Gentoo, Knoppix, Fedora

Experimenting with Linux distributions on a removable drive at work lately, just to see how the desktop scene has changed in recent years (birdhouse admin is all command-line and web-based, and I haven’t tried running a desktop Linux since 2001). Over the past week, installed Gentoo, Knoppix (Debian), and Fedora Core 3. Notes below.

Started with Gentoo, which takes a starkly minimal, compile everything approach. Very pure, if that’s what you’re looking for. Beautiful setup process – the nicest I’ve seen, graphically speaking. But the “compile everything” approach means a very long installation and configuration process, and lots of docs. All went well with basic install and KDE, but became problematic when I started compiling Firefox and other apps. gcc would crunch along for half an hour or so, then hang. Reboot, try again, freeze. Not my scene.

Had read about the miracle of the Knoppix CD – a more or less complete Linux distro on a single bootable CD, useful as a Debian-based Linux desktop you can take to any computer, or as a rescue disk for other installations. Download the ISO, burn, boot. Doesn’t get any easier than that. Decide you like it well enough, run knoppix-install to mirror the installation to a hard disk. Again, this went flawlessly. Very impressed, but I really dislike KDE, and couldn’t seem to get around a problem where links in Thunderbird emails were unclickable.

Nothing to lose in the spirit of discovery, so decided to give Red Hat another try. Been burned by RH several times in the past (one famous episode in the late 90s when an install blew away every partition on every attached drive in a system without warning – lost four operating systems and all data in half a second; a year later a friend experienced filesystem corruption on a Red Hat install and lost everything; more recently I’ve dealt with bugs in RH’s New Posix Threading Library affecting CommuniGate Pro). But had heard good things about Fedora Core, and downloaded the four ISOs that make up Fedora Core 3. Installation was elegant, and Gnome was up and running an hour later. Think I’ll stick with Fedora for a while. Very slick.

Gnome has really advanced in recent years. The UI is genuinely beautiful, and things are arranged far more intuitively than in KDE. It doesn’t trump Aqua, and I’m not about to give up all the commercial-quality apps I have in OS X, but it’s more than suitable as a general-purpose office/internet machine. Now starting to fiddle with integration into campus network, printing, etc. Some rough spots getting it to see Windows shares, but looking promising.

Music: Robert Wyatt :: Red Flag

13 Replies to “Gentoo, Knoppix, Fedora”

  1. If you choose to install GNOME during the Fedora install, GNOME is up and running as soon as you boot the OS the first time. Really elegant.

    I’ve been really pleased with Fedora, as well. Compared to the older (make that “antique”) RH releases I’ve tried in the past, Fedora is really smashing. A breeze to install, maintain and upgrade. And man oh man how I love yum!

    And I’m fond enough of GNOME that I’ve joined their sysadmin team. Good folks. They’ve been very patient as I put off delivering a Mailman post-only RPM until my eye heals. No point doing work if you can barely see the result. ;)

  2. Lars, aesthetically KDE is just plain boring. Since their goal is apparently to emulate the look and feel of Windows, that’s not surprising. But worse than that is the layout – just trying to find things. For example I think one should reasonably expect to find network settings in the general preferences control panel. That control panel goes deep, but just try and find a place to enter IP, DNS, gateway, etc. Nope, you have to find some other utility sitting off in la-la land… Lots of stuff like that. Also, and this may have been something I could have fixed with sufficient research, the size of window chrome took up a lot of real estate, I wasn’t able to get it to realize that my video adapter could do better than 1024, fonts were not nearly as smooth as under Fedora/Gnome… Overall KDE just doesn’t have the polish or elegance that Gnome has. And I love the way you can set and customize window themes in Gnome. I’m sure more time and study would have resulted in me feeling more friendly toward KDE, but it didn’t make a good impression in comparison overall.

  3. After I’m done healing this squinky eye I’ll be helping to ensure the systems run at an efficiency level high enough to allow the GNOME developers an infrastructure that permits them to keep GNOME more elegant than KDE. :)

    In other words, whatever needs doing at the time.

