Thursday, October 4, 2007

Gentoo: Buried in Packages

I have a dirty little secret.

I've been a horrible administrator on my home network, in large part due to the neglect of my home server. I admit it, I've not done any reasonable upkeep on my Gentoo Linux machine for over a year.

"What's the big deal," you say?

It's just that any security vulnerability, performance enhancement, or feature enhancement over the last year has been ignored. This means my machine is vulnerable, slower than it should be, and probably not as feature rich as it could be.

Why on earth did I do this to myself?

Well, I did it because of the same thing that's plaguing me right now. Gentoo really is more complicated than it need be. This problem manifests itself in that Gentoo is not really the right operating system for a lazy administrator or a novice who isn't adept at troubleshooting a GNU system.

My problem started with simple laziness and neglect. At first I didn't update because I just forgot, or it was too much trouble to login and run the command. That situation went on for a few weeks or months after a year or two of fairly attentive administration.

Then when I finally did update everything broke. The package management system changed so that certain packages could block the installation of other packages. This change was enough to throw me off of the routine I had used while updating. When I tried to figure it out, the whole thing blew up. I managed to get the system to update, to the detriment of my Gnome installation. I found myself without a window manager, with an ailing system that I, again, couldn't update. I gave up.

Flash forward a year or so...

I've played with Ubuntu over the last year on my laptop. I was really impressed with the installation and administrative tools. I gave serious thought to replacing my Gentoo server with an Ubuntu install. Then I stopped and thought of the effort that would take. I'd have to setup some sort of temporary network or almost all facets of computing, as well as phone service, for my house would come to a grinding halt. I decided I would give Gentoo another chance.

This Sunday my friend was talking about updating his Gentoo installation. This sparked the desire to fix my machine. Now it's on.

I logged into the machine. I ran the commands. Updating failed magnificently. Search on Google for a solution, fix that. It fails again. Search on Google again, fix it again. It fails again. Rinse and repeat.

It actually managed to update around 200 packages before I hit the big roadblock. Unfortunately, that roadblock is that to update glibc I must switch the system over to gcc 3.4.6 from 3.3.6.

In short, I have to completely rebuild my system. Overnight last night 115 system packages rebuilt. Today I started rebuilding the 552 packages in world. As I write this it is working on package 180. All of this after 4 days of work. In the end I'll probably have spent a week on this.

If you would just...

I fully expect that a knowledgeable reader will think, "Just keep your system up to date." That's not the point. The point is that the way that Gentoo works makes that just a tad more inconvenient than most other systems. Further, it shouldn't ever take a week to fix a system that hasn't been maliciously compromised. I would lodge the same sort of complaint against a hosed Windows install.

Reinstalling from scratch was never an option. If I reinstall it will be Ubuntu. Reinstallation would have been even more work, even if it would have taken less time, and it would offer no advantage over simply installing Ubuntu.

I'm sure that some Gentoo guru can pop out of the woodwork and say, "If you'd just run this command..." Again, that's beside the point. If Gentoo were more intuitive then I wouldn't have missed whatever command it is you may suggest. It's not like I haven't read the handbook. I've basically done all three "stages" of the manual installation. I have a decent idea of where to start looking when I troubleshoot this box, but when time after time it involves searching around and 30 minutes of research after finding some hits, that's just a little ridiculous.

Not that it matters

I'm going to keep Gentoo on the machine for now. I'll probably leave it on there until I'm ready to install new hardware. While I'm too lazy to properly administrate a Gentoo installation, I'm also too lazy to replace it.

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