Difference between pages "Making the Distribution, Part 2" and "Making the Distribution, Part 3"

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|Summary=In his previous article, Daniel Robbins told the story of how he became a Stampede Linux developer and why he eventually left Stampede to start the Enoch Linux distribution. In this go-round he lets you in on the strange events that happened after the Enoch development team discovered a little-known, blazingly fast compiler.
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|Summary=This article concludes his story -- about how he ended up creating his own distribution called Gentoo Linux. He wraps up the series by telling how he left the Linux world to move to FreeBSD, and then came back to the Linux world, restarting Gentoo Linux development with a fresh perspective. In addition to comparing Linux and FreeBSD in a number of areas, he also describe current Gentoo Linux development progress and share a future vision for the distribution.
 
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|Article Category=General
 
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|Author=Drobbins
|Previous in Series=Making the Distribution, Part 1
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|Previous in Series=Making the Distribution, Part 2
 
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==  From Enoch to Gentoo, via minor setbacks and corporate run-ins ==  
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==  The author strays from Linux and then returns ==
  
=== First steps to Enoch ===
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At the end of my previous article, I described how Gentoo Linux development had effectively been brought to a halt by a strange idle-lockup bug that I began experiencing as soon as I upgraded to a new dual-Celeron motherboard (an Abit BP6). Because I was unable to fix the problem, and at the time didn't have the funds to replace my motherboard, I decided to halt Gentoo Linux development and switch over to FreeBSD. I needed a working system, and since Linux was locking up all the time, this would be an excellent time to get familiar with a BSD operating system. So I installed FreeBSD, started learning, and didn't touch Linux at all for several months.
  
In my previous article, I gave you the low-down on my days with the Stampede development team and why I left (to get away from lower-level politically-minded, project-controlling "freaks"). Because of the interference from these meddlesome by-standers, I figured it would be easier to put together my own Linux distribution than to continue improving Stampede under such dirty conditions! Fortunately I took with me a considerable amount of experience based on my (may I say substantial?) work for Stampede, including maintaining several of their packages, designing the initialization scripts, and leading the slpv6 (next-generation package management project).
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=== FreeBSD impressions ===
  
The distribution I began working on, code-named Enoch, was going to be blazingly fast because it would completely automate the package creation and upgrading process. I have to admit that this was in large part because I was a one-member team and couldn't afford to spend my time on repetitive work that my development box could be automated to do for me. And since I was designing a complete distribution from scratch (rather than "spinning off" from someone like RedHat), I had my work cut out for me and needed all the free time I could scrounge up.
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All in all, I really liked FreeBSD. I felt that the operating system was well put together and that nearly every part of the system had a consistently high-level of refinement that's almost never found in the Linux world. I enjoyed the fact that FreeBSD contained a full complement of man pages, unlike Linux where many programs only have GNU info documentation, which I don't particularly like using.
  
After getting my basic Enoch system up and running, I headed back to irc.openprojects.net and started my own channel called #enoch. From there I gradually assembled a team of about ten developers. In those early days we all hung out on IRC and worked on the distribution in our spare time. As we communally and cooperatively hacked away at it, finding and fixing new bugs, Enoch became more functional and professional every day.
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Most of all, I was impressed with FreeBSD's ports system, the technology used to maintain and upgrade the system. Unlike the Linux approach, ports didn't use binary packages but instead automatically compiled everything locally from their original sources. Whether you were installing Samba or upgrading the core system, everything was compiled right on your local machine. This approach appealed to me and was very similar to the one I had been creating under Gentoo Linux. In this and many other ways, FreeBSD's design agreed with my sensibilities as a developer and a system administrator. For this reason, FreeBSD provided a comfortable work environment for many months, and I'm glad I took the time to get familiar with this excellent operating system.
  
