When I first started on Linux, my distribution was RedHat 8.0 on our old HP Vectra. After installing it I found that I couldn’t get X to start, and so I had to navigate the system from the command line, without the GUI. It was a good learning experience, and I think I ended up breaking the system a few times.
When I finally got a more powerful machine, I tried RedHat again, then Fedora Core, then I think Suse, and then back to Fedora… At first it was motivated by some driver problem that made the system freeze (I never figured out what it was, but it did just stop at one point), but later on it was just to get exposure to the different distros. And there were (and are) a lot of nice ones. However, I wanted to tinker. And then a friend introduced me to Gentoo.
My first install on that machine, a dual AMD MP 2800 took three days. I think I did a Stage 1 install (no longer supported), in which the entire system is compiled from source. I ended up reinstalling a few times after, but in the end Gentoo was what I stuck with. I liked it, it was fast and gave me a lot of things to customize and tweak.
Sometime a little more than a year ago this computer had a power supply problem, and I decided I might as well just upgrade as it was kind of outdated anyway. So I went with an Intel Core 2 Quad system, and it’s been good. But, I had also been doing some recording on Linux, making a low-latency kernel necessary. I had patched it here and there on Gentoo, but I started to take an interest in Ubuntu Studio, as it takes care of a lot of that for you. Also, while I still liked Gentoo I still had a few incidents in which I updated the system only to have some package like X or Gnome broken, and my desktop gone. On top of that I had been starting to recommend Ubuntu to other people, after hearing about its supposed user-friendliness. So, I went with Ubuntu Studio on my desktop. I had actually been running normal Ubuntu on my laptop, and it was alright. I was really impressed with Ubuntu Studio, though. Doing my audio stuff was easy, and performance was decent. Overall, I was happy.
Now, in an earlier post I mentioned how my laptop only ran at 600 MHz despite a supposed speed of 1.4 GHz. Well, that was my primary reason for switching to Ubuntu on that box, though having everything configured out of the box was nice too. I figured I just didn’t want to do all the compiling Gentoo entailed on such a slow machine. Well, I fixed the bug (it was hardware related), and the performance jumped. It was great for a while.
Now, I still run Ubuntu Studio on my desktop, despite some annoyances with 8.10 version’s low latency kernel not supporting multiple processors, and thus only running on of the cores on my processor (I don’t use it unless I need to record). Now, another annoyance, and one that I especially noticed on my laptop was the bloat present in Ubuntu. After deciding I didn’t feel like putting up with it anymore, I relented and did a Gentoo install this weekend.
And so far it’s been great. Even with the speed bug fixed compile times can be long, but thanks to Ice Cream I can distribute some of the compiling to my desktop. (Most packages are fine with this, some don’t seem to like it so much.) I got Gnome installed, got power management and CPU frequency scaling working, along with suspending to RAM. So now I have a zippy Linux install on my laptop.
Gentoo is a bit of work, but it’s worth it, in particular if you want to learn about how your system works. I recommend it.