Gentoo or FreeBSD for noob w/VERY little UNIX smarts?
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Gentoo is very challenging if you have very little Unix experience. I would recommend you try other Linux distros like Suse, Fedora Core, Mandriva or Ubuntu before tackling Gentoo. FreeBSD is easier to install than Gentoo, but you need to be familiar with Unix basics because many sysadmin tasks are done through the command line although I am sure if you are willing to invest a lot of time and effort you can quickly pick things up.
On one hand, I agree with reddazz in that Linux distributions like Fedora Core and Ubuntu are easier to get along with when you're a beginner. But on the other hand, starting on something like Slackware or FreeBSD will force you to pick things up that the others (for simplicity's sake) tend to hide behind GUIs. I myself learned on Slackware and subsequently whenever I went to try another distro (like Fedora Core or Ubuntu), I felt like I was somehow lacking control; things were too integrated. Now I've moved away from Linux distributions and prefer the BSDs, for pretty much the same feelings and reasons.
Of course, a lot of people really like using those other systems, but for my own part I feel like I learned a lot more having to deal with Slackware. And it just plain more suited my style. So anyway, I think my recommendation would go to Slackware, because of my own experience with it as a learning platform. Of course, if you try it and don't like it, you can always try another for free. But if you do decide to go for a BSD straight off, I'd recommend not doing NetBSD or OpenBSD - they're kinda hard. In the end, deciding how much time and effort you're willing to expend, and how much you really want to know, will help determine if you'd be best to try a fancy graphical system, or a more technical CLI-oriented system.
BTW, if you want to try BSD instead of Linux, there are still highly graphical versions, similar to Fedora Core and Mandriva: for example DesktopBSD or PC BSD.
I am using Gentoo Linux now, and I am sure I definitely wouldn't have got anywhere if I had begun my Linux expreience with this. I started out with SuSE 9.0, and with time, when software updates for such a distribution stop in favour of a newer release, so that you're forced to do your own compiling (unless you go the chicken way and upgrade ), you get to learn all the things you need to know on a system which works already. Gentoo is just too hard to do right for a newbie.
But I would recommend PC-BSD to a newbie; BSD-wise, I'm a newbie myself, with PC-BSD, installed on the last weekend, my first foray into BSD territory, but I think this distribution has the potential to be interesting even to MS-refugees with no prior knowledge of nor too much interest in the inner workings of a *NIX-system. Its PBI software installation (which works in addition to the standard port system) makes the installation of new software about as easy as klik on Linux; basically it's 'Enter root PW, download, run'.
I'm afraid my opinion/experience tales may let the cat amongst the pigeons (so to speak). But here we go.
My first Linux experience to tell was with Gentoo Linux. I spent 3 days doing little else other than forming a relationship with the handbook to get it installed. From here I asked a few Linux people what they recommend for getting started (in terms of software to install etc) got myself a GUI running open or flux box... I think I started with fluxbox - configured it to my liking and then gradually explored for things which weren't working. These created a to-do list and I stepped through it, learning things as I went along.
I later began configuring various servers for learning purposes. I started with an OpenBSD router, a FreeBSD fileserver and then stemmed into a FreeBSD mail/web server and two FreeBSD name servers. With these running I kept Gentoo running on my desktop and eventually installed it on my IBM laptop. Couldn't have been happier. Purely out of interest, I later decided I'd install FreeBSD (then 5.4-RELEASE/STABLE) on my laptop just to see how it would go. Well, as a result, Gentoo is no longer on my laptop and I've been running FreeBSD on it quite happily ever since. I've taken Gentoo off my desktop and run FreeBSD there too.
All in all I find FreeBSD to be a bit more logical in various layout schematics and as mentioned by others, it's great from both a graphical AND CLI perspective. So too is Gentoo, however again I think FreeBSD is just a little cleaner. I certainly wouldn't recommend starting with OpenBSD for the same reason as presented by taylor and I'm yet to experiment with NetBSD.
I found Gentoo to be a difficult starting point, but one which would give you a reasonably strong foundation once you've become familiar with it. Both FreeBSD and Gentoo are *VERY* well documented and the IRC support is of a helpful nature if you ask the right questions.
To give a definitive answer as to which is better to learn with - I'd probably suggest FreeBSD, it's easier to install and gives you a great degree of control over what's going on. One thing to bare in mind is that BSD does not equal Linux, they are different systems which happen to share many similar characteristics and commands etc - just keep that in mind.