=== The first roadblock ===
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=== FreeBSD pros ===
  
One inevitable day, Enoch hit its first roadblock. After adding Xfree86, glib, and gtk+, I decided to get xmms (an X11/gtk+-based MP3/CD player app) working. I figured it was time to celebrate with some music! But after installing xmms, I tried to start it... and X locked up! At first I thought xmms locked up because I used insane compiler optimizations ("-O6 -mpentiumpro", in case you were wondering). My first thought, to compile xmms with standard optimizations, didn't solve the problem. So I started looking elsewhere. After spending a full week of development time trying to track down the problem, I got an e-mail from an Enoch user, Omegadan, who was also experiencing xmms lockups.
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A lot of the differences between Linux and FreeBSD come from their different development structures. Linux development is very decentralized, and we rely on distributions to pull in and unite the various pieces of Linux scattered throughout the Internet. Compare this to FreeBSD and the other BSDs (OpenBSD and NetBSD), where there's a unified development team plugging away at a single, unified set of sources. Well, at least each BSD has its own set of unified sources. This can be a good thing, and results in FreeBSD not having a "patched together" feel like many Linux distributions do.
  
We corresponded for a while, and after many hours of testing we determined that the problem was a POSIX threads-related issue. For some reason, a pthread_mutex_trylock() call did not return the way it should. As the creator of a distribution, these were the types of bugs I really didn't want to encounter. I counted on the developers to release perfect sources so I could focus on enhancing the Linux experience rather than getting buggy sources to work. Of course I soon learned that this was an unrealistic expectation, and that problems like will always pop up from time to time.
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Next, we can compare the technology under the hood. Many a FreeBSD fan will assert that FreeBSD is better suited to being a server than Linux is. They'll tell you that FreeBSD is better under high loads, and has a better TCP/IP stack. If you're comparing Linux 2.2 or earlier with FreeBSD, I'd have to agree. FreeBSD is a great server OS, that's for sure. But, that's just Linux 2.2 and earlier. I happen to be a big fan of the 2.4 test kernels that I've been running. They're really, really great and contain a nice TCP/IP stack and a totally redesigned "netfilter" system that really rocks. In the end, I think that Linux will be the one to set new performance standards and make free UNIX servers even more competitive versus their commercial counterparts.
  
As it turned out, the problem wasn't with xmms, gtk+, or glib. And it wasn't an issue with Xfree86 3.3.5 not being thread-safe and locking up. Surprisingly, we found the bug in the Linux POSIX threads implementation itself, part of the GNU C library (glibc) version 2.1.2. I was shocked at the time to find that such a critical part of Linux had such a major bug. (And we used a release version of glibc in Enoch, not a prerelease or CVS version!).
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=== FreeBSD cons ===
  
So how did we track down the problem? Actually, we never were able to come up with a bug fix, but at one point I stumbled across a couple of e-mails on the glibc developer mailing list from another person who had the same problem. The glibc developer who replied posted a patch that solved the thread problem for us. But I was curious why RedHat 6 (which also used glibc 2.1.2) didn't suffer from this problem since the patch was just posted and RedHat 6 had been available for some time. To find out, I downloaded RedHat's glibc SRPM (source RPM) and took a look at their patches.
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As for the desktop, rather than the server world, there's really no comparison -- Linux is where the action is. All the latest desktop developments appear on Linux first, and Linux is ahead in its support of accelerated 3D graphics and sound cards. With Linux 2.4 approaching, Linux will continue its dominance in this area.
  
RedHat had their own homegrown glibc patch that solved the pthread_mutex_trylock() issue. Apparently they experienced the same problem and created their own custom fix. Too bad they didn't send this patch "upstream" to the glibc developers so it could be shared with the rest of the world. But who knows, maybe RedHat sent the patch upstream and for some reason the glibc developers didn't accept it. Or maybe the thread bug was triggered by a specific combination of compiler and binutils versions, and RedHat never ran into it (although they did have a thread patch in their SRPM). I suppose we'll never know exactly what happened. But I did learn that RedHat SRPMs contain a lot of private bug fixes and tweaks that never seem to make it upstream to the original developers. I'm going to rant about this for a little while.
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The one thing I don't like about FreeBSD is its use of the UFS filesystem. While UFS is more reliable and rugged than ext2, it's also mind-numbingly slow. It's possible to use a special UFS extension called soft updates, which is able to speed up the filesystem by aggregating IO operations into bigger chunks. While soft updates improves UFS tremendously, I can't say that UFS really outperforms ext2 in any way. Of course, it's more reliable, so FreeBSD ends up beating Linux in the filesystem war. Again, at least this is true when comparing older Linux 2.2 distributions to FreeBSD.
  
