The Gentoo Experience

So it’s been almost a year that I’ve switched to Gentoo Linux, and I’d like to share my experience with those that are curious and want to try it.

Gentoo Linux has a reputation in the Linux community for being the most hardcore Linux distribution there is, second to perhaps “Linux from Scratch”. This reputation is kind of well deserved because a Gentoo Linux user is not your typical Linux user. Essentially a Gentoo Linux user commits to building the entire operating system from scratch, including compiling the Linux kernel and customizing every little detail. Initial installation as a new Gentoo user can take some time as you are learning new things but eventually after you figured everything out it doesn’t take that long.

The main experience with Gentoo is all about learning, you get to learn basically a little bit of everything. If you are the kind of person that usually loses patience when something doesn’t work right, then Gentoo is probably not for you. But on the other hand, if you’re willing to invest the time to learn Gentoo then you will be greatly rewarded.

How will you be rewarded? Well that answer is relative. For example if you use a distribution like Ubuntu and you plugged in a brand new hardware, there’s a chance that the hardware might not work because support for that hardware is not available in the kernel.

Perhaps your hardware requires a special firmware that needs to be downloaded manually and built into the kernel or may be a special FLAG needs to be set in the config file when you are manually compiling the kernel. If you have experience with Gentoo, you probably would be familiar with all these stuff and perhaps can fix the issues on your own for the most part. Thing is compiling the kernel is not as intimidating as it seems, as a Gentoo Linux user you get so used to compiling kernel that it becomes a habit. Sort of like drinking your morning coffee 🙂

Anyway, the point is investing the time in learning Gentoo is worth it. If you are using an Open Source Operating System like Linux, sooner or later you will definitely run into issues. That is just the nature of how things work in the Linux world 🙂

The skills that you pick up along the way as a full time Gentoo user are quite useful, so you can pretty much debug the hardware/software issues on your own without relying too much on the developers for support. Not to mention Gentoo forum is one of the best places for getting support. I’ve seen a lot of distributions for example Arch Linux where the community is very strict, you need to be careful when posting in Arch Linux forums as there’s strict rules related to forum etiquette and in general they are not as friendly to newbies. Compared to that Gentoo Linux community is welcoming and friendly to newbies.

Personally I’ve learned a lot using Gentoo, it made Linux fun for me again. At some point (in my early years as a Linux user) I was kind of disappointed with the Linux community because I was unable to debug and fix my hardware / software issues on distributions like Ubuntu. Filing bug reports and expecting them to get fixed was taking too long and I can’t really blame the developers because  most of the contribution towards Open Source software is done by people on their free time and a lot of them don’t get paid for doing so. As I gained more experience I realized that it’s not actually them to blame but my mindset or to be more specific my lack of knowledge.

Linux is fun, it is exciting for the advanced users who have invested years learning it and have figured everything out. But at the same time it can also be quite frustrating and intimidating for the beginners. It is just a question of how much time you are willing to invest, either way it is worth it.

Manjaro Linux Review

I have distro hopped like a grass hopper in my early years as a Linux user. I’ve tried different variants of Linux & one of the things that I’ve realised is that even though overall eye candy does matter, but what matters more in the longterm is your hardware compatibility, familiarity with the distro and how well it suits the flow of your work.

They say if it works, don’t try to fix it & thus we have distros like Arch and Gentoo. Gentoo is the type of distro that not only requires pure commitment and dedication, but you also need a lot of patience to go through hours of frustrating compilation process. The end result being that all your software is optimised according to your architecture; in non-geek terms it means that your computer would pretty much run the fastest it can run and more. It’s like replacing the Toyota engine of your car with that of a Ferrari. Who wouldn’t want the extra speed right? Only if you knew how painful the actual process is.

Anyway, Arch on the other hand has prebuilt binaries optimised for your architecture which is similar to that of Gentoo but the upside being that there’s no compilation process therefore it’s much faster to get things setup. With Arch you’ll have to start from scratch and go through a big book full of instructions on how to set it up and running according to your taste. Nothing impossible, purely do-able but you need the time & energy to troubleshoot your own hardware, software & driver issues along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I love these distros because they give you total control over how you want your perfect system to be like but I’m certainly not the kind of guy that’d wait 10+ hours just to get my system to a usable state. Therefore we have a distro called Manjaro Linux on for review today!

First of all, I’m a big fan of openbox window manager. It’s sleek, fast & totally customisable. Also I do like Arch but due to time constraint never really bothered to give it a full try.

What Manjaro Linux brings to the table is that its based on Arch Linux but it comes out of the box as a minimal install (not as bloated as Ubuntu) on which you can further customise and tune according to your taste. It brings all the goodies of arch like the keep it simple philosophy, consistent & simple bloat free architecture and most important of all user friendliness with a lot of built in scripts to assist the user in customising look & feel. So basically you get an Arch system for free without having to break a sweat.

Manjaro Linux comes in various flavors like Openbox, Kde, Mate, etc. but for now I’m going to keep this review relevant only to Openbox. The best openbox distro that I’ve used in the past is Crunchbang, and it’s really good. But what Manjaro Linux gives you is access to more up to date, bleeding edge software, increased computer performance, ability to update & switch kernels on the fly (built in scripts) & the impressive amount of documentation. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a step by step instruction manual regarding the process of installation on Manjaro (in the form of pdf), detailed with screenshots. Seems like they’ve really put up a lot of effort in trying to make it look more professional and easy to use.

TLDR; here are the things that I like about Manjaro Linux:

– Fast, simple & based on Arch Linux.

– Stable repositories. You gain access to Arch repos & a lot of tests are done to ensure that the update doesn’t break anything before it’s released on Manjaro servers.

– Built in scripts like mhwd, mhwd-gpu, mhwd-kernel ensure that you’re uptodate with the latest kernel or drivers for your graphics card & you can opt to change to different versions as you see fit.

– Openbox install comes preinstalled with all the necessary scripts, themes & customisations to just get you started without starting from a plain vanilla install.

– Big community of active users who are constantly working on fixing old scripts, creating new ones & making your Manjaro better.

– Good forum support for Manjaro users via their official forum. Documentation from Arch can also be used as a reference material to troubleshoot your problem as there’s similarity between both distros.

Things that I’d like to see improved in Manjaro:

– Video tutorials series detailing how to get certain things done as Manjaro has a strong focus on beginner Linux users.

– More customisation options for Openbox like which screensaver, login manager, etc. you’d like to install. Also it’d be nice if there’s an option to turn on some composition (compton) with fade effect & transparency by default.

– More marketing to get the message across about Manjaro, it doesn’t get as much publicity as let’s say Ubuntu.

Here’s a link to my new Manjaro install, see how it looks like:

Overall, I’m really impressed with Manjaro Linux & I’ve never seen a distro so focused towards beginner Linux users. They’ve done a great job at it & if I were to recommend a distro to my friends or family this would be it. Certainly worth giving a try if you haven’t already 🙂