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Sunday, 19 February 2012

Inspecting the Gentoo 12.0 Live DVD

Following a recent request I downloaded the Gentoo 12.0 Live DVD for a test drive. I tried Gentoo many years ago but gave up after a few hours due to the time involved, and my knowledge back then was a lot more rudimentary than today. Gentoo is a source distribution that is supposed to be configured and compiled from stage 2 or stage 3 tarballs, although images are available that allow you to cheat and skip the early part of kernel compilation etc. via minimal install images.

If the above does not mean anything to you or you are pressed for time a live DVD is a good way to get a feel for the operating system without committing hours and days first to actually get there. As this new release had piqued my interest I managed to free some time and downloaded the hybrid x86/x64 edition that comes in at a whopping 3,452 MB. There's also a x86_64 multilib edition available which, at 3,716 MB, is even bigger in size, but I decided to go for the smaller image for testing purposes. Torrents are available as well, check out this page on DistroWatch for a quick introduction and jumping off hub.
If you know me, I hardly go for anything above CD size as I think projects should be able to squeeze enough into this to get people started. It avoids wasting bandwidth and you can just add what you're missing. Of course these days that is starting to exclude most KDE 4 variations. Submitting to this huge download means I'm really quite keen.

I've been running this DVD on my fairly modern Acer Aspire 5551 Phenom X3 laptop now off and on for weeks since it came out. So, what did we find? In a quick summary, this live image is one nicely put together labor of love. It comes with all the major desktop environments and several window managers in common use today, but you won't find any duplicates or overlapping shortcuts on your desktop as is so often the case when projects include several of them (think Trash bin and Home folder).

The image comes with Linux 3.1.6, X.org 1.10.4 and supports the ext file systems, XFS, ReiserFS and JFS out of the box.
When starting the boot screen allows to choose between booting the 32 or the 64-bit version, or to boot an existing OS from first or second hard drive, which in my case did not work and just brought me back to the boot menu.

Digging a level deeper, there are plenty more choices for boot images that let you launch a hardware detection tool, FreeDOS, the Ranish partition manager, a tool to reset passwords on Windows installations with NTFS partitions, a hard disk diagnostic tool, the GAG graphical boot manager, and Dban, a tool to securely wipe data.
Make sure to have a look at the Readme in the top directory, it details all boot options that can be enabled via cheat codes. The nousb option for example disables autoloading of USB modules which is useful for debugging USB issues. From here one can also enable a screen reader at the console and connect a synthesizer for output with the speakup kernel option speakup.synth=synth.

The Desktop

Once booted up you get a wide selection of choices to log in to, among them the Awesome window manager, XBMC media center, and the more widely known desktop options of course. KDE starts with the default login, and a scrambled password is already specified and filled in automatically for you after logging out to try the other desktops, so there's no hunting around for it. Internal hard drive partitions stay unmounted, and due to the user not knowing the password cannot be mounted unless you specified your own at boot time. An exemplary security arrangement in my book that keeps people just experimenting with Gentoo live from deleting perhaps valuable files from their primary installations. I found USB sticks to mount without problem and was able to save my screen shots there.

I found Gentoo Live to be very KDE centric, and as such a major portion of the applications included is Ksoftware. No big deal as they integrate and run very well under other managers and environments. It seems the whole arsenal has been included, and the list of pre-installed software would be far too long to mention. If you can think of it it's probably here. Anyway, it's quite beautiful. Several KDE utilities like Jovie are aiding accessibility.

Default KDE after logging in
The Porthole graphical manager has been included to make adding software from ports easier. Unfortunately it did not start for me, but that could be because I wasn't connected. A problem with the wifi driver. KDE is set to display a slideshow of Gentoo wallpapers every minute, so you will cycle quickly through a few.
You´ll find some shortcuts have been placed on the desktop that quickly let you go to the support forums or check the bug tracker, or enter the Gentoo IRC chat channel to ask your questions there. Another link is there to install the current Adobe Flash. Firefox also includes several links to online pages and the forum.

Put a cow in your boxen. Would that be the Milka cow?
KDE is in version 4.7.4, confirmed in the next screenshot, but will probably be up to 4.8 now in the repos.

KDE 4 version

Further desktops included are the older branch of Enlightenment e16, but for reasons only known to the developers no trace of e17 which has been around for years.

Enlightenment e16, very light, integrating GNOME and KDE apps well

Fluxbox is also on board, again GNOME and KDE applications all feel like they're integrating seamlessly into these smaller windowing environments and I wasn't able to discern any noticeable lag starting them.

Fluxbox with default wallpaper and color adjusted theme to match

A very barren GNOME 3 desktop is here as well, but this has got to be the least appealing of all of them. Just being honest. On the other hand, if you like it vanilla this can be a good start.

GNOME Shell in Gentoo Live 2012
The LXDE desktop has been styled to somewhat resemble KDE, and this seems like an overarching theme when looking at the screenshot of XFCE. Not a bad choice, and it gives an integrated feel to the entire Live experience.

LXDE with Oxygen styled theme and similar desktop shortcuts
The range of software is not to be sniffed at. In the browser section for example, not only do we have Konqueror, Firefox and Seamonkey, the proprietary and not strictly free Opera browser is included as well, and when launching a cryptically named Firefox replacement in LXDE it started the Aurora development version instead. On top of that several text browsers and the Arora QT browser implementation.

