This is one of the best side effects of portage I can think of. Updating, restoring, and adding new packages is very easy when I need it to be but also very configurable when I need it to be. The term 'meta-distribution' has not been brought up here, that is how some speak of Gentoo because of the ability to control so much.
First, one thing left out of the article here is that Portage does not yet support reverse dependencies. That is, when I remove package A, the packages B,C,etc. that were installed soley to allow me to install package A are not automatically removed. That is ok for me, because I keep track of things like that. Servers don't change much (well, mine don't), so in my eyes this is only a problem for desktop users that are trying out a lot of packages. My advice: when you install something that requires more than a couple packages (like installing X or Gnome), just do "emerge __ -p" (p means pretend) and copy/paste the list of packages to a file. All in all, this really only wastes me a few minutes (setting up xargs to unmerge the packages in that file).
Otherwise portage is great, you can choose default 'USE' flags to keep unnecessary features from being compiled into your downloads. You can tweak this for a particular package very quickly at install time.
A key point - I will repeat my sentence above. When I want something quickly it is there. When I want to tweak, secure and customize there are a lot of ways to do this past conf files (you can force portage to use your own ebuild for instance).
Also, one thing often left out of discussions of Portage is that there are several large packages that have a pre-compiled choice (like who needs to optimize openoffice?) . Also, there is something called the GRP cd for several architectures that has a lot of packages precompiled for those computers. I'm not even using it to have 'optimized' packages, you can get into those arguments with some people who bash Gentoo for what they see as its glaring folly. There are speed contests and too many arguments to keep track of. In the end, O2 and a couple flags for gcc are great for me. If I ever needed to optimize something far past this it would be a special case and I'd look into it for that application.
There are many other small things I appreciate about the whole distribution (not just portage).
Mainly, I like the control it offers. This is a high priority for the maintainers.
Another key point for me is the good will, collaboration, and knowledge found in the user forums. It's always the first place I look for a solution to particular problems -- it's usually already been discussed.
If you have a fast internet connection especially, why not try it out on a small partition?
(I've been using Gentoo for about 8 months now, and do NOT have much experience with other distributions, so you might take that into account when considering my opinions)
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