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News and Editorials

The Success of Gentoo

November 19, 2003

This article was contributed by Ladislav Bodnar

Gentoo Linux is one of the most remarkable success stories of this year. At the time when more and more new Linux distribution are clamoring for our attention, it is very hard for most of them to attract new users, let alone break into the top league. Yet, Gentoo has done it. It has become one of the most widely used distributions in a very short time.

But don't take our word for it, let some of these figures illustrate the success. Gentoo has one of the most active user forums with over 34,000 registered users who have posted close to 650,000 messages over the last 19 months. On average, nearly 60 new users join the forums every day. Besides forums, Gentoo also provides 36 mailing lists, 10 of which are for non-English speakers. The sizable Gentoo Weekly Newsletter is now translated into 12 languages, including Japanese, Russian and Turkish. Many Gentoo-oriented community web sites sprouted around the globe - from China to Sweden. And the number of Gentoo packages (or ebuilds) in the stable repository has now risen to over 4,700.

What has Gentoo done right to become such a runaway success? Let's look at some of the factors.

Originality. There is no denying that Gentoo has come up with an interesting idea. At the time of increasing availability of fast Internet connections and more powerful CPUs, downloading source codes and compiling them locally is no longer as painful as it once was. Although the concept wasn't new, there is no denying that many Linux users found Gentoo refreshingly different from the mainstream Linux distributions, especially in terms of user control over most aspects of the operating system as well as software optimization.

Persistence. While Gentoo is often seen as a new distribution, its actual development began in early 1999 under the name of Enoch Linux. In "Making the distribution" (part 1, part 2, part 3), Gentoo's creator Daniel Robbins reveals how he started with Linux, how he became a Stampede Linux developer and how he eventually left to start his own distribution. He also mentions his brief encounter with FreeBSD (and its "ports", which later formed the basis of "Portage") and reasons for his return to Linux: "FreeBSD was a peaceful home, but a little too boring, too staid. Linux is where the action was, where major progress was being made. There's no doubt that if you're looking for excitement and innovation, Linux is the place to be." But the fact that Gentoo Linux will soon be 5 years old serves as a reminder that its current fame was preceded by many years of hard, persistent and often thankless work.

Packages. For many users, one of the main attractions of Gentoo is the almost instantaneous availability of new package versions as they are released by their upstream developers. "I just love Portage" is a phrase often heard on public forums. Portage, written in Python, is the Gentoo package management system with many convenient features. The most essential among its commands is "emerge", which has the ability to download, unpack, configure, compile and install a given package in one swoop. Portage also supports OpenBSD-style "fake" installs, safe removal, system profiles, package masking, it has an elaborate dependency system and many other features.

Documentation. Gentoo has some of the best documentation of any Linux distribution. It is written in a style that is easily understandable by all users, irrespective of their skill levels, with detailed, step-by-step instructions and explanations. Color highlighting and additional notes help to keep the text from becoming too tedious and dull. It is fair to say that installing Gentoo is one of the best and most effective ways to learn about Linux internals and system administration, hands-on.

Community. Interacting with the user community is a critical factor contributing to a success or a failure of a Linux distribution, yet sadly, many tend to underestimate it. Not Gentoo. They provide both mailing lists and user forums, as well as a regular weekly newsletter full of useful information about the latest happenings in the development of Gentoo, developer profiles, wealth of practical tips and tricks and other topics of interest. Contrast that to newsletters published by some of the commercial Linux distributions offering little valuable information beyond urging subscribers to join the club, visit the online store or enroll for a certification program.

Although other factors, such as availability of Gentoo for many different platforms or surprise releases of live game CDs have also contributed to a certain degree, the above points illustrate why Gentoo has become one of the most popular and fastest growing Linux distributions ever. An amazing achievement by any standard, but even more so in case of a non-commercial project relying mostly on volunteer effort. No, this success did not come without a considerable amount of hard work, but in the end it was certainly worth it.

Comments (23 posted)

Distribution News

Debian GNU/Linux

The November 18 issue of the Debian Weekly News is out; this one looks Bruce Perens's desktop Debian proposal, package caching, Impi Linux, progress toward the 3.1 release, and several other topics.

Martin Schulze provides an update on the progress of Debian GNU/Linux 3.0r2.

Debian Planet points to a step by step walkthrough of the new Debian installer (on LinMagAU).

Also found on Debian Planet, this woody backports collection where you can find newer software for your stable system.

Comments (none posted)

Gentoo Weekly Newsletter - Volume 2, Issue 46

The Gentoo Weekly Newsletter for the week of November 17, 2003 is out. This week Gentoo announces the new; Gentoo-BSD looks for someone to port Portage's sandbox code to the *BSDs; and more.

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Mandrake Linux

Mandrake Linux 9.2 ISO images are available for download at a mirror near you. Visit this link to find out more.

Here are this week's bug fix advisories for Mandrake Linux 9.2:

  • OpenDX: dx does not start properly
  • totem: may crash when attempting to retrieve CDDB information while playing an audio CD
  • SnortSnarf: this update fixes dependency problems.
  • drakxtools: multiple bugs squashed
  • gawk: segfault when character class and locale is not "C".
  • nss_ldap: package improperly built against db1 rather than db4.
  • rpm: database locking bug may cause menu loss.

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Fedora Core

Here are some updates for Fedora Core 1:
  • strace 4.5.1: revert bogus s390 fix & rebuilt for 2.1AS erratum.
  • vnc 4.0: a problem in the VNC server causes VNC clients to stop displaying updates.
  • mozilla 1.4.1: may crash on sites with Japanese text.