=== Rant ===
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However, the tables turn when we start to compare modern Linux 2.2 and Linux 2.4 to FreeBSD. ReiserFS (a new journalling filesystem available for Linux) is just amazing. Linux also has ext3, IBM's JFS, and XFS to look forward to, from which we expect excellent performance and reliability as well. As of now, ReiserFS gives Linux a major speed advantage over FreeBSD, and is one of the reasons I believe that Linux 2.4 overturns many of the old arguments of FreeBSD's superiority over Linux.
  
When you put together a Linux distribution it's really important that any bug fixes you create are sent upstream to the original developers. As I see it, this is one of the many ways that distribution creators contribute to Linux. We're the guys who actually get all these different programs working as a unified whole. We should send our fixes upstream as we unify so that other users and distributions can benefit from our discoveries. If you decide to keep bug fixes to yourself, you're not helping anyone; you're just ensuring that a lot of people will waste time fixing the same problem over and over again. This kind of policy goes against the whole open source ethic and stunts the growth of Linux development. Maybe I should say that it "bugs" us all.
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=== Back to Gentoo Linux development ===
  
It's unfortunate that some distributions (ahem) aren't as good (RedHat) as others (Debian) about sharing their work with the community.
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After a few months, I decided to rejoin the Linux world and get Gentoo Linux running on a new development box. At first, the decision to restart Gentoo Linux development was more of a business decision -- I had invested a lot of my time in becoming Linux-knowledgeable, and it would be a waste to throw all this knowledge away by sticking with BSD. However, shortly after I began updating Gentoo Linux, I found several new reasons why Linux was worth switching back to, namely all the filesystem and kernel improvements mentioned above. FreeBSD was a peaceful home, but a little too boring, too staid. Linux is where the action was, where major progress was being made. There's no doubt that if you're looking for excitement and innovation, Linux is the place to be.
  
=== Compiler drama ===
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To me, the Linux 2.2 era was a disappointing letdown from the 2.0 era, but the 2.4 era promised to be worth the wait. So, Gentoo Linux was reborn, and I was excited.
  
During the time we were trying to fix the glibc threads problem, I e-mailed Ulrich Drepper (one of the guys at Cygnus who is heavily involved with glibc development). I mentioned the POSIX thread problem we were having, and that Enoch was using pgcc for optimum performance. And he responded with something like this (I'm paraphrasing here): "Our own compiler included with the CodeFusion product has an excellent x86 backend that produces executables far faster than those generated with pgcc." Obviously, I was very interested in testing out this mystery "turbo" compiler the Cygnus guys had created.
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There was another key to Gentoo Linux's rebirth -- Achim Gottinger, my development team lead. I want to take some space to thank Achim for helping me restart Gentoo Linux development. I started getting e-mails from Achim shortly before my return to the Linux world. In almost every e-mail, he'd include some new .ebuild (autobuild) scripts for Gentoo Linux, or some desperately needed bugfixes. As I restarted Gentoo Linux development, Achim continued to contribute his time and resources to help get the distribution back on its feet. Up until recently, Achim and I have been the only two people working on Gentoo Linux, and this has been by choice. Because we both have a similar vision for the distribution, and because of Achim's skill, we were able to get a tremendous amount of work done and I never really felt that adding a third developer would significantly help our progress. Now, Achim serves as the Gentoo Linux development lead, and continues to make major improvements to Gentoo Linux on an almost daily basis. We've reached the point where we're ready for others to start working on our CVS tree, and have begun to gradually and carefully expand the Gentoo Linux development team.
  
I thereupon requested a demo copy of Cygnus Codefusion 1.0 so that I could test it out, and Omegadan and I were amazed to find that this compiler was everything that Ulrich claimed and then some. The x86 backend increased the performance of some of the CPU-intensive executables (like bzip2) by close to 90%! All applications seemed to benefit from at least a 10% real-world performance increase, and all we did was swap out compilers. Enoch even booted 30 - 40% faster. The performance gains were far, far greater than what we gained by switching from gcc to pgcc. Obviously, after experiencing it for ourselves, we wanted to use this compiler for Enoch. Fortunately, the sources were included on the CodeFusion CD and were released under the GPL, so we were fully permitted to use this compiler... or so we thought.
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=== The new vision ===
  
=== Let the freakiness begin ===
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I don't feel that the time I spent in the BSD world was in any way wasted. In fact, it gave me a tremendous opportunity to reflect on the happenings in the entire Linux community and how Gentoo Linux could help to improve things.
  
