Debian vs Gentoo

Before I begin let me state my opinion. I am a big fan of Gentoo. I have installed gentoo more times and in more machines than I had installed win98 🙂

I am currently making an effort, oh and I mean IS a effort, to install and configure a debian system. I want to use primarily as an Access Point/Client with 3 wireless cards. Sounds hard ? maybe…but debian makes it harder.
First of all…the damn development branches. Debian has stable, testing and unstable branches. I understand what stable is…but why should a decent distro have more than one branches in testing mode? The packages in stable branch are older than my grandmother. So most people actually use…the testing branch, and everyone on the net says it is “stable” enough to use it. So it’s more like debian has the stable-old-like-my-grandma, the testing-people-say-I-am-stable-enough and the unstable-don’t-use-me-I-will-crash your box branches. Gentoo just gives you arch and ~arch. Stable and unstable. Nice and easy.
Next…aptitude interface sucks. It just sucks. It so not user friendly…you actually get lost if you don’t learn all the keyboard shortcuts by heart. Yes, Gentoo’s emerge is a bit complicated too, but at least it is sane enough not to provide a crappy ncurses based gui. It’s better to stay command line only than having an awful gui. Maybe when you only have a few packages to update it might be a bit easier to distinguish what’s going on…but having more than 20-30 packages to update, like when you have just finished a fresh install and want to update,then it’s more like a killer task. It’s almost impossible to identify a blocking package unless you know the keyboard shortcuts. But then again…if you are experienced enough…why do you need a gui since everyone knows tasks made by guis are done slower ? Aptitude’s ncurses gui needs a drastic redesign if it ever wants to become user friendly and not a tool for the lazy admins that are just fond of blue and purple colors.
What I liked ? Updates did not hurt any of my conf files, yet. That’s where gentoo sucks. etc-update really really really sucks. dispatch-conf is a lot better…but it could have been a bit more optimized, especially when it replaces just headers and comments from files.

16 Responses to “Debian vs Gentoo”

  1. sylware
    June 3rd, 2006 | 14:24
    Using Epiphany Epiphany 2.14 on Linux Linux

    Debian vs Gentoo?

    Debian for binary oriented distros and Gentoo for source oriented distros.

    Their respective scopes are different and complementary.

    Use both.

  2. June 10th, 2006 | 15:18
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox on Linux Linux

    I disagree. I find the debian apt-system a lot better than gentoo. Debian has one major advantage: it keeps a far better record of all installed files. For example, imagine I install package A, and it pulls in B as a dependency.
    In debian, if I remove A, B gets removed too. The system detected it hasn’t been installed manually, and no other packages depend on it.
    Gentoo keeps package B when removing A. So this means more than 30% of my system packages _AREN’T_USED! That’s just plain dumb. This is why I think aptitude (spend 10 minutes learning the shortcuts, that’s about the time you need to figure out the make.conf file) is a great tool. I wanted something like this in gentoo for years! I’m a loyal gentoo user for 2 years (since 1.4_RC4) and have just recently installed debian for an old pc.

    So in short:
    Gentoo advantage: USE flags. If I don’t need X, I won’t install it.
    Debian advantage: Marking packages as “manually installed”. I only have a small 100 packages installed manually, but I do have at least 500 packages. However, I can manage those 500 packages well, and I keep a clean and mean system. In gentoo, I’ve given up keeping a clean system. I have 1500 packages, and I probably use half of them.

  3. SIYB
    August 5th, 2006 | 04:49
    Using Mozilla Mozilla 1.7.13 on Linux Linux

    hrhr well, i like aptitude very much but if you don’t like a gui use apt-get, apt-cache etc that is the command line based packet manager. Additionally you are able to clean unneeded dependencies using aptitude, that is the real advantage of that prog. aptitude is damn user friendly and not a tool for lazy admins but a tool for people who want to clean unneeded libs etc off the system and fix broken deps, all shortcuts can be found in the guis menue right next to the text option.

    i use both debian and gentoo and i must say that gentoo is far more time consuming than debian (which isn’t a bad thing really if you have the time :>).


  4. Mitch
    September 1st, 2006 | 14:55
    Using Internet Explorer Internet Explorer 6.0 on Windows Windows XP

    What do you mean Gentoo only has arch and ~arch? Have you never seen the testing hard masked M~ or the stable hard masked M+?

    That moves Gentoo into the realm of having to deal with four different possible packages you could download. Its not merely an issue of having a stable or unstable system.

    I’ve used Gentoo alot in the past, the primary reason I dont, is because of things such as a recently the gcc update problem, on Debian.. I’ve never had an issue updating, Gentoo might run faster, but lets face it, if everyone were honest, they could tell you they’ve had bigger issues with Gentoo, than Windows.

