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Old 09-23-2009, 09:55 AM   #1
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This might be a very stupid question.

What is the difference between source-based (like Gentoo) and others distros that are "binary"?
Old 09-23-2009, 09:59 AM   #2
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For one thing, ease of use.
Old 09-23-2009, 10:30 AM   #3
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Yeah, Gentoo is easier to deal with one you get the hang of it

"Ease of use" is highly subjective and depends a lot on what do you consider "easy" and what do you consider "use". But I am not going to spoil the thread with my dissertations about that because I think that will not help WillingToLikeLinux to understand anything about the topic at hand.

To the topic at hand: a binary distro is formed by packages that have been pre-compiled, in a similar way to other OSes, where you pick a binary package and just install it and start using it. This is usual for example in Windows (just to name a well known example), where most users don't even have a compiler installed unless they are programming or developing something, but it's true also for most linuxes and most other OSes in general. Because these binaries must run in a wide range of hardware, they are compiled with generic enough defaults, that grant that the same binary file will run on, let's say, a pentium 4, an amd k8 or a core2 cpu, and they are also compiled with all the features enabled by default.

On the contrary, on a source based distro, you start with the source code of the programs, in whatever language they are written (C, perl, mono, whatever), and they are compiled from scratch, and then installed to your system. This takes much longer, and gives as a result a distribution that's tailored to your needs. You can choose to compile code that's specific for a k8, and that will be incompatible with any cpu that doesn't support all the sub-sets of instructions that the k8 cpu's do. You can also decide to disable gtk or gnome support in your applications if you are only going to use console or kde. Someone could argue that having support for both ncurses and slang in the same program is a waste, because they both do the same thing, so you can disable one of them. Someone could argue that having support for 6 database types in php is silly because you are using just mysql or postgresql, then you can disable the others. The results will be a smaller footprint, and less code to deal with (which specially in server stuff like php or apache can limit the number of potential bugs that a server will expose at a given time).

An advantage of source based distros is that it's a bit easier to roll your own when you need to patch a given package (you already have the sources, and the toolchain is there by default since it's needed by the OS). However some others will argue that having a compiler installed on a server can be problematic (that can be easily solved by compiling the package into another machine though).

Gentoo in that regard is very configurable and easy to manage when compared to LFS for example. It has a proper package manager that lets you disable and enable features (USE flags) and that adjust all the dependencies according to that, which is in my opinion the best thing about it, save the community and the documentation which is certainly good as well.
Old 09-23-2009, 10:33 AM   #4
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In source based distro you compile everything from source code, you can set your own compile options and build an optimized system! Whereas in binary distros, you install pre-built packages, ready to use and requires much less effort.
This is just a small description, there's more to it which others might add.
Old 09-23-2009, 11:41 AM   #5
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Precompiled distribution OSes gets out of your way for everyday use. Anyway, you can still compile things if you feel like compiling (given you downloaded your precompiled compiler, and dev alike packages of precompiled libraries), you just don't have to.
Old 09-25-2009, 02:06 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by i92guboj View Post
Yeah, Gentoo is easier to deal with one you get the hang of it
I was actually in the process of switching from Arch to Gentoo when I first responded to this post (just reading, hadn't yet installed). I've now set up a lot of the system but haven't compiled the kernel yet - too many delicious options to look through.

I just have to say about Gentoo specifically (I'm not sure about other source-based distributions): When I started getting a feel for what USE flags do as I ran things like
$ equery uses ssh
$ emerge --pretend ssh
I started to get a little bit of a warm tingling feeling throughout my body.

But then when I did
$ emerge gentoo-sources
$ make menuconfig
I felt like it was every birthday, christmas, hanuka, and first day of summer from age 1 to 10 COMBINED.

I was very happy when after 4 years I switched from (Debian and then) Ubuntu to Arch because it gave me better control over my system without feeling like I was adulterating the distribution (to do things like have rolling releases for certain packages). It also helped me learn a lot more.

But now, with Gentoo, I'm stunned out how easy it is to configure a whole new layer of nitty gritty details. <3

I don't know if this goes for most other source based distributions, but Gentoo takes dependency resolution to a whole new level. Not only are relationships between distinct packages managed, but features within packages. Wonderful! I'll stop now =)


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