I sent an e-mail to the marketing manager at Cygnus to let them know our intentions, expecting a "yeah, go for it, thanks for using our compiler" response. Instead the reply was that although we were (technically) allowed to use the Cygnus compiler, we were strongly urged not to use or include the compiler sources with Enoch. I responded by asking why they had released the source under the GPL, if that was the case. It's my guess that if they had a choice, they wouldn't have used the GPL, but because they derived their compiler from egcs (released under the GPL), they had no choice.
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In the new version of Gentoo Linux, I made the decision to not use pgcc anymore, nor use very high optimizations to compile all binaries. Since stability was paramount, we would use reasonable ("-O2 -mpentium") optimizations but provide an easy way for users to customize these optimizations to their liking by using our autobuild system.
  
This is a good example of a situation where the GPL prevented a company from creating a proprietary product based on open sources. My educated guess is that Cygnus was afraid that if we used their compiler we would undermine their boxed product sales, which would be especially strange because none of their marketing materials (nor the InfoWorld review) mentioned the new compiler included with CodeFusion. CodeFusion was marketed solely as a "development IDE" product, not as a compiler.
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FreeBSD gave me a really good idea of how an autobuild system should function. I decided to add several FreeBSD features to make our autobuild system (now called Portage) a true next-generation ports system.
  
In an attempt to put some of their paranoia to rest, I offered to endorse CodeFusion and place the endorsement on our Web site with a link to help spur CodeFusion sales. Personally I didn't think that a "turbo" Enoch would negatively affect their sales, since CodeFusion was marketed as an IDE. But I tried nevertheless to make them happy. The IDE component of CodeFusion was a commercial product, and we had no desire or intention (or right) to distribute it with Enoch.
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Portage is the heart of Gentoo Linux, and is more than a simple package management or maintenance system. Consisting of a set of build tools and build scripts, Portage allows you to rebuild the entire distribution from original sources. But more importantly to me, Portage gives the user full access to the intelligence of how Gentoo Linux was built. To us, this is very important because it means that we are documenting how to build a distribution while at the same time moving Gentoo Linux development forward. And, because Portage is easy to use and understand, we hope that it will open up Linux internals to even more people, so that others can begin to contribute to our sources and scripts.
  
I e-mailed my (generous?) offer to Cygnus and received another strange response. They wanted authority over all of our "marketing materials" (apparently, this also included the content of our Web site!) Another shocker. The Cygnus marketing team seemed to have no grasp of how the Linux community or the GPL worked, so I decided to cut off communication with Cygnus for the indefinite future. In the mean time, we created a private "turbo" and public "non-turbo" version of Enoch, leaving the final decision for later.
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Portage is our way of opening up Linux technology to others. By studying the autobuild scripts, you can see how all the various packages fit together into a unified whole. If necessary, you can grab our entire CVS tree and hack away at it, producing your own custom distribution or Linux-based technology. We believe that this is a good thing -- we want to give people the knowledge they need to take Linux into new realms.
  
But after several months they integrated the CodeFusion x86 backend into gcc 2.95.2. Now everyone could benefit from the nice new backend, not just the people who knew about the "secret GPL compiler" included on the CodeFusion CD. But we decided to go ahead and use gcc rather than the CodeFusion compiler. In addition to being more stable, gcc 2.95.2 also allowed us avoid Cygnus, which by this time had been purchased by RedHat for a ridiculous sum of money. (Note: the new x86 backend in gcc 2.95.2 is what gave newer Linux distributions the significant speed boost that we all got to experience. It also gave FreeBSD 4.0 a nice speed boost over 3.3.6. Notice the difference?)
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=== Commercial concerns ===
  
=== On the soapbox ===
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Since its inception, there have been many people of various backgrounds involved with Gentoo Linux development. And I wasn't surprised to find that our developers had wildly different opinions of how we should approach the money-making end of Gentoo Linux. Basically, there were two groups of developers: one group was generally opposed to money-making pursuits, while the other group was excited about helping Gentoo Linux become a successful commercial product. This was an expected split; the first group saw commercial involvement as a corrupting influence, while the second saw no such negative associations.
  
