people want to start of with unstable packages in Gentoo and expect to not have problems. This is why there are stable, unstable and actual upstream keywords to build packages.
      No need to use unstable packages, stable versions in Gentoo are mostly marked unstable or future release in e.g. Ubuntu/Debian.

      Even, if you need some packages unstable, this is no problem with Gentoo. Each package can be set individual with it’s own keyword and portage assist you in the task to either unmask packages automatically or tell you what it needs to build this package version. It’s all about choice…

      stable -> rock solid and well tested
      unstable -> work upstream, but might cause trouble with other packages and dependencies
      upstream -> upstream sources

      Next to Debian, RedHat, Suse and Slackware, Gentoo is one of the ‘old’ distributions and base for many others.

    • sinnsat

      afais this review is not about gentoo in general but the live-system they provide.

    • OldschoolPro

      I agree with the poster who stated that Gentoo is a bit of a sick joke in the Linux community.

      For people with too much time on their hands, nursing a DIY machine/server with Gentoo can deliver some sort of pleasure. Just don’t expect to bring anything Gentoo into the workplace, you will be laughed out of the datacentre/development/networking group as it’s an untrusted plaything compared to the industries real distros; RHEL, CentOS, OpenSuse, Ubuntu Server, Debian.

      Show me Gentoo running on a Production server and I’ll show you a Linux Administrator with far to much authority to recklessly endanger a companies clients/reputation.

    • Pingback: ReviewLinux « Sandeep Dhanush()

    • gondolin

      I have bee nrunning Gentoo on production machines for more then 6 years, without any problems. Yes and there where cluster and high crital servers.
      The company needed satble and secure servers so the choose was quite easy. Now I have left this company and the systemas are a mess.
      I must agree that you must be an eperiance administrator to run these servers.

    • Yamakuzure

      @OldschoolPro: Yes, you would be laughed at by those who do not really know what they are doing. They simply *love* commercial distros, no matter how resource hungry they are, because they then have someone to sue if anything fails. ;)

      Gentoo on several production VMs here, my development desktop and my companies laptop. For years. Without *any* problem so far.

    • Pingback: Linux User & Developer: How to distribute Linux desktops to thin clients – Michael Reed()

    • Walter

      I have used Gentoo both commercially and for development since around 2007, though I have been using Linux since around 1994. What sets Gentoo apart from other distributions is the configurability of portage.

      The criticisms above seem to all be given with limited exposure/understanding or with what amounts to misunderstanding. For example, while you can point almost any distro and say “once I updated and something failed, therefore it’s bad!” as any experienced systems administrator will tell you, you should not be running random updates on mission-critical systems anyway. Whilst some distros might allow well-tested ‘rolling updates’, they’re never going to prevent you from breaking things, because that’s impossible. Whilst some ‘whole hog’ update systems (like FreeBSD) might also be extensively tested, they aren’t as flexible if you want to take a live update path.

      In summary, what Gentoo allows you to do is to precisely manage your environment, which is of particular utility for security, speed, and efficiency. If you want rolling updates on a development machine, you can. If you want rolling updates (after testing elsewhere) on a production machine, you can. The community is hugely knowledgeable and interested in helping you to solve problems.

      No system is perfect, all systems are just tools. If you are interested in crafting precision tools for specific requirements, Gentoo is a godsend. If you only need a blunted knife and a standard brick, then an ‘enterprise’ distribution of “safety-first!” commercial Linux might be more suitable for you.

      I like to think of Gentoo as the spiritual successor to Slackware. With power comes responsibility. A poor coder/administrator blames their tools. A smarter craftsperson enjoys the exposure to what’s going on in the kernel and open source software system as a whole, pushes the limits of what’s possible, and enjoys untold power and confidence.

    • V

      We used Gentoo in production because it’s an awesome distro which you can fine-tune with packages built exactly for what you need. We thought it would be stable in production because we’re seasoned admins.

      But here’s the reason why we removed Gentoo from production machines and replaced it with CentOs.

      We have a PHP application that processes thousands of images daily, and it does so with ImageMagick. A point release in ImageMagick changed the dynamic range of blur algorithms and that totally broke our process and paremeters we carefuly established through weeks of testing.

