It's often said, that Gentoo is all about choice, but that doesn't quite fit what it is for me.
After all, the highest ability to choose is Linux from scratch and I can have any amount of choice in every distribution by just going deep enough (and investing enough time).
What really distinguishes Gentoo for me is that it makes it convenient to choose.
Since we all have a limited time budget, many of us only have real freedom to choose, because we use Gentoo which makes it possible to choose with the distribution-tools. Therefore only calling it “choice” doesn't ring true in general - it misses the reason, why we can choose.
So what Gentoo gives me is not just choice, but convenient choice.
Some examples to illustrate the point:
I recently rebuilt my system after deciding to switch my disk layout (away from reiserfs towards a simple ext3 with reiser4 for the portage tree). When doing so I decided to try to use a "pure" KDE 4 - that means, a KDE 4 without any remains from KDE3 or qt3.
To use kde without any qt3 applications, I just had to put "-qt3" and "-qt3support" into my useflags in /etc/make.conf and "emerge -uDN world" (and solve any arising conflicts).
Imagine doing the same with a (K)Ubuntu...
Similarly to enable emacs support on my GentooXO (for all programs which can have emacs support), I just had to add the "emacs" useflag and "emerge -uDN world".
ACCEPT_LICENSE="-* @FSF-APPROVED @FSF-APPROVED-OTHER"
to your /etc/make.conf to make sure you only get software under licenses which are approved by the FSF.
For only free licenses (regardless of the approved state) you can use:
All others get marked as masked by license. Default (no ACCEPT_LICENSE in /etc/make.conf) is “* -@EULA”: No unfree software. You can check your setting via
emerge --info | grep ACCEPT_LICENSE. More information…
Another part where choosing is made convenient in Gentoo are testing and unstable programs.
I remember my pain with a Kubuntu, where I wanted to use the most recent version of Amarok. I either had to add a dedicated Amarok-only testing repository (which I'd need for every single testing program), or I had to switch my whole system into testing. I did the latter and my graphical package manager ceased to work. Just imagine how quickly I ran back to Gentoo.
And then have a look at the ease of deciding to take one package into testing in Gentoo:
EDIT: Once I had a note here “It would be nice to be able to just add the missing dependencies with one call”. This is now possible with --autounmask-write.
And for some special parts (like KDE 4) I can easily say something like
(I don't have the kde-testing overlay on my GentooXO, where I write this post, so the exact command might vary slightly)
So to finish this post: For me, Gentoo is not only about choice. It is about convenient choice.
And that means: Gentoo gives everybody the power to choose.
I hope you enjoy it as I do!
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