Thanks to this and other experiences, I've learned a lot about for-profit open source companies. There's absolutely nothing bad about being a for-profit open source company. Nor is there anything morally wrong with producing proprietary closed-source software, if that's what you'd like to do. But it doesn't make any sense for open source companies to subvert or refuse to cooperate with the rest of the open source world, either by not supporting the GPL or by any other means. This is a practical point that clearly makes business sense.
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In the Enoch days, I used to waver on this issue and didn't really know the right approach. I recognized the fact that distributions like Debian were truly committed to free distribution of their software. I liked that. Compared to other commercial distributions, they made things easy for the user by providing detailed instructions on their Web site. That was a good thing, and something I wanted to emulate.
  
Open source companies should realize that the free exchange of ideas and code is what they profit from. By opposing things like the standard GPL practices, they undermine the environment they rely upon to prosper and grow. If open source is the soil from which your business has sprouted, it makes sense to keep the soil healthy.
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At the same time, I really wanted Gentoo Linux to be commercially successful. I struggled to find a balance, but never really found one until recently.
  
I understand that there's a temptation to keep at least some information secret for short-term financial gain. Advanced code or special techniques provide a coveted competitive advantage, which could potentially result in increased sales and profit. But if the goal is to be the sole provider of a product, the product should be commercial rather than open source. Open source does not allow for exclusive access to the inner workings of anything. That's what it means.
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=== What to do? ===
  
=== Back to Enoch ===
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So, how are we planning to balance commercial and non-commercial interests? The key is to remember our foundation -- the foundation of Gentoo Linux is Open Source software. Thus, the foundation for all our endeavors must focus on Open Source. It's not good enough to just acknowledge Open Source software, or just to use it. We must also encourage its development and distribution, and never oppose this stance for commercial gain. More importantly, we must never structure our business model so that there's a temptation to restrict the free distribution of our sources. Our development team needs to be open and accessible to the public, and free distribution of Gentoo Linux must not only be allowed, but encouraged. We need to be Open Source advocates, not just in word, but in action also.
  
Now, I'll step down from my soapbox and continue my story.
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If a company wants to use Gentoo Linux for a commercial Linux-based technology, they can just grab the contents of our CVS tree and start using it, since all our work is distributed under the GPL. We don't want to limit the use of our work in any way, except to ensure that all derivative products comply with the GNU Public License.
  
As Enoch became more and more refined, we decided that a name change was in order, and "Gentoo Linux" was born. By this time we had released a couple of versions of Enoch (now Gentoo), and were racing to get to Gentoo Linux version 1.0. Around this time I also decided to upgrade my old Celeron 300 box (overclocked and rock-solid at 450Mhz) to a brand-new Abit BP6 (a dual Celeron board that had just hit the market). I sold my old box and put my dual Celeron 366 system together. After overclocking the processors to something on the order of 500Mhz, I was cruising. But I noticed that my new machine wasn't very stable.
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We'd like as many people as possible to benefit from our work, but we'd also like to benefit as much as possible from your improvements to Gentoo Linux. If you're part of a company using Gentoo Linux as a base for your product, we hope that you'll send any freely-distributable improvements to us so that we can add them to our CVS tree. That way, everyone benefits. We can continue to maintain and improve your additions, and you in turn can benefit from these improvements. We want to foster collaboration between commercial and non-commercial entities. This way, both the sysadmin using Gentoo Linux at his ISP and the corporation building a commercial server product can benefit from each other's improvements and fixes to Gentoo Linux. It's time to promote the free exchange of code between everyone. Only Open Source makes it possible.
  
Obviously my first reaction was to go back down to 2x366Mhz. But now I experienced an even stranger problem. As long as my machine kept the CPUs chugging away, the machine didn't lock up. But if I left the machine idle overnight, there was a good probability that the system would lock up completely. Yes, an idle bug -- argh! After some research, I found several other Linux users with the same problem on this particular motherboard. A chip on the BP6 (was it the PCI controller?) seemed to be flaky or out of spec, which caused Linux to lock up at idle.
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=== What does the future hold? ===
  
