Ah, Gentoo. Gentoo was once one of the most popular distributions going. But somewhere along the line it declined. It’s become a fringe distro that even with dedicated developers and loyal users can’t seem to get its mojo back. I used Gentoo for several years and perhaps the reasons I moved on might be the same others did as well.
In 2002 Gentoo was sitting at number three on the Distrowatch Page Hit Ranking. It’s been falling down that list every year since. This year it’s at 18. Version 11.0 was released in March and I don’t think anyone reviewed it. The Rolling Programmer tried, but „hit a brick wall.“ Regardless, I don’t think it’s not-so-ease-of-use that took Gentoo down. I lay the blame at Moore’s Law
.In 2002 and the surrounding years, compiling Gentoo from Stage One actually showed real benefits over the more generic-style binary distros that had to cater to a larger common denominator. Real performance increases were possible and definitely distinguishable in comparison. But as hardware became more and more powerful, these increases became less and less pronounced. Even when I moved on several years ago they were almost non-existent. So, now the main advantage of using Gentoo is probably either bragging rights or a learning experience.
Another lesser reason for Gentoo’s decline was the departure of Daniel Robbins. Like with Mandriva’s loss of Gael Duval, it takes away some of a distro’s momentum and identity to lose its founder. Imagine what Ubuntu might be like if Shuttleworth suddenly departed. Oh it’d still go on, but it wouldn’t be the same. Can you imagine Linux without Torvalds?
One other major stumbling block has been the absence of a hard drive installer on its DVDs. I think it would be beneficial for Gentoo to provide a binary installer in the ilk of Toorox or Sabayon. I know that’s almost sacrilege to say, but I think it’s the truth. Even with Stage Two and Three tarballs, it still takes a lot of work to get a Gentoo system up and running properly. It just became more trouble and too time consuming than it was worth to me.
Which leads right into the fourth reason I think Gentoo has been in decline. Compiling each application is a time consuming process especially if you’re upgrading something like KDE. It could take hours to compile all those KDE packages. I remember when Firefox and the kernel were long compiles too. (Gentoo did provide a few binary packages, but just a few.) Generally, folks just don’t have the patience for that much anymore.
So, Gentoo 11.2 LiveDVD was released this past Sunday and barely got any press. To me, a former Gentoo lover, this is sad. The improvements sound intriguing. The main change is Linux kernel 3.0. The number of distros moving to Linux 3.0 is starting to grow, but Gentoo is still probably the third or fourth so far. New desktops include KDE 4.7.0, GNOME 3.0.0, and Xfce 4.8. Some software updates are LibreOffice 3.3.3, Mozilla Firefox 5.0, Chromium 13.0, Opera 11.50, Amarok 2.4.3, and MPlayer2 2.0. The Live DVD actually comes with a lot of software, including Porthole and Zero Install for adding addtional applications. A link on the desktop will take users to the Install Handbook.
I’ve said it before, if Gentoo would provide a binary installer like Toorox, more people would give it a shot. As it is, I think Toorox and Sabayon are tempting Gentoo users away. But for the patient or self-improvement types, Gentoo Linux can provide an experience unlike anything else.