Date: May 12, 2007
Author(s): Rob Williams
The latest Gentoo release is upon us and I am going to take a look at what’s new. Promised updates include a revamped installer and the latest versions of your favorite applications.
Like most major distros, it’s not that often that we see a new release from the Gentoo team. In fact, it’s twice a year, which is still more often than few others. The difference with Gentoo though, is that the new releases are not always awaiting much anticipation, since the bulk of the updates can be had through the system updater, Portage. If you keep your system up to date, you already have 2007.0. This article will be primarily written for those already familiar with Gentoo, but if you are a new user wanting to know what it’s all about, you can read my “Why Gentoo” section from a previous article.
If you are a user of a previous version of Gentoo, you could switch over to begin using the 2007.0 profile. To do this you can run eselect profile list and then select the new profile with eselect profile set default-linux/x86/2007.0/desktop. The changes to the make.default are as follows:
USE=”+acpi +dvdread +evo +kerberos +pdf +qt3support +svg +tiff”
As far as software goes, KDE is still marked stable with version 3.5.5, as is GNOME with 2.16.2. Xfce has recently been marked stable for version 4.4, which has some nice changes over 4.3. Firefox is 22.214.171.124, OO.org 2.1 and the distro is built on a recent release of the 2.6.19 kernel. If you want to know what other applications are marked stable outside of the press release, you can take a look in their online repository list and see there.
Other notables regarding the x86/AMD64 versions is that GLIBC has now been updated to 2.5 and the AMD64 version includes updated emulation libraries for various applications and browser plugins. If you use another architecture and want to see what’s been updated where it affects you, the press release tells all.
There are no huge changes this time around, but the installer has had a complete overhaul, which will be the primary focus of this article since it’s the main thing most people will want to use the Live CD/DVD for.
If you are a Linux user wanting to jump into the world of Gentoo, the GUI installer is by no means the first method of install you should go with. Yes, you’ve heard this before, but there is a reason. Performing an installation via command line helps you better understand how Linux, and Gentoo works.
It doesn’t matter if you have been an Ubuntu or SUSE user for years. If you have never delved deep beneath the surface of your favorite desktop environment, chances are you have no idea how everything works. After installing Gentoo by command line (a few times) and actually contemplating what you are doing, you will better understand Linux in general. It will also help you a lot later if you happen to run into any problems. If that seems like too much of a chore, this distro is not for you.
The GUI installer was created for those who wanted to get a system up and running quickly. Even with this, you have to understand how Gentoo works, else you are not going to have a functioning system.
This is why it’s important to install first by command line so you will know what you are doing. But, after installing by that method a few times, it can become tedious and annoying. The installer allowed you to fill out various information over the span of fifteen installer pages and then click a button to install. You could walk away for a few hours, and come back to a ready system.
If you are familiar with the installers from either 2006.x version, you cannot consider yourself an expert with the installer from 2007.0, as many things have been changed around and it functions differently overall. I will get into these changes are we go along.
The first option you will be prompted with is install method. Networkless will use the packages on the CD or DVD while Standard and Advanced will download updated packages prior to installation. The Advanced mode offers a few additional options, although I did not use the Standard mode to see what those differences were.
The partitioner is the second screen in, and by far the most important. I’ll be a man and admit something. I goofed. This installation was completed on my primary benchmarking computer, which houses a few Window and Linux installations across a few hard drives. I was planning to install 2007.0 to my primary disk since I had allocated room for it earlier. This disk was shared with my primary Windows installation.
In 2006.x, if you pushed “Recommended Layout”, it would automatically fill in the empty space with three partitions. Not so in 2007.0. If you push the Recommended Layout button, it will prompt you to make sure you want to proceed with the action. This will effectively wipe out the entire hard drive, Windows installation and all. If you custom create these partitions beforehand, you should have no problems bypassing the partitioner altogether given that you can set custom mounts later.
Though I made a mistake, which I openly admit to, I don’t believe this is the functionality that the user should expect. I’ll touch more on this in the conclusion, but as soon as you agree to the prompt that comes up from pushing that button, it will proceed to format and repartition your hard drive. By this time, it’s too late to realize you screwed up big time. Had it waited until I went to the next screen or before the install process began, I would have noticed that the entire Windows install was deleted.
What is the reason for this, then? This installer does not function like the previous ones. Before, the installer would wait until you made changes to the last option before it began installing. Now, everything is installed along the way, which is why the hard drive is partitioned prior to moving forward. Again, I will touch up on this in the conclusion.
The next few screens are for local and network mounting. You will need to attend to the Local Mounts if you want a functioning system after the reboot, since it will edit the fstab.
If you want the latest stage from the internet or to use the one off the CD, you can choose that option here. Portage will sync itself prior to moving forward, unless you specify a URL.
One of the best features of Gentoo is it’s robust repository system, Portage. Depending on what USE flags you choose, various applications will be compiled with or without certain support. Here you could choose whatever USE flags you want. Just be warned though. The more USE flags you specify, the more packages that will need to be emerged… the longer the system will take to get up and running.