I was more than a wee bit upset, and because I couldn't afford to order more PC parts, Gentoo development effectively halted. I became more and more pessimistic about Linux and decided to switch over to FreeBSD. Yes, FreeBSD. And that's where I'll end this installment -- see you in Part 3. :)
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Right now, we're at the verge of releasing Gentoo Linux 1.0 (it may be available by the time you read this article on developerWorks.) But what does the future hold?
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As we move towards 2.0, I hope to continue to improve Portage, the technology at the heart of Gentoo Linux. Any major improvement to Gentoo Linux generally starts with an improvement to Portage. I'd like to continue the process of converting the majority of the code from bash to python, which will allow us to add new features like object-oriented design to our autobuild system.
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In addition to changes to Portage, I hope to continue to slowly and carefully grow our development team by finding skilled developers who share our same vision. As our development team grows, we will be able to vastly expand the number of autobuild scripts available for Gentoo Linux. But even more important than this, a slightly larger development team will give us the resources we need to continue to keep Gentoo Linux on the cutting edge of Linux technology. That's where the fun is :)
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We also hope that commercial Linux technology companies will choose Gentoo Linux as a base for their products. We currently have one such relationship and we hope to have many more in the future. These kinds of collaborations promise to be lots of fun and to be a great benefit to all Gentoo Linux users.
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In the end, our primary goal is to contribute something meaningful to the Linux community. Although there are many Linux distributions to choose from, we know that Gentoo Linux offers something that really isn't available anywhere else. We're excited about the future of Gentoo Linux development, and we hope you are too.  
 
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Latest revision as of 07:20, December 31, 2014

This article concludes his story -- about how he ended up creating his own distribution called Gentoo Linux. He wraps up the series by telling how he left the Linux world to move to FreeBSD, and then came back to the Linux world, restarting Gentoo Linux development with a fresh perspective. In addition to comparing Linux and FreeBSD in a number of areas, he also describe current Gentoo Linux development progress and share a future vision for the distribution.


Previous in series: Making the Distribution, Part 2

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The author strays from Linux and then returns

At the end of my previous article, I described how Gentoo Linux development had effectively been brought to a halt by a strange idle-lockup bug that I began experiencing as soon as I upgraded to a new dual-Celeron motherboard (an Abit BP6). Because I was unable to fix the problem, and at the time didn't have the funds to replace my motherboard, I decided to halt Gentoo Linux development and switch over to FreeBSD. I needed a working system, and since Linux was locking up all the time, this would be an excellent time to get familiar with a BSD operating system. So I installed FreeBSD, started learning, and didn't touch Linux at all for several months.

FreeBSD impressions

All in all, I really liked FreeBSD. I felt that the operating system was well put together and that nearly every part of the system had a consistently high-level of refinement that's almost never found in the Linux world. I enjoyed the fact that FreeBSD contained a full complement of man pages, unlike Linux where many programs only have GNU info documentation, which I don't particularly like using.

Most of all, I was impressed with FreeBSD's ports system, the technology used to maintain and upgrade the system. Unlike the Linux approach, ports didn't use binary packages but instead automatically compiled everything locally from their original sources. Whether you were installing Samba or upgrading the core system, everything was compiled right on your local machine. This approach appealed to me and was very similar to the one I had been creating under Gentoo Linux. In this and many other ways, FreeBSD's design agreed with my sensibilities as a developer and a system administrator. For this reason, FreeBSD provided a comfortable work environment for many months, and I'm glad I took the time to get familiar with this excellent operating system.

FreeBSD pros

A lot of the differences between Linux and FreeBSD come from their different development structures. Linux development is very decentralized, and we rely on distributions to pull in and unite the various pieces of Linux scattered throughout the Internet. Compare this to FreeBSD and the other BSDs (OpenBSD and NetBSD), where there's a unified development team plugging away at a single, unified set of sources. Well, at least each BSD has its own set of unified sources. This can be a good thing, and results in FreeBSD not having a "patched together" feel like many Linux distributions do.

Next, we can compare the technology under the hood. Many a FreeBSD fan will assert that FreeBSD is better suited to being a server than Linux is. They'll tell you that FreeBSD is better under high loads, and has a better TCP/IP stack. If you're comparing Linux 2.2 or earlier with FreeBSD, I'd have to agree. FreeBSD is a great server OS, that's for sure. But, that's just Linux 2.2 and earlier. I happen to be a big fan of the 2.4 test kernels that I've been running. They're really, really great and contain a nice TCP/IP stack and a totally redesigned "netfilter" system that really rocks. In the end, I think that Linux will be the one to set new performance standards and make free UNIX servers even more competitive versus their commercial counterparts.

