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Gentoo 2006.1

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Date: August 30, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams

The Gentoo release team has just announced the launch of their 2006.1 version, so we are going to take a look at what’s new. Included in the updates is an improved installer/LiveCD with Networkless mode, smarter partitioner, updated compiler and more. This release also adds the addition of an AMD64 Live CD.



Introduction

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full six months since 2006.0 was released. Time indeed flies. The regular Gentoo release schedule is one per six months, and with this current release they hit the schedule dead on. This release doesn’t introduce anything major, but there have been many improvements that we will be getting into.

One major component that 2006.0 introduced was the Live CD in addition to the regular install discs. Not only was this a Live CD with GNOME environment, it acted as a base to get the distro installed on your PC. The only downside at the time was the fact that it was available only for the x86 arch, but that’s changed this time around with an AMD64 addition. Future releases, such as 2007.0 may add even more Live CD’s to the mix, most likely for SPARC and PPC first.

Why Gentoo?

The Linux world is moving faster than ever before, and it’s a good thing in most respects. However, it makes the choice of a distro even more difficult, because each new year seems to add 25% more to choose from. Most are derivatives of others, (Ubuntu = Debian, Fedora = RH), so what does Gentoo do to make it worthy of consideration? Since Gentoo is unlike most other distros out there that offer Live CDs and the like, I will briefly explain what makes it unique.

Gentoo is a source based distro, meaning all of the programs you download through the manager are compiled prior to installing. This generally means the end result is a program that’s optimized for your system for better performance. Real world performance gains are debatable, but don’t expect an instant message to send faster because you compiled GAIM. However, it may start up quicker than a binary installed version. In the end, this should not really be a factor weighed into your distro making decision. Unless you drink a -lot- of coffee, you will not likely notice a difference between compile > binary.

Red Hat has yum, Debian has apt-get, Kate has updateos and Gentoo has emerge. Portage is the backend to the magic of emerge and if you have used any of the previously mentioned commands, you will feel right at home. Searching for a program in the repository is as easy as emerge -s programname, and to install you just need to remove the -s.

I make it seem easy, but there is a lot more going on in the background. Inside of your /etc/make.conf, you are able to specify USE flags which are in a sense triggers that tell Portage what to install for a given program. As a quick example, if you emerge xmms without the flac USE flag, the program will not be able to play FLAC audio. If you do have the flag, you can. In the end, it allows you to compile programs with features you want, and none you don’t. This makes Gentoo a completely modular distribution, that’s suited for anyone.

To add a sense of security, many new releases/versions of applications will be masked. This means that Portage will ignore it unless you work around it (easy to do). Generally newer applications can have bugs that will lead to system instabilities, which is why they are primarily released with a mask over their face. In the end, Gentoo is not just for developers or l33t h@x0r$. It’s for anyone who wants complete control over their system.

What’s New?

Before we jump into the updated Live CD, I’ll touch on what’s new or updated. Not surprisingly, this release is meant to improve on everything that 2006.0 offered, and is available for all archs. One major milestone with this release is that for the AMD64, HPPA, x86 and PPC releases, 4.1.1 will be the default gcc version upgraded from 3.4 in the previous release.

As with each new release, there are new 2006.1 specific profile layouts for the Alpha, x86 and AMD64 archs. It’s not mandatory to symlink to these though unless you specifically want to. Continuing to update your system via regular methods will keep you current.

The installer has also been revamped, but looks identical to what we have seen in 2006.0. Most notably, a networkless mode has been added for ultra quick installation of system and GRP packages. One concern with the 2006.0 release was the shady partitioner, but that has also been cleaned up and should offer more ‘smart’ configurations if you have an odd setup. So overall, this release offers quite a few updates rather than new additions. Here is a quick sumup:

Onto the installation procedure!


Live CD & Installation

Not too much has changed in way of the live desktop. The wallpaper is darker, and clearly states that this is the 2006.1 version. The 2006.0 had a stray icon on the desktop, which seems to be fixed in this release! Besides that though, GNOME is version 2.14.2… less than a month old. In addition to the usual GNOME desktop icons, you will have the option to install via console or GTK. There is also a link to the Gentoo website for the installation FAQ. If you have never installed Gentoo before, you should read it.

I find the fact of a console installer beside a GTK one somewhat funny, as you will just be making it more difficult on yourself. For ultimate control, using the minimalist CD and installing completely via CLI may be the one to choose. However, the GTK installer offers complete customization to your installation, and can get you up and running quickly.

The first screen we are greeted with is whether or not we want to have a standard or networkless install. If you are planning to GRP install, then it won’t really matter what you choose. If you specify different programs not on the CD though, you will need to choose the standard method.

As I mentioned earlier, one major complaint regarding the 2006.0 Live CD was the fact that it had a subpar partitioner. I have never personally had a problem with it, but I know people who have. This one has had it’s backend improved though, and is smarter when it comes to those with many partitions or weird setups. In this case, I was installing it on my laptop which is also shared with Windows. The red partition is for NTFS while the other half of the bar was grayed out. Clicking the “Recommended layout” results in what you see below. Created were root, swap and boot partitions. On the laptop, it created 1GB worth of swap space, and on the AMD64 it created a 2GB space. The computers had 512MB and 2GB of ram, respectively.