Next up is the root password and time zone selection.
One great new feature of the installer is being able to build your own kernel. I didn’t have any particular need for a different kernel, so I proceeded by using one off the Live CD.
Considering the fact that you can specify your own kernel, it’s no surprise that you can also specify your own configuration file as well. If it’s hosted remotely, you can access it that way. Of course, it would make sense to make sure that your config file is based off a similar kernel. Here you will notice the first install popup… installation of the kernel, using Gentoo’s own genkernel.
The next few screens are straight forward. You can specify your network interface and save it so it’s included in the boot sequence. You can also choose your system logger and cron daemon. Defaults work for me.
Once you choose your preferred bootloader, the installer will compile it before moving on. You can also set up a primary user, which would be wise.
The package selection should come as no surprise to anyone. Here you can choose from the list of packages you wish to install, and also specify your own down below. All of the programs listed are available right on the CD-Rom, while ones you specify will be downloaded. This is the part of the install where I have found to have the most problems (in 2006.x as well) so I try to keep selections to an absolute minimum.
Startup services is your next step, which will save you time from enabling them later. The second to last screen takes care of the display manager, keymaps and clock. Most options can be left default, but I normally change to kdm and local clock.
And we are done!
In all, the process took around an hour and a half on a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo machine with 2GB of RAM. Not too shabby considering it compiled about 170 packages.
The install process may have appeared smooth, but I have to say that it was a bigger chore than I had anticipated. If you are familiar with the previous GUI installers, you likely noticed the big differences.
Instead of everything being completed towards the end of the installer, it’s now done throughout. Why is this a bad thing? It forces you to stay near the computer because you will need to wait for emerges to finish and the next option to arrive. Previously, you could essentially set and forget it. Now, you cannot even save profiles in case you want to use the identical settings with another install.
That much I could live with, but the new installer is not only clunky, but riddled with bugs. The first problem arose on initial boot, when GDM failed to load, thanks to a screen being undetected. Error logs didn’t help out much, but I attributed the issue to be related to the NVIDIA 8800GTX card installed. Being an NVIDIA card, the installer set the driver to “nv”, which is incompatible with the 8800 series of cards. Editing the xorg.conf and restarting GDM solved that problem.
The second “problem” arose with the partitioner. I say that with quotes, because it caught me by surprise and cannot really be considered a problem, as it’s properly documented. 2007.0 introduced the side panel which explains all actions, but if you have installed using their installer before, what would make you stop and want to read everything? Certainly, it would be the sensible thing to do, but when in a hurry, you want to get things done.
Pressing Recommended Layout in the past simply showed you the partitioning scheme. It did not apply it until after the install process began. Now, pushing it and agreeing to the prompt will automatically format and repartition the entire drive. The very second you click the “Ok” in the prompt, you can say good bye to the other partitions, as the installer will lag until the process is complete.
The installer now installs along the way, but I believe that the actual partition process should occur when the user moves onto the next page. Ideally, pushing the Recommended Layout button would show the scenario and not prompt anything. Instead, it would prompt when moving to the next screen, when quick-click users like myself would actually notice a wrong partitioning scheme.
Ever since the Live CD became a reality, users have complained about a less than ideal partitioner… one that tends to cause issues from time to time. At least those versions would take other partitions into account. Instead of fixing whatever problems were there (I had great luck with previous versions), they took out that functionality entirely.
Another instance I found odd was when I came to the kernel selection screen. At first, I decided to choose to build with the kernel off the CD. Once making that decision, the kernel off the CD began to compile. I then decided that it would be fun to build with my own, so I pushed cancel on the popup to cancel the process, and to my surprise, it exited the entire installer after agreeing to that prompt. This wasn’t such a big problem, but it was an inconvenience since I had to begin over.
I had other minor issues along the way, but they range from small errors and odd behaviour that’s not much of a surprise when using a Live CD. Overall though, it was less than an ideal experience.
Gentoo purists may ask why I choose to install with a GUI installer. It’s there, that’s why. I’ve installed Gentoo via command line numerous times and the introduction of a GUI installer was a welcomed feature. Being able to deploy a Gentoo system quickly and efficiently was great. 2006.x installers had their issues, but nothing like evidenced here. What’s the point of it being an option if it’s this unreliable?
I still give kudos to the Gentoo developers. Despite hardships over the past eight months since the last release, they have pulled through and continued to deliver an exciting distro enjoyed by many. I do believe the installer could have been better overall though, as I’m sure you can tell. I love the clean new look, but the clunkiness overshadows it. I look forward to giving it another try in 2007.1. Until then, I will stick with my 2006.1 Live CD if I need to set up a Gentoo install on my benchmarking computer.
If you enjoy using the Live CD as a… Live CD, then by all means give the new version a download. Many applications can be found on the Live CD and many, many more on the Live DVD. If you happen to like the look of the wallpaper but don’t want to download the Live CD to grab it, you can grab them from us here. All resolutions are available inside, with props to blackace for giving us the best Gentoo wallpaper to date.
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