Gentoo Isn’t for Me

Written By: Jake Bauer | Posted: 2020-08-08 | Last Updated: 2020-08-08

After using Gentoo on and off since I tried it out a few months ago, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not for me. While I really like the idea, I just don’t think that the paradigm is particularly good for me to use as a daily driver.

My issues with it mainly just boil down to time. Running Gentoo as a daily driver would be a breeze on my desktop machine with its 6C/12T Ryzen 5 1600 CPU but, on my T420s with its 2C/4T Intel i5-2520M, things take a non-trivial amount of time to install because everything is compiled from source. For example, it took me approximately 1-2 hours just to install Gentoo because of kernel and base program compilation and it took me 7.5 hours just to install Firefox. Yes, I did make sure to use the -j flag in my make.conf.

Now, there are ways to speed this up; I could use distcc to compile things for my laptop on my desktop machine or I could also set up ccache so that, if a library is common between two packages, it will only have to be compiled once. For heavy packages such as Firefox, there are also binary packages available so that one can avoid the insane compilation times.

However, even though doing these things will make it faster to install new software, it still feels like it takes an unreasonably long time to get a system up and running. Not to mention, when I’m working on something and need a new piece of software, the time it takes along with the occasional configuration file issues I have to work out pulls me out of the flow of the task that I want to accomplish. Needing to fix some USE flag incompatibility or wait for the piece of software to be compiled annoys me when I just want to get on with whatever task I need to complete.

It was definitely very fun to install Gentoo for the first few times, plus the novelty of the Gentoo way of doing things was cool to play around with and the sheer amount of freedom it offers the user in choosing how they want to build their system (LibreSSL vs. OpenSSL, runit vs. OpenRC vs. systemd, etc) is very intriguing. I just don’t think it would suit me as a daily driver because of the fact that nearly everything has to be compiled from source.

One thing I really liked about Gentoo was the ability to slim down my system a lot. So, to get away from systemd and to move to using even more simple software, I will be trying out Alpine Linux as a daily driver on my laptop. It uses musl libc and OpenRC, and is a binary-based distribution instead of a source-based distribution. Fun fact: the Alpine folk used to build their packages using Gentoo’s emerge (though I couldn’t quickly find anything that could confirm if this is still the case).

This is my eighty-seventh post for the #100DaysToOffload challenge. You can learn more about this challenge over at https://100daystooffload.com.