Debian vs. Gentoo
From: Quag7 (quagseven_at_frostwarning.com)
Date: Wed, 05 Jan 2005 17:27:08 -0700
On Thu, 30 Dec 2004 17:58:48 +0000, Anthony Campbell wrote:
>>> If you're lazy (like me), I'd say giving Gentoo ( http://www.gentoo.org/
>>> ) a go. You'll only go through the pain of installing once, and then
>> If you use that argument, Debian is an even better bet. Here also, one needs
>> to install only once and upgrade incrementally through apt-get.
>> Plus, he won't have to compile anything.
> And the new installer for Sarge (testing) makes installation very easy
> in most cases. I've just installed it on two different laptops (Toshiba
> Satellite 4000CDT and IBM Thinkpad) and everything went smoothly.
I have at one time or another run the following:
Red Hat 7
My personal opinion:
Debian Woody is the absolute easiest to maintain server OS I've seen so
far. I mean, it's rock stable, not so much as a hiccup, and security
patches are absurdly simple. But that's not what you're looking for.
Debian Sarge, soon to be the stable release (it's testing now - don't let
this scare you; relative to other distros it's quite stable). I just
recently replaced Gentoo on my old Thinkpad with Sarge, and aside from
some annoying issues with wireless (which had nothing to do with wireless
it turned out - it had to do with PCI IRQ assignments - ugh!), this turned
out to be pretty fantastic. For one, the installer has drastically
improved. I didn't particularly think the old installer on Woody was
nearly as bad as people say, but the new one is faster and asks far less
questions. It autodetects a whole mess of things, and you wind up with a
kernel that works mainly with modules. Anyway you don't even need to know
that. Suffice to say, the new installed ought to make less experienced
users who were a bit frightened by the old one quite happy (I think). I
installed it with the 2.6 kernel on the laptop, and now I use that laptop
in my living room to play mp3s to my stereo, via wi-fi. It works great,
and installing Gnome and getting X working was a breeze.
As for package management, I'm not sure why this was confusing although I
will say that I had a little trouble at first finding a comprehensive
beginner's guide that was useful (such guides exist but I wasn't crazy
about how they were written), so the advice I'd give to anyone installing
apt-cache search keyword -- find the name of the package you want to
install. Try something like:
--> apt-cache search xftp
which is equivalent to:
--> emerge -s xftp
in Gentoo Linux, which I'll get to in a minute.
Once you find the name of the package, the easiest way to install it is:
apt-get install packagename
In this instance:
--> apt-get install xftp
--> emerge xftp
This will fetch the package, all the dependencies (libraries, etc.), and
set everything up in the right order. If you've got a good internet
connection, it will do all of this through the internet. If the package
requires setup, it will ask you basic questions to configure things (even
Gentoo doesn't really do this except in very rare instances - of course
doing so is not really part of the Gentoo philosophy, where the
expectation, the default behavior, is to edit config files). In this way
(I think) Debian is a little better for non-power users than Gentoo is,
though the criticisms of Gentoo being difficult, complicated, or full of
l33tists, are absurdly overstated.
I mean, really, that's it for package management. apt-get can add and
remove programs, and you can even do:
--> apt-get update
which is the equivalent in Gentoo of:
--> emerge sync
This fetches the latest list of packages and versions.
Then after this if you want to bring your whole system up to date to
install the latest packages you would just do:
--> apt-get upgrade
which is (quite roughly) like:
--> emerge --update world
There's a concise and easy-to-understand man page for apt-get. apt-get
also easily removes packages. And unlike Gentoo, there's no compiling
involved. If you happen to have a broadband net connection, nothing could
be easier or snappier.
Now Gentoo Linux. Gentoo Linux is the great transitional Linux bootcamp.
It won't make you some kind of sysadmin guru but the install will likely
bump you up to at least intermediate Linux user if you're a beginner now.
It's less that it teaches you how to tweak anything and more that
it exposes to you what *is* tweakable, configurable, and
customizable...("Oh, so that's where the time zone is set..")