  5. Anon
    September 11th, 2006 | 10:20
    Using Mozilla Mozilla 1.7.13

    Gentoo/Linux is just a dilettante BSD, but instead of choosing pkgsrc they’ve put up a mechanism written in Bash and Python that is nonetheless SLOW no matter how much optimization you configure. In Debian it’s possible to build from sources (see apt-build). I myself use FreeBSD, NetBSD & Debian on the same machine and many of the sources are shared between them all.

    There was a time when installing Gentoo was a “fun” thing to do, but starting with 2006.0 they choose to provide GRP only by using the buggy Dialog/GTK installer that may kill your partition table. Until 2005.1, GRP’s were individual tarballs and now they seem to “exist” virtually in the Live-CD. There’s no way to install KDE from GRP even when KDE binaries exist in 2006.1. Oh, and there’s no UFS modules on the LiveCD at all and no recognition of BSD disk labels. There’s something obviously wrong. It should be easier to setup an usable system in short time and make improvements and recompile everything from it.

  6. anon
    October 7th, 2006 | 18:24
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox on Linux Linux

    First of all, aptitude is just a front-end to apt which in turn is a front-end to dpkg (dpkg handles the packages themselve’s and apt handles dependencies etc. Aptitude puts everything together into an interactive user interface and adds some tools to the mix of it’s own). Whether you like aptitude or not is a moot point since it’s only one out of many other options that you can use (personally, I prefer synaptic). I don’t really see how it can be valid gripe against Debian. I think perhaps if you had tried out Debian longer, and got to know more about it, you might even come to see some of it’s wisdom in how it handles Linux.

    Also, I would suggest that you read up about the different Debian releases. There is alot of reasoning behind why and how that you do not understand.

    I’ll just say that Debian was designed in a manner that it really caters to system admins by making alot of things nice and manageable. Not just package management. It’s famous for it’s package management because it is so good, but it actually goes beyond that.

    Anyway, I’ve ran all sorts of distros, but I always come back to Debian because most other distros end up being very short sighted in comparison, as well as alot more unwieldy in the long run.

  7. site admin
    October 8th, 2006 | 01:15
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox on Linux Linux

    I got lots of replies from debian people here. I’ll try to answer some of the stuff mentioned, but I really don’t like to argue about my preferences. Everyone has their own views/beliefs/preferences and those on this blog are just mine.

    Some people say that I didn’t try debian long enough to know it better. That’s true, but how can one know better an OS when the OS itself doesn’t have an easy to read installation manual. When was the last time was revised ? It even has problems with unicode…

    I don’t want to spent time to fiddle around a “new” OS/distro, the OS itself must tell me what to do. And Gentoo’s handbook is JUST that. It tells you what to do, where to start and where to end. Debian’s installation manual just sucks…and it sucks even more compared to Gentoo’s handbook. Debian offers a pack of CDs…if you don’t google about them how shall you know which ones you need ? The installation manual gives no info about them…which CD contains what…beautiful manual….

    Anyway…I don’t like debian people after all…most of them are so arrogant and cocky. They think of themselves as the “hardcore” linux users/developers. Their attitude simply sucks. Just take a look at the gentoo-wiki and see how much more helpfull this is than any debian-related wiki/forum..Is there even something like that for debian ?

  8. December 12th, 2006 | 22:38
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox 1.0.6 on Windows Windows XP

    aptitude has keyboards shortcuts?

    like “g”, “+”, and “-“?

    im confused..

  9. Joe
    February 16th, 2007 | 04:23
    Using Mozilla Mozilla 1.7.8 on Debian GNU/Linux Debian GNU/Linux

    Agree with the admin, debian people think they know everything, and if you know linux, you know gentoo is far better then debian.
    And yes, lets faxce it… i have debian on my home computer and like it a lot, but not more than gentoo, know by it’s robust server installations.
    Also, i hate to say this, but ubuntu is winning debian… ohh but debian is great! my favorite distros:

    Gentoo, Debian, Ubuntu, RedHat Enterprise & why not? CentOS! ohh just because of some of my servers 🙂 Don’t fight, better use what you want and don’t get influenced.

  10. Joe
    February 16th, 2007 | 04:25
    Using Mozilla Mozilla 1.7.8 on Debian GNU/Linux Debian GNU/Linux

    ohh and yes, i am posting from my home debain based computer, and ouch!!! this suckers of debian are posting form windows xp!!!!! i wanna die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. ShredZ
    March 26th, 2007 | 10:17
    Using Safari Safari 419.3 on Mac OS Mac OS

    I can get along with the idea that gentoo can be more custom-tailored than my mom’s gardening project, but saying that debian requires more googling than gentoo is just ignorant. I’ve been using gentoo for over 4 years now and the amount of time spent on forums trying to get something fixed (and then waiting for a recompile to apply the fix in some cases) was just getting too much for me. Debian doesn’t come with installation manuals, but it’s unnecessary if you’ve ever installed linux before, and once it’s up and running it requires very little extra attention.