  4. Can’t believe you pass over Ubuntu…

    try it, you’ll be impressed.

    I haven’t tried Fedora Core 3, but I can tell you that ubuntu is much nicer than Core 1

    I believe that they have a live CD as well.
    (you can’t install from it though.)

  5. Sean, Jeremiah, thanks for the tips! I’ll give Ubuntu a shot. And great to know there’s a Gnoppix. Dang, wish I had know that last week…

  6. Scott, I’d second that Ubuntu recommendation. I’m a Mac user too, but have an old sony laptop that I can’t justify replacing right now, so I thought I’d give linux a try. I started off with Mandrake 10.1, which is ok, but Ubuntu is much better: just a single CD download, good Gnome integration (it’s a Gnome only dist) and great package management (apt vs urpmi), plus more of my hardware “just worked”.

    Agree with your thoughts on Gnome – it’s much cleaner and less cluttered than KDE…

  7. hello,

    I’m a new user in linux and I’m also trying some distribs. Actually I have tested Mandrake, Vector Linux, Ubuntu and actually I’m installing gentoo.

    I have to say that Mandrake is easy to install and all, but I didn’t really like it. Then Vector linux was just for testing on an old machine (400MHz, 128Mb RAM) it’s not too bad for powerless machines, but I didn’t like.

    Finally my brother once talked with me about ubuntu and it really interested me. One and a half hour later, my laptop was running under ubuntu (debian based) with gnome and lots of things already installed. I really have to say that this distrib is really a good one. my wireless card was working almost all the things were ok and very easy to install. if you need a distrib only for desktop that install fast and works properly, it’s really a good one. I was really impressed because usually I always had to search during several hours each time I had a problem and with this one all seems to be great.

    Then I have make the biggest error of my life, I tried to change the partitions on my hard disk with partition magic. I had windows and linux running on the same machine. It crashed all, Grub couldn’t load any more, and since I don’t have a floppy on the laptop and no old win98 CD or somthing like that, I’ve just decided to test gentoo. my brother is using it from a long time, and it’s true it’s a big mess and you need to read a lot and spend several days so that all is installed and you can work as you want with it, but once it’s working it’s really nice.

    But in any case I just wanted to tell you to check the ubuntu distrib, it’s really easy to install and use and they are very updated with all the other softwares.

    C U


  8. since this thread seems all about testing distributions as a newbie.

    honestly, if you don’t have a proffessionnal reason to use linux… just try any BSD system.

    when you get used to BSDs, the linux environment still seems a familiar unix, and quite a robust one as well, but the distributions look trashy at best, the documentation really poor and usually dig into forums…. well let’s say unprofessionnal.

    the FreeBSD installer is semi-graphic (ie ncurses bases console where you can do, most tasks with the keyboard arrows)… and is the same fully available installer you can use any time to add software, install on a different disk, rewrite your MBR, change local settings, change daemons… and best of all it DOES work on any of the hardware it actually claims to work on (not the case of any of the linux distros i tryed : debian woody and sarge, mandrake/mandriva, ubuntu, fedora… and a few others). if it cannot probe something, it will complain about it and either graciously exit with a clean error message or go on after notifying. you can redo the probe manually anytime… and best of all, it will install what you want, not anything else (except maybe for sendmail, and it will do so MUCH faster than the linuxes i tryed !! (don’t ask why but it’s 1h vs 8h on an old Pentium 100)
    …and the packages dependencies are just perfectly managed.

    of course, most linux system have a plain graphic installer (similar to desktop-BSD or PC-BSD), and can take the novice user to a point where after randomly answering a few of the questions asked, he will get a proper working system with a graphic interface.

    let’s put thing clear.
    i’m not starting a flames war, just stating what it feels like after a few years working actively with freebsd, and pretty often with various linux boxes… and i’m not criticising linux itself in any way.


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