Roll Your Own Linux

Some people collect butterflies. Others collect programming languages. I collect Linux distros. I've installed several dozen over the past few years. In fact, I think I was the first person to install Linux on national television. (Come to think of it, Megan and I are probably still the only people ever to install Linux on national television. I may be the only person who thinks installing Linux on national television is even remotely interesting.) I've found a new distro for people like me. A roll your own package that let's you put exactly what you want into your Linux. It's called Gentoo Linux and it's swift. (I was told that I can't use the word "cool" any more. I'm looking for replacements if you want to help.)

Gentoo is based on the BSD UNIX ports system, only the developers call it "portage" and it means you can easily install, upgrade, and uninstall software. To install a new package you type "emerge" and the package name. Gentoo goes out onto the net, downloads the source code, builds it, and installs it.

You start by downloading a small ISO (18 to 100 MB depending on how much of a Linux system you want to pre-load. I used the larger file). Burn the ISO to disk, boot the CD, then bootstrap your own Linux with just the pieces you want. This is not a process for the Linux newbie, but I found it insanely satisfying. I learned a lot about the guts of Linux, and found I could modify parts of it I never had control over before.

Read the documentation before you try Gentoo - if it's not crystal clear then don't install it on your main machine. Consider it a learning project and be ready to mess around with it for a while. But if you want to learn about Linux, or are already an expert who is looking for a very configurable version of Linux, Gentoo is faboo.