      Solution: stop the app, apologize to users, downgrade ImageMagick, lock its version.

      Next a point release in PHP fixed a bug in PDO (which was not documented as bug before) which initialized objects the wrong way around (constructor called after data is set). Boom goes the app.

      Solution: stop the app, apologize to users. Downgrade PHP, lock its version.

      The biggest no-no in Gentoo is locking a package version. Because the “world” keeps evolving and sooner or later something else will break which requires newer version than your locked one, and if that happens, the chain reaction can lead (and did in our case) to vast number of packages requiring version locking or whatever to get the system working.

      Gentoo, or any other rolling release distro, is nice for having fun, learning Linux, and development, but NOT for production that requires stable code environment. That’s why CentOS (and RHEL) exists, that’s why LTS versions of other distros exist. New version comes up, you test your app against it, change the code if needed, and have plenty of time to adapt before deployment because the locked down distro version is supported for YEARS. You can’t do taht with a target (rolling release) that is constantly changing, monthly, weekly or even daily.

    • Tim

      I agree with V. The only way to handle a rolling release is to lock down you own version snapshot. When you are ready for, or require an upgrade, you just create another snapshot, test it and put into production as a new “version”. So the question is… Do you want to do all that work, or let the CentOS community (or RHEL) or other LTS community do that for you?

    • risko

      the liveDVD is nice and bulky, have installed it in a rush onto my laptop as i needed the gentoo desktop within an hour. then customized the installation down to what only need. gentoo all around me, a dream, other distros are boring. have it on home desktop, work desktop, work laptop. love it.

    • Lockit

      To those who defend Gentoo:

      I was thinking of not replying because I am so busy but I took a minute to do so. Here it goes: Your first excuse is Gentoo is NOT for newbies and/or dumb people but for those smart people like you or so call “experts”. The truth is normal people have about the same average intelligence as you “so call experts”. But unlike you most of us have real lives outside the virtual world of WOW and would rather do more important things with our TIME than babysit out computers and play the Linux codes Easter Egg Hunt. Thus many of us left Windows in the first place and embraced Apple and Linux instead. But, I guess Windows could use that same excuse too “that Windows is not for newbies but for experts” who can babysit their OS like a sick baby on ICU. Second excuse is Gentoo is more customizable than any other Linux Distro. With enough knowledge you can download any Linux OS core and customized every aspect of it. Hell with enough expertise you can jailbreak Apple OS and customized it too but AGAIN is not a matter of smarts or knowledge but TIME! Some of us do have lives and would rather spend time with family and with friends while having real fun than with a computer or playing WOW all day. But let us hit the facts shall we? If Gentoo is as good as you claim why even people with more knowledge than all of us here put together chose to use Debian or Ubuntu or both as a base for their Linux OS? How about servers! Why are more servers windows and/or Linux base (Red Hat, OpenSUSE, Debian, Ubuntu and CentOS) but not Gentoo? The truth is that even if Gentoo where easier to use and more “newbies” friendly still would not beat Ubuntu, Debian, Mint, OpenSUSE, CentOS, Arch, etc. etc. Why? Because Gentoo doesn’t have what it takes and that’s a fact! How do I know? Looks at SABAYON! Need I say more??? In conclusion let me repeat this again. Most people live busy lives and they want a reliable “low maintenance systems” something that is easy, fast, secure, and customizable. If I wanted to spend lots of time caring for my PC or Laptop I would have stayed with Windows and not move to Apple or Linux. Hell if I really want it my own system I could take a lot of college classes become a programmer and make my own OS like Apple!!! Maybe Gentoo is for you if your high goals in life are to maintain your OS running smoothly at home wasting the rest of your life away. However some of us would rather do bigger and better things with our time.

    • Alice Bevan-McGregor

      I maintain cloud infrastructure as a contractor. Several important facts stand out for me regarding these comments about “stability” and all that. First: my VMs average 700+ days of uptime—I don’t measure reliability in “nines” any more.