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Slackware Linux

This week at slackware-current you will find Python 2.3.2, some fixes to Brazilian timezones in glibc, Koffice 1.2.94, gcc-3.3.2 now in slackware/d/, and more.

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Linux use in Norwegian schools

Here is an article about Skolelinux for Scandinavian language readers. English readers can click below to get a summary translation. (Thanks to Morten Sickel)

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Correction: Xandros Announces Desktop 2.0 Linux

Xandros has corrected last week's press release. "Correction: Xandros is based on the "Sarge" version of Debian GNU/Linux and not on Debian Linux 4.0 as said in the original announcement." Most of us already knew that.

Full Story (comments: 1)

New Distributions

White Box Linux

White Box Linux is an effort to rebuild Red Hat's Enterprise product from source, including only Free/Open source software. The first set of Release Candidate ISO images are available for download now.

Full Story (comments: none)

Minor distribution updates

2-Disk Xwindow embedded Linux

2-Disk Xwindow embedded Linux has released 1disk v1.2.3 with major feature enhancements. "This release adds RTF 12312 compliance, menu system enhancements, and desktop wallpaper. Many browser bugs have been fixed. The graphical login system has been updated. There is LSB subset compliance and speed improvements in boot time."

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The ADIOS project has released v2.00. "This version updates Linux and adds more boot and run options."

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Damn Small Linux

Damn Small Linux has released v0.5 with minor feature enhancements. "A local .xinitrc, a save/restore user settings menu option, a boot time "restore" option (type "knoppix restore" at boot), and the program now recognizes the USB drive. Firebird now runs as the user damnsmall. sqlite has been added. ispell and flwriter have been replaced with Ted-gtk with US English spell check. The removed option to set the frequency didn't work quite right and has been removed. An option to set the DPI has been added."

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Familiar version 0.7.2 has been released. This release includes 'pypak' which allows programmers to write Python GUI applications on their handheld. Click below for more information.

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GNOPPIX has released v0.6.0-beta3 with major feature enhancements. "This version comes with woody backports of GNOME 2.4, updates, and a number of improvements."

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KNOPPIX has released v3.3-2003-11-14 with minor feature enhancements. "The Euro symbol works again in konsole, but font scanning at startup is slow (fontconfig?). This release adds a bittorrent ncurses client and an ALSA package update. The "knoppix testcd" option is now more verbose. The default timings in monitor detection have changed. This may give better results with DDC-capable monitors, but you will probably have to use "knoppix vsync=60" for non-DDC-capable TFT displays. There have been the usual bunch of Debian package updates."

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PXES Linux Thin Client

PXES Linux Thin Client has released v0.7-1 with major feature enhancements. "This release tries to solve two of the most recurring problems. It has access to a monitors database for autodection. In the case of errors in connecting to the server, also known as the Gray Xcreen of Death, this release tries to identify the problem and inform the user. rdesktop 1.3.0 is included with support for 24-bit color when connected to a W2K3 server and sound redirection. Local sessions have been improved. There is a configuration program and much more."

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Rock Linux

Rock Linux has released v2.0.0-rc2 with major feature enhancements. "This release includes an improved package selection (including a minimal+Xfree86 template), improved kernel config generation, other build system improvements, various gcc 3 fixes, many non-x86 (e.g. PowerPC, Alpha, and SPARC) fixes, installer RAM filesystem cleanup, and space optimizations. Many package updates including various KDE and GNOME packages, linux-drm, dietlibc (and all the package conformance patches needed), and Samba 3.0 have been performed, and many new packages have been added, including more fonts."

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RUNT has released v3.0 with major feature enhancements. "This release is based on Slackware 9.1, and includes kernel 2.4.22. It includes iptraf (for network monitoring), iptables, and CD/DVD writing tools. SCSI controllers are now supported through hotplug. memtest was removed due to increased kernel size, but can still be run if booting directly off the USB drive."

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Trustix Secure Linux

Tawie Server Linux and the old Trustix Secure Linux have now been merged into a new distribution called Trustix Secure Linux. TSL Bugfix Advisory #2003-0043 (click below) shows the last packages have been updated to reflect the return of the original name.

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Distribution reviews

Review: SuSE Linux 9 (NewsForge)

NewsForge reviews SuSE Linux 9 Professional edition. "SuSE 9 is basically a big update to all the software packages that it comes with. This release adds a few new features to the OS, such as auto login, NTFS resizing, system recovery, and more documentation. But it also fails to solve some problems that were in 8.2, such as a conflict between Glib 2 and GTK 2, which meant I couldn't compile Gaim and some other programs. I would have liked to have seen such more support for DivX and Xvid codecs, so that I could play more videos without having to download codecs from the Internet. However, all in all, SuSE 9 is a nice improvement on what we have come to expect from SuSE."

Comments (33 posted)

Review: Fedora Core 1 is a Mild Disappointment (OSNews)

OSNews reviews Fedora Core 1. "Fedora Core comes with Gnome 2.4.0 (plus some updated packages), Mozilla 1.4.1, Gaim 0.71, OOo 1.1, XMMS 1.2.8, KOffice, Gimp 1.2.x, gThumb 2.0.2 (pretty outdated version), Epiphany 1.0.4 and many hundreds of other packages. The distro includes most of what users would need for their home usage: Internet applications, office apps, games, some multimedia support, easy administration for most things via Red Hat's preference panels." (Thanks to lon jones)

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