All-new but no different

Now that I have a few more hours in the day to devote to random stuff, I’ve reinstalled my server. I’ve switched from Red Hat 9 to Gentoo 2006.0, which is quite a change.

It’s been an interesting, but moderately tedious, exercise. Given the hardware involved (my old desktop PC at Tarantella, a Dell PIII 500, liberated when we got the chop) the tedium is entirely down to the long build times – Gentoo packages are almost all source-based. I naturally considered the hand-me-down approach – buy new fast PC, turn current PC into server, eject old server onto street – but given my top-secret plan to buy a Mac Mini I don’t think I should spend even more money right now. (I’d also have to reinstall all my PC apps, a special kind of hell I’m happy to avoid.)

The Gentoo Portage system is pretty amazing. I might rethink that opinion when I start hitting bugs, but today it’s working fine. Any program you want seems to be sitting there ready to be downloaded, configured, built and installed with one command (along with all its dependencies). But it’s not for newbies, and comes complete with rope and copious noose-tying instructions.

The trick now is to keep the whole thing relatively up-to-date. It’s easy to do: one command syncs your cache of the package definitions with the master list, and another command updates everything that needs updating. But it’s not something I particularly want to blindly automate. For one thing, certain config files are “protected” so the portage system doesn’t clobber your changes with its own (post-install, you run a command to merge the affected files in a semi-automated you-do-grok-diff-don’t-you kind of a way).

Anyway, enough nerdliness.

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1 Comment

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One response to “All-new but no different

  1. Anonymous

    Welcome into the fold

    I got sick and tired of having to build stuff on Redhat because they would leave all sorts of options out on packages (usually multimedia stuff). The installs then bypassed rpm which made using the packaging system pointless. So I switched to Gentoo. BTW I just do my new builds once a week. They don’t tell you, but use ‘dispatch-conf’ to update the config files.

    Ultimately you can take your upgrade pain in massive doses (the approach when each new release of Fedora/Suse/Debian etc comes out) or in tiny daily doses (the Gentoo approach).

    One thing to watch out for is that Gentoo is lagging more and more. They used to be very up to date but are now suffering from the disease those in the software industry used to when trying to support too many platforms. Packages are masked until they are stable, but Gentoo is getting very cautious now since lots of platforms, libraries and compiler flags are supported. As an example, every other distro out there has shipped the most recent KDE, but not Gentoo because it breaks somewhere (unspecified). I’m still waiting for Gnome 2.14 to be marked stable …

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