Well a few of Wolves LUG are using Gentoo and think it’s great, the main draw seems to be the package management system. I have to be honest, I’ve been using Debian for a few years (and Ubuntu more recently) and am in the Debian way of thinking. Package management is pretty core to how I evaluate a distro these days. Apt is just the business. So Gentoo uses Portage. The idea being you get your package source repositries and build the packages from source in an efficient, well managed way. It’s a great idea, but whats the point? Why build everything from source?
Well every package is compiled on your own hardware and therefore is optmised for your own machine. Great. But it takes ages. I was told that on a very fast modern system, building all of the packages to make a fresh install takes a weekend. You can expect stuff like Open Office.org, KDE, Gnome or X to take around 8 hours each. Phew.
The point of this post is the argument about precompiled packages versus locally compiled optimised packages and whether the performance boost is worth the time lost compiling. While your software is optimised for the machine it was built on and hence runs a lot faster than any pre-compiled packages, is the gain in resposiveness worth the time lost to compiling? Sure you can still use the machine while you compile, but still, what you lose in compile time will you get back in response time? In a desktop environment, you can probably compile and continue to work, everything will just take longer, but what about a server?
I can see the point in an environment where the software must run fully optimised for the hardware, but what do you do at update time? Take the performance hit of compiling new updates? Won’t that throw off the whole performance thing? Sure, it was said that where this is the case you have a backup machine which runs while such updates are going on. But isn’t this a sidestep? What is more expensive? 2 machines or 1 better machine?
It’s a fantastic idea if you like to know your software is running as fast as it can, but is it worth the hit at compile time? I don’t think the speedup you make is greater than the time you lost compiling.
This of course is just an opinion and I do aim to take a look at Gentoo sometime soon…