      Weekly maintenance (an hour each week-end) averages four packages to compile, usually dependencies and not packages I manually chose to install. Maintenance is fast: across a small cluster (distcc-pump; MAKEOPTS=-j48) compiling the Linux kernel, as an example, takes 54 seconds from depclean. It takes longer to extract the source initially. The clusters are also configured with prelink (pre-calculated virtual memory maps for dynamic library access) and are ordered on-disk. This means a VM, complete with services, comes online in 4-6 seconds. The master server for a cluster performs the updates and builds binary packages which are pushed to the slaves, so packages are only compiled once. Additionally, MooseFS is utilized to pool and replicate storage across cluster VMs.

      Oh, and security issues? glsa-check, baby! Scriptable detection and correction of CVEs that affect your system.

      I managed to save one organization $40,000/yr by migrating their existing Ubuntu VMs to Gentoo as each and every one of the VMs could be downsized to a smaller RAM allocation while still benefiting from increased performance. (One application went from ~40 requests/second maximum to around 1000 req/sec.)

      Finally, each server’s root is a Git repository managing various aspects of the install. Branches are used for VM ‘roles’, and updates are fully automated. Push a change to the core Nginx configuration and each server the change applies to pulls, identifies changed files, identifies which packages own the changed files, identifies which packages have init scripts, and then automatically tells those services to reload their configurations. All of this is a testament to how flexible, efficient, and scriptable Gentoo and its portage package management system are.

      I’ve repeatedly seen Ubuntu, as an example, nuke the UUIDs of disk partitions (unmountable after update), destroy X11 graphics capabilities (X11 segfault on start), become completely corrupt and unbootable after a release-to-release upgrade using the provided automation, etc. In each of these cases I replaced the distro with Gentoo over the course of 10 minutes and had the services back up. I can even install a working Gentoo system from within an existing, running OS and reboot straight into it.

      So yeah, tell me about ‘reliability’. Complain about rolling updates. Enjoy spending more on infrastructure to support your bloated, rapidly out-of-date binary distributions. (Is Red Hat still stuck on Python 2.5, BTW?)

    • Alice Bevan-McGregor

      As a quick aside, many of these things I’ve mentioned (prelink, distcc, etc., and ccache not mentioned above) are fully supported by portage itself. Portage naturally distributes compilation across a cluster if available. During the installation phase prelink is run, if available. The amount of effort needed to support a cluster with Gentoo approaches the trivial.

    • Metaliinuxite


      I just wanted to point out ONE thing that does seem essential to me: Gentoo IS NOT as time consuming as some of you would like it to be. I would that there are two aspects of Gentoo: the installation (and this only if you have never installed Gentoo on a computer before) and the preparation of the administration process. The installation is well-documented and I don’t think I need to spend time writing about it. The second one however, is one of the key aspects of any system administrator on ANY distro, any operating system. As a matter of fact, my system is built around simple bash scripts. All the tasks I need to keep my system up-to-date is in bash scripts that I put in cron.d. All my administration scripts keep logs of what have been updated. A quick read through allows me to check I’m OK. If there is a package I would like to keep, I just re-emerge it and put in package.accept_keywords.
      Apart from this details administration often falls back to basic tasks, which are not gentoo-related.
      So don’t worry, Gentoo won’t prevent you from having a normal life.

      Secondly, something that has been said many times is that Gentoo is for so-called “Gentoo-Experts” and Developpers. Well, you know what? That’s not true. Gentoo is for anyone who wants to know what he/she is doing, nothing more. You do not need an extensive computer knowledge to run and maintain a gentoo computer/server. As long as you can read, and understand what you are doing, everything is fine. Gentoo is very well documented and the community is just awesome. Linux command-line knowledge is obviously necessary, but the latter is easy to undestand and to learn (being given that the two most-used commands are “ls”, “cd” and “vim”).

      Also for all of you who say that Gentoo is unstable, I must say that the few problems I have ever had on Gentoo were not gentoo specific but were package’s anomalies that I could see on many distros’ forums. Also, something that can be problematic is the Kernel. But once again, if you read the docs and do what you’re told, you won’t have any problem. The only time I had a problem with the Kernel is when I touched the “kernel-hacking” section. You may *MAY* have dependencies problems, but what can I say? Go edit your USE flags.