I'm just beginning, and I have been just beginning for a couple of years. I have quite a collection of CDs I gleefully made when I learned how to do ISOs. I was quite proud of myself! Um—except those CDs were as far as I got for a long time. Those and reams of instructions.
After wrecking one or two Windows systems, I finally succeeded in a proper multi-boot with Mandrake. But I didn't LIKE it!!! I took it off!! Mandrake was too "gray and corporate" for my liking—keeping in mind that my opinion was absolutely not worth anything at all, because I had NO knowledge of Linux. Anyway, that was, to some extent, a triumph.
Now I am half an inch away from putting on both Slackware 10.2 and Ubuntu, which I'll work on together. From what I have read, Slack is the "classic" Linux. It commands a lot of respect, and surely it must be a superb distro to know. Ubuntu, with its beautiful message of harmony for the whole world, seems something of an "everything-done-for-you" opposite to Slackware, and I imagine it is much easier. By learning Ubuntu at the same time, I think I'll gain a better perspective of Linux in general. And I think sometimes one distro will help me work with the other.
I'm keeping NTLDR for the time being. I'll chain LILO. Some past disasters left me somewhat bruised. However, I'll gladly learn LILO, though. After all, I'll be using it anyway, but not in the MBR of my system drive. Not yet.
From what I have read, Slack is the "classic" Linux. It commands a lot of respect, and surely it must be a superb distro to know.
Yes, Slackware is the oldest Linux distribution still in development, and, in my opinion, the best.
It has been said that "When you learn SuSE distro you learn SuSE. When you learn Slackware you learn Linux" (substitute SuSE with virtually any distro other than Slackware).
For the time being i'm running Slackware Stable, Slackware Current and FreeBSD Stable on my computers, and i'm very satisfied with it.
Both Slackware, FreeBSD and Gentoo is very good distros for learning Unix.
FreeBSD is more like the "Original Unix".
On the other hand, you learn a lot from installing Gentoo
But Slackware has the simplest script layout, and really forces you into understanding what you're doing.
From what you say, I shall likely be interested in FreeBSD and Gentoo later on, as well.
Haha! I'm learning about Slackware and modifying my computer at the same time that some of life's mundane but heavyweight challenges are confronting me. I am not sure that I will have a computer to work on in the near future, or a space in which to work. Well, life can be like that, can't it? I suppose beautifully-tuned computer systems reassure us that we have some control of things—maybe that our lives are our own. When we understand several systems, the symbolism extends—we are reassured that we have a wider perspective. I think it's true, too, and I am never surprised when someone obviously very good with computer config or program development mentions that he has difficulties in some of his other interaction in society. Isn't that sometimes true? I'm feeling it now, because for awhile it seems I am having some of those confrontations in things to do with money and autonomy—what we consider "security", although it isn't truly security. Haha! Well, I'm not feeling secure now; that's for sure! But I shall continue with expanding this little computer into a wider realm of understanding Linux, at least for as long as these logistics of living allow me to do so. Tonight I'm reflecting on this tiny space and this Celeron (which is a poor computer, with a terribly crippled-by-Intel 128 L2 cache). The Cely is all fixed up now, a gig of RAM having turned it into a sweet-running system. And the tiny workspace is very nice, too. I'm taking a few mental screenshots of what I have; things that I've worked on and been able to count on, and value, for a time. It's all been good, and I've been lucky.
Pardon my introspection. ;-) Just a few comments regarding perspectives, that's all. Back to Linux.
I believe the original gentoo developers were freebsd developers, so there are a lot of similarities in gentoo and freebsd.
That's true. And there's also a very interesting project at Gentoo to unite the features of Gentoo Linux with BSD kernels and userlands. You can find more info at the Gentoo/*BSD project page. There are currently subprojects for FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD; a subproject for DragonFly BSD is planned. It will be fascinating to watch how this programme develops.
You can use command line in pretty much any distro. Some have more GUI configuration tools than other, but you can do the same thing in pretty much any distro through the command line as well.
I would start with an easier to use distro at first just so you don't get frustrated and give up.
PCLinuxOS, SUSE, MEPIS, Fedora are pretty easy to install and use; as is PC-BSD.
Of course you can always do like a lot of people do and play around with a few LiveCDs first. Or even Vmplayer so you can run linux in windows without installing.