...If you've never poked around. It forces you to open the hood and look
inside as part of the install. You can simply follow the instructions and
just see what's there or mess around.
Believe me, you'll wind up messing around. Maybe the worst thing about
Gentoo is it makes you want to fiddle with things, and get in over your
head sometimes. If you can be conservative and have some idea of your
limitations of understanding, read, research, and look before you leap,
you'll be just fine. But sticking your nose in everywhere is just so
tempting with Gentoo. This is a good thing, though it can lead to bad
results sometimes :)
The Gentoo handbook makes installing so easy you could *almost* just type
exactly what they tell you and get a working system.
As you see above, it has a similar package management scheme, though
rather than downloading packaged binaries, it downloads source tarballs,
and then your system compiles those (along with dependencies, libraries,
etc). In the process of doing so you can tweak all sorts of things about
the compile; turning on and off support for, say, printing if you don't
need it, or turning on or off GUI support for apps you need/don't need a
Both Debian and Gentoo feature a dry run feature to show you, when you go
to install something, what else will be fetched as dependencies. (emerge
--pretend --update world / apt-get --dry-run upgrade). This will not
actually do anything but simulate what the command would do if you didn't
have dry-run (--pretend) in there. So you can look before you leap, and
get an idea of what's going to happen and (most importantly with Gentoo)
how long it is likely to take.
Anyway, thing of it is now, Debian is really the ultimate all-purpose
distribution, now that some of the installer issues have been addressed.
>From ubergeek kernel hacker to "just wanna read e-mail" users, my own
opinion is that it's appropriate for anything.
Gentoo is definitely more specialized. Developers seem to like it a lot,
as do people who want to learn more about their system. Of course, most
of what you figure out in Gentoo can be applied to any other distro. And
as I say, it's less that Gentoo forces you to be a supergenius, but it
does show you possibilities that aren't obvious in one of the closed-hood
distributions like Mandrake (though you can do the same stuff in Mandrake
if you know what you're doing). It can also be *painfully slow*. You'll
hear stories about how long it takes to get the system up initially, or to
upgrade files due to the compilation time. What is often lost in the
discussion is that this is mostly non-interactive. That is to say, you
run the command to, say, upgrade all of the packages on your system, and
then you go to sleep, and most of the time you'll wake up 8 hours later
and everything will have been downloaded and configured and ready to go.
I run Gentoo on the system I'm typing on now, which is my primary desktop
system. I also run an Apache server for development purposes on Gentoo
here, though Gentoo is not ordinarily the first choice for such things
(Has been working fantastically for me however). I run Debian Woody on my
router (the older branch of Debian), and then Debian Sarge on my laptop.
If I was forced to use any of these, I'd be fine doing so. Gentoo is my
sentimental favorite but that's probably because I'm just so used to it.
Debian is the one I recommend for people who aren't as much of a dweeb as
I am, unless they really like computers a lot, in which case I'll tell
them to give Gentoo a shot. Gentoo has a superb, centralized support
message board (forums.gentoo.org) and really damn good documentation.
Debian has some good docs too, but they tend to be a little more scattered
than I'd like (though the handbook is a pretty good place to start). I've
almost never needed to consult the Debian docs, however. And there is an
effort to make a message base for Debian similar to the Gentoo forums. For
many, the Gentoo forums are the single biggest plus in favor of running it
and I'm glad to see the concept emulated.