FreeBSD cons

As for the desktop, rather than the server world, there's really no comparison -- Linux is where the action is. All the latest desktop developments appear on Linux first, and Linux is ahead in its support of accelerated 3D graphics and sound cards. With Linux 2.4 approaching, Linux will continue its dominance in this area.

The one thing I don't like about FreeBSD is its use of the UFS filesystem. While UFS is more reliable and rugged than ext2, it's also mind-numbingly slow. It's possible to use a special UFS extension called soft updates, which is able to speed up the filesystem by aggregating IO operations into bigger chunks. While soft updates improves UFS tremendously, I can't say that UFS really outperforms ext2 in any way. Of course, it's more reliable, so FreeBSD ends up beating Linux in the filesystem war. Again, at least this is true when comparing older Linux 2.2 distributions to FreeBSD.

However, the tables turn when we start to compare modern Linux 2.2 and Linux 2.4 to FreeBSD. ReiserFS (a new journalling filesystem available for Linux) is just amazing. Linux also has ext3, IBM's JFS, and XFS to look forward to, from which we expect excellent performance and reliability as well. As of now, ReiserFS gives Linux a major speed advantage over FreeBSD, and is one of the reasons I believe that Linux 2.4 overturns many of the old arguments of FreeBSD's superiority over Linux.

Back to Gentoo Linux development

After a few months, I decided to rejoin the Linux world and get Gentoo Linux running on a new development box. At first, the decision to restart Gentoo Linux development was more of a business decision -- I had invested a lot of my time in becoming Linux-knowledgeable, and it would be a waste to throw all this knowledge away by sticking with BSD. However, shortly after I began updating Gentoo Linux, I found several new reasons why Linux was worth switching back to, namely all the filesystem and kernel improvements mentioned above. FreeBSD was a peaceful home, but a little too boring, too staid. Linux is where the action was, where major progress was being made. There's no doubt that if you're looking for excitement and innovation, Linux is the place to be.

To me, the Linux 2.2 era was a disappointing letdown from the 2.0 era, but the 2.4 era promised to be worth the wait. So, Gentoo Linux was reborn, and I was excited.

There was another key to Gentoo Linux's rebirth -- Achim Gottinger, my development team lead. I want to take some space to thank Achim for helping me restart Gentoo Linux development. I started getting e-mails from Achim shortly before my return to the Linux world. In almost every e-mail, he'd include some new .ebuild (autobuild) scripts for Gentoo Linux, or some desperately needed bugfixes. As I restarted Gentoo Linux development, Achim continued to contribute his time and resources to help get the distribution back on its feet. Up until recently, Achim and I have been the only two people working on Gentoo Linux, and this has been by choice. Because we both have a similar vision for the distribution, and because of Achim's skill, we were able to get a tremendous amount of work done and I never really felt that adding a third developer would significantly help our progress. Now, Achim serves as the Gentoo Linux development lead, and continues to make major improvements to Gentoo Linux on an almost daily basis. We've reached the point where we're ready for others to start working on our CVS tree, and have begun to gradually and carefully expand the Gentoo Linux development team.

The new vision

I don't feel that the time I spent in the BSD world was in any way wasted. In fact, it gave me a tremendous opportunity to reflect on the happenings in the entire Linux community and how Gentoo Linux could help to improve things.

In the new version of Gentoo Linux, I made the decision to not use pgcc anymore, nor use very high optimizations to compile all binaries. Since stability was paramount, we would use reasonable ("-O2 -mpentium") optimizations but provide an easy way for users to customize these optimizations to their liking by using our autobuild system.

FreeBSD gave me a really good idea of how an autobuild system should function. I decided to add several FreeBSD features to make our autobuild system (now called Portage) a true next-generation ports system.

Portage is the heart of Gentoo Linux, and is more than a simple package management or maintenance system. Consisting of a set of build tools and build scripts, Portage allows you to rebuild the entire distribution from original sources. But more importantly to me, Portage gives the user full access to the intelligence of how Gentoo Linux was built. To us, this is very important because it means that we are documenting how to build a distribution while at the same time moving Gentoo Linux development forward. And, because Portage is easy to use and understand, we hope that it will open up Linux internals to even more people, so that others can begin to contribute to our sources and scripts.