Aurora development branch starting
If you prefer a straight up Openbox session, that is here as well. Nothing great like some specialized Openbox distributions would give you, but it doesn't feel out of place or rough either. In one word, nice.

Gentoo Openbox

A traditional XFCE rounds off the comprehensive list of ways to interact with your desktop. The applications menu button does not have a picture, but you can find two Gentoo icon files in the home directory.

Gentoo with XFCE 4.8

Like other more advanced distributions Gentoo is giving users a more or less plain experience as it was intended by the upstream vendor. However, some environments had a touch of integration applied, just enough to still feel comfortable.

Hardware Support

Suspend and resume worked fine, but the Broadcom wireless driver for my 43225 chip missing meant I was unable to get online. Lacking a decent wired connection I did not try and download the required firmware packages elsewhere and get it to work. For an otherwise decent Live image I'ld wish they could include the relevant software with the next release.
The basic ATI Radeonhd driver worked for me and there were no artefacts or graphical problems during my tests.


Due to the nature of this distribution the Gentoo Live images do not feature an installer. There are several ways of putting the image on a hard drive, one of which is described here. I suppose another would be loop mounting the image, copying it to your partition and pointing a boot loader at it, but haven't tried it due to lack of time. Check out this Gentoo Wiki page.
I've tried out the second method and it does not work. Too much has changed since 2008, and the article seems to talk about an install image and not the full live DVD that they have only developed since then.

Conclusion and Summary

The Live DVD is a good way to explore Gentoo and the way the distribution works. While it isn't really meant to be installed as an operating system it can certainly be done, but the user will get an image of a snapshot in the past. Isn't that the case with all distributions these days?
There are some pretty nice utilities on board, and the huge range of software included means this can be very useful to carry around as a rescue and live system. It is also secure enough by not mounting partitions by default. It can serve as a training ground and from here you can learn the portage commands and emerge your world, then loose the changes again in a non-persistent installation. Overall Gentoo felt cleaner and faster than its offspring Sabayon in comparison.
If you get it installed it certainly has the potential to be that full-featured installation on your main machine, with the Live DVD pretty much in the way distributions of old threw everything but the kitchen sink at you on several CD's.
I would not recommend Gentoo to the Linux newbie but to the intermediate user. Personally I'm quite tempted to give this a go for a while on my main machine and gradually turn it into a source compiled system with every update, but I like things lean and Slackware is already there.

Edited and updated Sunday 04/03/2012.


  1. Great review but what version of network manager & modem manager is included?
    Can you do a review how to install these two if not included?(also in arch?)

  2. can you please do a tutorial on how to install modem manager & network manager(on a offline machine)
    with all major distributions like ARCH,DEBIAN,FEDORA,SUSE,CENT_OS
    please that would be wonderful
    & a great review.. do tutorial on how to install from live DVD

  3. The best way to check this would be to peruse the wiki and fora of your distribution in question. I appreciate the faith you put in me but I´m rather busy these days to do a tutorial on so many distributions I don´t currently have installed. The Arch wiki is very good and I´m sure there´s an answer there. Enjoy!

  4. I´m rather busy these days to do a tutorial on so many distributions I don´t currently have installed

    Thanks for your response
    Take your time
    The way you describe the tutorials its very easy for even newbies like me :)

    Keep up the good work

    P.S.- can your blog get a makeover(with less JS/CSS i mean simple??)
    it seems to flashy(don't mind i like to read your stuff 11)

  5. Correction on kernel version, the 12.0 runs 3.2.0 and kde-4.8. Thanks for the detailed write up, also perhaps your wireless firmware could not be distributed. Could you please paste 'lspci -k|grep Broad' for me


  6. @Anonymous

    I'll see what I can do with another template, or going back to the old one, but ideally not before the end of this year. Thanks for dropping by!

    Here we are.

    # lspci -k|grep Broad
    02:00.0 Ethernet controller: Broadcom Corporation NetLink BCM57780 Gigabit Ethernet PCIe (rev 01)
    08:00.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM43225 802.11b/g/n (rev 01)

    You're right, I think it cannot be distributed if you're going by the book.I have to add this with most distributions, but a very few (Sabayon, Mint) include it.

  7. @Barnaby yes, those distributions risk legal action by the companies that make the hardware. Gentoo only distributes what it can otherwise we are force to let users download manually. BTW kde-4.7 is on 12.0 and 4.8.1 will be on the upcoming maintainance release coming out in a week or so ;)

    Thanks for the well written review.

  8. One of the reasons Gentoo has to come in with a larger size is because of the Portage Tree. It takes up space that most distributions don't have to worry about. That with all the other stuff thrown in will definitely cause it to be a DVD only ISO. :)

    Good Review though. I may take some time and take a shot at reviewing 12.1 See if my noob skills are up to it. :)

  9. Hi Landor, I was wondering why all Gentoo distributions were huge. Would be interesting to see your take on 12.1 as someone who knows the system well. And please, let us know how you installed it and a working boot loader entry for grub-legacy or lilo.


  10. Hi

    I read this post two times.

    I like it so much, please try to keep posting.

    Let me introduce other material that may be good for our community.

    Source: Network manager interview questions

    Best regards


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