      As my last point, I would like to discuss gentoo’s most annoying aspect: compilation time. If you own a slow computer compilation time can be a real hell. But again, this is reversible: Updating weekly to avoid 3-months updates, and let the compiler run overnight. It’s very frustrating I had to wait 15 hours for KDE to finish compiling with my C-50. But once again, this is balanced by a great aspect of the distro itself: CPU optimization. Now I don’t think I need to talk about this either as a simple Google search will tell more than me.

      With this comment, I hope I helped you understand that all the cliches built around Gentoo are only cliches and there is a lot to discover and to enjoy after setting up you PC. After this, Gentoo is a choice. Depending on what you want and how you want, how much control you want to have on your computer, etc… you have to pick up the appropriate distro. It not an easy task, and you can’t know what is right for you before you have tested everything, so do not hesitate to give Gentoo a try.

    • gslack


      First, I’m not a Gentoo user. I keep a Live DVD around to play with and that’s about my extent with it. I use it when I want, and when I don’t it sits there. I usually dual-boot Windows 7 (for family) and a massively customized Ubuntu on a second Drive. I have tried most of the current distros to some degree or another and so far I have liked Debian the most, although I want a more modern desktop. So I compromise with a modified Ubuntu.

      That being said, I learned a lot from the massive Gentoo online documentation. Truly, if you do not know something you can pretty much find out how there or in the user forums which are equally outstanding.

      Gentoo is for more advanced users for certain, but how do they become more advanced users? I don’t think anybody is born with a “natural ability” to discern terminal commands. So obviously they were taught somehow, and although the more user friendly distros do a lot of the work for you, they also take away a great deal of the challenge. A lot of people use Slackware, or Gentoo or similar distros, not because they want something easy to use or setup, but because they want something with a challenge and to see what they can do.

      As far as Lockit thinking someone was insulting him or his intelligence, I would like to point out; No one insulted you lockit, and if you felt you were being insulted it sounds like you might have some self-worth issues to work out.

    • Sebastian

      I used Gentoo for 4 years or so, roughly 2004 – – 2008. I have to thank Gentoo for learning so much about Linux in general, the GCC, bash scripting, python etc. etc.
      But then I realized how much §/&” time I am wasting just to keep my systems up2date. I switched to Mint. I am certainly missing many things from Gentoo, but it feels like vacation anyway just to have a running system and to focus on working rather than keeping the system running. As I said, I learned a lot during my Gentoo time. But some “emerge world”s were just too tiring. I think after a one month summer vacation, I needed 3 days just to get the system back on its feet :D
      I think I will try out Arch now, hopefully it will offer a good balance, after using Gentoo and Mint for so long.

    • hadrons123

      You have no idea what you are talking about.

      Why do you think there are so many different cars out there on the street?

      people have different choices and people choose what they like. If you dont like gentoo, no one’s forcing you to use it. But don’t go tell people that gentoo is crap.

    • Will Schindler

      Gentoo is like any other Linux out there, I don’t see any differences between them, they use a kernel, and packages that you can get from RH, CentOS, Debian and many more. What set Gentoo apart is the obvious fact that you can customise it to your liking and or environments. I must say Gentoo and many source based distro is not for people who want to try Linux out to see what its like. but rather is for those that have a good understanding of Linux or at the very least willing to learn.
      What I truly love about Gentoo is how you are allowed to set the environment the OS runs on. You can compile it to run on a very specific CPU arch, modules, packages and many more, the limit is how much you understand how something works.
      The point is, there are many ways to skin a cat. and Gentoo is just one way. If you don’t like doing this way. no problem. try the Ubuntu way. But for me Gentoo offer a way that will allow you see why and how is done that you don’t see normally. which is behind the scene stuff. I like to see exactly what I am doing, and why these packages require this and that to work and why on earth would I need this when I can simply turn it off during compiling. etc etc. The sky is the limit. Power to the people. Knowledge is the power, blah blah.

    • Daniel Sloan Johnson

      Actually Lockit is correct. Linux is linux no matter how you try and say it. I have over 28 years working with computers and their OS’s. With enough TIME any one can make a GOD out of any toaster.

    • Daniel Sloan Johnson

      Very nicely done.