Portage is our way of opening up Linux technology to others. By studying the autobuild scripts, you can see how all the various packages fit together into a unified whole. If necessary, you can grab our entire CVS tree and hack away at it, producing your own custom distribution or Linux-based technology. We believe that this is a good thing -- we want to give people the knowledge they need to take Linux into new realms.

Commercial concerns

Since its inception, there have been many people of various backgrounds involved with Gentoo Linux development. And I wasn't surprised to find that our developers had wildly different opinions of how we should approach the money-making end of Gentoo Linux. Basically, there were two groups of developers: one group was generally opposed to money-making pursuits, while the other group was excited about helping Gentoo Linux become a successful commercial product. This was an expected split; the first group saw commercial involvement as a corrupting influence, while the second saw no such negative associations.

In the Enoch days, I used to waver on this issue and didn't really know the right approach. I recognized the fact that distributions like Debian were truly committed to free distribution of their software. I liked that. Compared to other commercial distributions, they made things easy for the user by providing detailed instructions on their Web site. That was a good thing, and something I wanted to emulate.

At the same time, I really wanted Gentoo Linux to be commercially successful. I struggled to find a balance, but never really found one until recently.

What to do?

So, how are we planning to balance commercial and non-commercial interests? The key is to remember our foundation -- the foundation of Gentoo Linux is Open Source software. Thus, the foundation for all our endeavors must focus on Open Source. It's not good enough to just acknowledge Open Source software, or just to use it. We must also encourage its development and distribution, and never oppose this stance for commercial gain. More importantly, we must never structure our business model so that there's a temptation to restrict the free distribution of our sources. Our development team needs to be open and accessible to the public, and free distribution of Gentoo Linux must not only be allowed, but encouraged. We need to be Open Source advocates, not just in word, but in action also.

If a company wants to use Gentoo Linux for a commercial Linux-based technology, they can just grab the contents of our CVS tree and start using it, since all our work is distributed under the GPL. We don't want to limit the use of our work in any way, except to ensure that all derivative products comply with the GNU Public License.

We'd like as many people as possible to benefit from our work, but we'd also like to benefit as much as possible from your improvements to Gentoo Linux. If you're part of a company using Gentoo Linux as a base for your product, we hope that you'll send any freely-distributable improvements to us so that we can add them to our CVS tree. That way, everyone benefits. We can continue to maintain and improve your additions, and you in turn can benefit from these improvements. We want to foster collaboration between commercial and non-commercial entities. This way, both the sysadmin using Gentoo Linux at his ISP and the corporation building a commercial server product can benefit from each other's improvements and fixes to Gentoo Linux. It's time to promote the free exchange of code between everyone. Only Open Source makes it possible.

What does the future hold?

Right now, we're at the verge of releasing Gentoo Linux 1.0 (it may be available by the time you read this article on developerWorks.) But what does the future hold?

As we move towards 2.0, I hope to continue to improve Portage, the technology at the heart of Gentoo Linux. Any major improvement to Gentoo Linux generally starts with an improvement to Portage. I'd like to continue the process of converting the majority of the code from bash to python, which will allow us to add new features like object-oriented design to our autobuild system.

In addition to changes to Portage, I hope to continue to slowly and carefully grow our development team by finding skilled developers who share our same vision. As our development team grows, we will be able to vastly expand the number of autobuild scripts available for Gentoo Linux. But even more important than this, a slightly larger development team will give us the resources we need to continue to keep Gentoo Linux on the cutting edge of Linux technology. That's where the fun is :)

We also hope that commercial Linux technology companies will choose Gentoo Linux as a base for their products. We currently have one such relationship and we hope to have many more in the future. These kinds of collaborations promise to be lots of fun and to be a great benefit to all Gentoo Linux users.

In the end, our primary goal is to contribute something meaningful to the Linux community. Although there are many Linux distributions to choose from, we know that Gentoo Linux offers something that really isn't available anywhere else. We're excited about the future of Gentoo Linux development, and we hope you are too.


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Looking for people interested in testing and documenting Docker support! Contact Daniel Robbins for more info.

About the Author

Daniel Robbins is best known as the creator of Gentoo Linux and author of many IBM developerWorks articles about Linux. Daniel currently serves as Benevolent Dictator for Life (BDFL) of Funtoo Linux. Funtoo Linux is a Gentoo-based distribution and continuation of Daniel's original Gentoo vision.

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