Date: March 1, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams
A new version of Gentoo has been released, so I am going to take a quick look at it to see what’s new. Alongside this new release, there is a LiveCD version available in which you can install Gentoo from within a GNOME desktop. Let’s see if this means that Installation will be easier!
It’s not that often that a new version of Gentoo is released; usually about twice a year. Because there is plenty of time before each release, a new version brings on many, many updates. The 2006.0 version was just released, and I couldn’t wait to take a look at what was new.
Some of the major package updates are KDE, GNOME, GCC and of course, the kernel. Some of the packages could be considered to be out of date, but the newer versions are primarily still in BETA. The kernel is the absolute latest version, though. The one new feature that I am most happy about though, is the fact that there is now a LiveCD version of the distro. This means that just by putting the CD in your drive, you can boot into a fully operational version of Gentoo, using the GNOME desktop.
With previous versions, such as 2005.1, you would boot to a simple command prompt. Even then, it was a great LiveCD because you could fairly easily connect to the internet and take care of quick tasks if you needed to. This LiveCD seems to have been improved a ton though, and I will go through all of what’s new and included.
The LiveCD still can act as a base to start a Gentoo installation, or it can be used simply for a quick Linux fix, should you need it. After the system loads, you will be welcomed by a GNOME desktop, which uses version 2.12.2. From here, you can use is at a normal Linux distro because most of the app’s you will need are there. Because it’s an OS running off of a CD though, nothing you do will be saved. If you have a floppy drive or thumb drive though, you can just mount one to be able to save your work to. There is no burning software installed in the LiveCD, so a thumb drive is a really good choice.
I was really surprised to see most of my favorite app’s here, because most are left out of other live distros. Firefox, Thunderbird, X-Chat, XMMS, GAIM, OpenOffice, The Gimp and even BitTorrent are all here ready to be utilized. There are some games also available, but who runs Linux to play games?! ;-)
There is one huge reason why many have overlooked Gentoo in the past. In earlier versions, to install the OS you’d literally want to devote an entire day to it. Even then, you *really* need to understand Linux and your computer well, or else things are just not going to work out. Sadly, the installation speed hasn’t seemed to increase any, but it will really depend on how many packages you install.
At the GNOME desktop, you will see two icons related to installing Gentoo. One is for a command line interface while the other is a graphical installer. I haven’t dealt with the command line, because I couldn’t wait to see how cool the GUI installer is. Upon opening it up, you are greeted with a very clear message:
It is highly recommended that you have gone through the manual install process a time or two, or at least read through the install guide. The purpose of this installer is not to make the install easier but to make it quicker. Don’t ask questions that are covered by the install guide, or we shall taunt you a second time.
One thing I immediately noticed, is that there were options to load and save install profiles. I quickly went through a quick install process and then saved the profile to my thumb drive. Upon rebooting and loading the interface, it told me that there was an error in the profile and it could not load. I don’t know why it didn’t work, but it could be a simple bug. If it works properly other times though, it would prove extremely useful to speed up future installs.
The first step of the installer allows you to set up networking. Because my internet supports DHCP, it was working off the get go so I didn’t have to do anything. If you need to specify your IP and DNS then you will need to edit all the options here. Instead of having to rely on FDISK like in previous versions of Gentoo, the GUI partitioner and very simple to use. You can’t take and resize NTFS partitions as far as I can tell. Before I started the Gentoo LiveCD, I created an empty 30GB partition. When I got to this point, I simply clicked on Recommended Layout and it automatically created the boot, root and swap partitions for me. I found this *very* helpful and time saving.
Because I had mounted my thumb drive, I was able to choose that as a drive in the drop down. I am unsure if I could have installed Gentoo to my drive, but I want to play around with that possibility at a later time. If anyone has successfully done this using the installer, let me know!