There are also dumb political issues and sometimes baseless, sometimes
spot-on accusations between users of these two distributions. I think
they compliment each other rather than compete with each other, and there
ought to be a little more mutual admiration between the two as both have
executed quite nicely. Many Debian users consider Gentoo users wannabes
who are into the flash and the idea of having an easily tweaked distro,
without demonstrating much practical need to do so (or understanding of
the consequences of what they're doing). Some Gentoo users definitely fit
this profile, but most people don't run Gentoo for this reason. Most
people run it for portage (the package manager), for the centralized
support forum (still the best I've seen, not to say there aren't others
out there I haven't), and because once Gentoo is understood, you get the
feeling like you really know what's going on on your system, and
there's the comfort of familiarity which comes with that. There are no
unexplained or undocumented processes running, and rarely is it a mystery
how to turn something on or off, configure something, get something
running at startup, etc. I personally do very little "ricer" type stuff on
my system. I use conservative CPU optimizations (more conservative than
the default), and occasionally tweak a USE flag here or there but that's
it. Debian users who are critical of Gentoo generally know how to do many
of these same tweaks manually on their systems but choose not to, and are
wary of newbies who go around talking about CPU optimizations and making
wild claims of increased performance. Anyway these discussions are well
documented, and quite utterly boring, and almost always geeky. I don't
know that excessive performance is a great reason to run Gentoo. It's the
same Linux as anyone else's, just with the gears exposed (to a degree -
portage really does a *lot* of stuff automatically in terms of installing
One thing Gentoo will force you to do is compile your own kernel,
something that new users sometimes fear a bit. If nothing else, it
demonstrates that compiling a kernel is really pretty trivial (I would add
here that the Debian way of building kernels rocks in its own right).
But most importantly, it walks you through *doing* it. The effect this
has had on me, is it has forced me to insist on compiling my own kernel on
any other distribution I've run. While Debian will run fine without you
ever worrying much about the kernel, I immediately felt the compulsion to
compile my own anyway. Not a bad habit, I don't think.
Some Gentoo users find Debian a little crusty, especially with its very
conservative optimizations and certain Debian "support" forums can be
rather curmudgeonly, though this is more what I've heard than what I've
experienced (actually the few times I've needed help, I've popped on into
the freenode #debian channel and gotten a friendly answer rather quickly,
so props to the people who hang out there). Also, some people aren't
happy that Debian still runs XFree (the issues with X.org and Xfree
couldn't interest me less, frankly - from a user's standpoint so far, I
see no difference. The display gimmicks (translucency, etc.) in X.org
don't work well for me anyway), but there are some other slightly "behind
the times" things (if you are cutting-edge oriented, that is - it's all
relative as any conservative Debian advocate will probably tell you), such
as the fact that the 2.6 kernel in Sarge installs with devfs rather than
udev from the installer. The recent interview with the project leader
indicated that udev will be part of a future release (naturally). If you
have no idea what I'm talking about here, it probably doesn't matter much
Right now Debian is going through some possible changes in its release
schedule so a few things may change. Debian's conservatism has several
advantages anyway, which you'll find out if you run it (it is extremely
clear what these are to me when I run a server in that I barely have to
touch it - I run a Debian webserver at work).
So in summary:
I'd recommend Debian for non-power users who intend to remain that way and
are quite content with not learning much more about Linux, who just want
to use applications and be a *user*. (Also for everyone else, frankly. I
can't think of any particular audience I wouldn't recommend it to).
Gentoo is great for non-power users who would like to learn more about
their system in one of the best possible ways (LFS is a whole other
discussion). Once the initial learning curve is over (and that curve is
really not that great if you can read directions), Gentoo is remarkably
easy to maintain and keep up to date, just as Debian is.
As for Mandrake, SuSE and so forth, I can't say much about them because I
haven't used Mandrake in a long time, and SuSE I've never used. Mandrake
was my first distro, and it got me interested, but it also frustrated me
in that when something didn't work, I couldn't figure out how to start
troubleshooting. I moved to Gentoo some time later, and stuff still goes
wrong sometimes but I always have an idea on where to start
troubleshooting because I have a better idea of what's going on. It is
conceivable that things have changed a lot since Mandrake 7.something
(maybe it was 8.something), I don't know. I've not had much desire to run
anything other than Debian, Gentoo, and FreeBSD, to be honest. (FreeBSD
is a little like Gentoo - more precisely, Gentoo is a little like FreeBSD.
FreeBSD also gives me a warm happy feeling in my tummy).
The final thing to consider is, if I had to put my money down on what
distribution will still be around in 20 years, it would be Debian. It's
been around a long time (Is it the oldest distro now, does anyone know?)
and will probably be here after the last hydrogen bomb is dropped, the
last clam eaten, and the last sheep launched.
Red Hat users will likely understand the value of this.