Next up, you can choose between a stage and whether or not you want GRP packages. For the sake of my laptop not taking 18 hours to install a complete system, I chose to install everything straight off the CD. The portage screen following will be completely grayed out because of those options. The same goes for the make.conf configuration. According to the live CD profile, it will set a slew of flags for you.

Time to pick the kernel. If you want to get what you currently see, you don’t have to choose anything. If you want kernel with the Gentoo patchset, you can choose that. However, that is not included in the GRP install, so it will need to be downloaded. You will be able to choose from GRUB or LILO as your boot loader, and whether or not you want it to be installed in the MBR.

The timezone selection gives an interactive map, so you can pinpoint your location quicker. Following that, If you have a dhcp capable network, your Internet will already be configured. You need to ifconfig to see which interface was configured, and then select it here to run at default runtime level.

If you want to use a crontab, you can select whichever manager you want. You can also choose a syslogger. Defaults work fine here if you want them both systems, but don’t know the difference between the apps. Personally, I have no idea what dcron offers over vixie-cron.

Here is the fun part! In the package selection, some of the applications will have (GRP) beside them, which signifies that they can be installed without compilation… meaning a much faster install time. Since you are already in GNOME, it’s no surprise that it and X are listed for GRP. If you are not a GNOME user, you must select another desktop environment if you want one. At the bottom is a blank line for packages you want that are not in the list. This is generally good if you want to leave your computer to install the OS and walk away for a few hours.

The next two screens offer you the choice of startup services and other things such as default editor and display manager.

Finally, you can set up your users and root password. You don’t have to immediately set up a new user if you don’t want to. Once you are finished here, you can finally proceed with the installation.

While running this particular installer, I don’t recall what programs I chose but all were GRP. It took just an hour, which I found pretty good for this slow laptop. That was without X and a desktop environment though. Overall, the installation is similar to 2006.0, so it’s rather simple. It’s the configuring you will need to do following the install that’s the fun part ;-)

I installed 2006.1 on two systems using both the AMD64 and x86 Live CDs, and I can say they are both identical except for the kernel of course. Installing on my AM2 system proved a sticky situation though. I am not sure what it is about the ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard, but it results in Linux quirks that don’t really have anything to do with Gentoo specifically. I had to install using the gentoo-nofb noapic options. Though installing with those options, the resulting grub.conf does not have noapic listed, so I had to add it prior to a reboot in order to get into the freshly installed environment.


Post Installation, Final Thoughts

The following shots are from the AMD64 install, but all the specific packages installed are the same on the x86. The only packages installed that were non-GRP here is Xfce4, amaroK and eix.

The installed kernel is 2.6.17-r5 which is based on the official kernel released just a few weeks ago. X is a conservative 7.0, which is the most recent stable version according to Portage. 7.1 is deemed stable on other archs, but not AMD64 and x86 but it’s likely to happen soon. gcc has been updated to 4.1.1 as I mentioned.

One thing I noticed about 2006.1 is it seems to have better hardware detection, and will auto install the related kernel modules and load them at boot time. For instance, once I got into Xfce, the audio worked right off the bat. I had USB audio hooked up, which I use primarily on that PC and it was working through XMMS without a hitch. You can see below what modules were loaded. I appreciated seeing that over a blank output!

All of the USE flags you will immediately need are there, although I had a few more to add. If you want better video support you will want win32codecs or flac for FLAC audio. To make things easier, there is a complete list of available USE flags on the official site.

Final Thoughts

Gentoo is a rather unique distro to review because it’s different from others. It’s not a matter of simply installing it and being done with it… that’s only the beginning. It’s up to you to choose your default desktop and customize it, for instance. This all comes back to control, so that it turns out to be your distro. I used Xfce4 in my examples because it’s quick to compile, but I use KDE for my primary desktop usually. Other desktop environments are a simple command away (in addition to the rc.conf and possible rc-update, of course).

To compare 2006.0′s Live CD to 2006.1′s, I like what I see. The installer was upgraded for the better, and allows you to set up a fresh system very quickly. Especially if you wish to install GNOME. Up to date versions of the kernel are installed, alongside the compiler and X.

Improved driver support is welcomed. The fact that my audio worked right out of the box impressed me, because I was not expecting it at all. I don’t recall ALSA even being an installed module after a 2006.0 installation. Add all this to the fact that there is now an AMD64 Live CD, I’d have to admit that this is a great release. Once again, if you are a current Gentoo user, you don’t have to upgrade unless you specifically want to. emerge -uD world will do a good job of updating you to the latest versions of the software, including gcc 4.1.1. If you are re-formatting or want to give Gentoo a try, this is the version to grab.

Kudos to the Gentoo devs for putting out another solid release! I look forward to seeing what 2007.0 brings!

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