The next screen allows you to choose your stage, but you will need to go find a mirror and get a direct URL to one then input it in the box. Once you have done that, you will be good to go. Unlike the Universal CD, the Stage 3 snapshot is not available here, so you have to resort to getting it online. Portage is a different story though. You have the option to use the version off the disc, which makes sense at this point since it’s brand new. There are some newer versions online all the time, so if you feel like taking the time to download it, you could choose that option.
Next up, you have to choose variables for your make.conf. Here is one screen that I found very tedious. The USE flags are listed, followed by their description. I wish however, that there was an option to display then differently so that you don’t have to scroll down bit by bit to see more flags. I would have found it much easier if there was a simple command line where the flags could be listed in a string, rather than using checkboxes. After you select all your flags though, you can continue along. The next screen allows you to choose your kernel flavor. I personally went with the LiveCD version, since I liked how things are as is. The vanilla or gentoo sources may have been a faster route though.
Now you are able to choose between GRUB or LILO for a boot loader and specify any required boot parameters. The next few screens are quick to pass through. Pick your time zone, choose your networking device and then your cron daemon and system logger.
The extra packages section is one that will save some time. Here you can choose the desktop environments you want installed, in addition to a selection of apps. Whatever you choose here will be emerged during the installation. The more you choose, the longer the installation will take. One program could make the difference of 10 – 30 minutes, so you will want to choose only what you need.
You can now choose your system startup services, and then other random settings like Display Manager and default editor. The next two screens are a matter of setting up additional users and reviewing everything you have done. After you are finished reviewing everything, you can click install to get things underway.
One thing that Gentoo is notorious for is the fact that it takes a long time to install, even on newer machines. The case is no different here. I began an install process at 1:00pm, and by 11:00pm the installation process was working on emerging package 50 out of 135. Now, this is because I chose a lot of packages to install, and your total time will vary. This was done on a Pentium 4 2.8GHz notebook with 512MB of ram.
As soon as I seen that Gentoo had a GUI installer, I immediately thought that it may be more noobie friendly and that more people will adopt it as their Linux Distro. This is not really the case though, because you still need to know a lot about how Linux works in order to have a successful installation. Gentoo is my preferred distro of choice though, because after the painful installation, you are rewarded with an amazing OS. Emerge is one of my favorite things in Gentoo, and for those who don’t know, it’s basically a way to download and update packages easily. If newer updates are available for a new program, you can update it with a single command. It’s definitely one of the things that makes Gentoo a preferred distro for some.
If you are a veteran Gentoo user though, you will enjoy the new LiveCD. I would have loved to see an option to choose between GNOME and KDE though, because I have come to prefer KDE far more than GNOME. This is a promised feature in the future though, in addition to a LiveDVD version. One primary reason why I enjoy the new version though, is that you can install the full system simply by taking a few minutes to fill out some options, then walk away. In the past, you would have to rely on scripts, or check on the computer every so often in case something finished doing whatever it was doing. Because of the Live OS though, you are able to use it as a regular desktop PC until the installation finishes, so it won’t make the computer completely unusable. Overall, I am happy with this new way of doing things, but I am wondering if the new graphical installer is the reason for things taking so long. Maybe if I installed the classic way, it wouldn’t take so long?
At the time of this article, my Gentoo installation has not finished. In order to get the article out in a timely manner, I had to publish the article before the installation finished, because who knows when that will be. I assume it has another 6+ hours to go, but I expect everything to go well. Even if you don’t want to take the time to install Gentoo, it acts as a fine LiveCD, so definitely download it and give it a try if you are intrigued.
With leaps like this happening in Gentoo, I can’t wait to see what’s implemented next. Of course there is a lot more that’s been added to this version besides the LiveCD feature, but I found this to be the most interesting. If you want to learn a lot more about what’s new, visit the Gentoo website below.
Edit: Gentoo finished installing at 8:00am this morning, which means it took a total of 19 hours to install! Not too bad considering all of the extras that were installed.
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