    Aptitude blows, much agreed… never use it, apt-get and synaptic do the job just fine. I fail to see why on earth you’d like emerge but hold something against apt-get… it basically is emerge –ask foo without the waiting for the compile part. Updating ? apt-get update = emerge sync and apt-get upgrade = emerge -uD –ask. So much for that “killer task” of upgrading your packages. I tend to run into the occasional problem with blocked packages too, but same thing happens on gentoo and while gentoo reveals the blocking package by itself, in the end removing it might break something else. (which also means more waiting).

    Today I’m still using both (gentoo on an imac and debian on an athlon) and my debian box is more configured and up to date then the gentoo system because I actually don’t feel like wasting the time to do it anymore (the imac blows the athlon away in speed terms so it’s not that, even ran gentoo on the amd for 2 years or so).

    I’m not gonna end this post without saying something pro-gentoo. You will learn linux and learn to learn linux. After spending some quality time on the forums you will feel the urge to try latest-and-greatest stuff and tinker with it until it’s up and running even if it means wasting your weekend. I feel a lot more confident on the debian machine knowing I know all the stuff I learned on gentoo, cause undoubtedly, I will eventually need it at some point I’m sure 🙂

  12. August 10th, 2007 | 18:11
    Using Debian IceWeasel Debian IceWeasel on Debian GNU/Linux Debian GNU/Linux

    I’ve been using Gentoo for about two and half years (occasionally windows too) but recently I went on a distro hunt to give me a break from compiling everything that comes across during an upgrade. Upgrading every week reduces breakage but implies compiling more number of times in a year compared to once in a bluemoon upgrade (where breakages, downtimes – because of long compile times – are issues).
    Currently I’m running Debian unstable (amd64) and it’s doing its job well 🙂
    (BTW, I’m not the first one in my campus who has moved away from Gentoo for similar reasons. I still have Gentoo on another partition though 🙂

  13. Ace
    October 6th, 2007 | 10:34
    Using Internet Explorer Internet Explorer 6.0 on Windows Windows XP

    Been using Gentoo for 3 years, like it a lot, but that depends on how you use your OS, I have MAC, Linux, and windows in one computer, and one server with gentoo. I use gentoo because it is optimized and compiled specifically for your system, and I like bleeding edge stuff. I will try Debian soon. Anyway for user friendliness – I’d go for MAC, I hate windows(but can’t play most games without it, so it stays). My point is, use a distro that fits your needs. Peace.

  14. doki_pen
    July 9th, 2008 | 18:21
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox 3.0 on Gentoo Linux Gentoo Linux

    The right tool for the right job. Both sides sound ignorant. One look at the aptitude text gui was enough for me to be scared away and stick to the cli. It’s fine, works great. And if you want all the files that a package installs on Gentoo: equery files of course it keeps track of files it installs! how else could it work? Also, Gentoo does make a difference of installed packages and dependencies. Take a look at /var/lib/portage/world. There you will find every package name that you’ve installed. This is used for emerge –clean and such. Gentoo doesn’t do anything automatic by default, so cleaning dependencies is a second step. I believe it can be made automatic in make.conf. man make.conf for some pointers. My only complaint with emerge for cleaning dependencies they have a lot of different commands:

    emerge –clean
    emerge –depclean
    emerge –prune

    I always have to use google to figure out which one I should use. Also, there are some things that just don’t make sense in make.conf. They have what seem to be a bunch of “shortcuts” for use flags. For example:

    APACHE2_MODULES=”actions alias etc”

    Expands to USE=”$USE apache_module_action apache_module_alias …”

    There are a bunch of these and it seems confusing to me. What does:


    do? it seems to be in a lot of HOWTOs. I guess I’ll add it.

    What about:

    VIDEO_CARDS=”nv nvidia”

    Why can’t I use USE flags for this?

    oh well, I still prefer Gentoo in most cases.

  15. ISCH
    March 13th, 2011 | 23:52
    Using Google Chrome Google Chrome 10.0.648.133 on Linux Linux

    I do not understand why you argue about the stable branch. The stable branch is for really really stable systems, like servers. A server should be 100% save, for sure. That is what the stable branch is for.
    Well it might be more intellegent to rename the branches into hardened, end-user and developer/testing.

    By the way, in Gentoo there are also 3 branches. A packages can be mask for arch or it can be hard-masked. And you can choouse 3 basicular different profiles, developer, and hardened.

    Although I prefer Gentoo, too

  16. Trevor Dorl
    August 23rd, 2011 | 00:19
    Using Google Chrome Google Chrome 13.0.782.107 on Linux Linux

    I prefer gentoo, although on VERY old computers I use debian.

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