Date with the Gentoo Oxen

This was a somewhat unexpected decision from me. I have never before seriously looked at Gentoo as I was focused on all of the different Debian variants and Debian-based distributions. However, I read that Gentoo is truly powerful and in essence can be anything the user wants it to be – ranging from a monstrous powerhouse to a small, nimble operating system. There was of course a catch to that outstanding potency – Gentoo has to be built from scratch. Seeing how all of the core distributions (Arch Linux, Debian, BSD, etc.) have customized, easy-to-use derivatives, I decided to do some digging and find one for Gentoo as well…

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DistroWatch.com again proved to be a valuable source of information. The most reasonable Gentoo derivative turned out to be Sabayon Linux (though not like the one in the attached photo). Without further ado I launched a LiveCD and began the installation.

Some things I noticed after trying several LiveCDs – Sabayon Linux is not exactly Gentoo. It might seem like a good means of trying out Gentoo and getting to know the distribution, but to be fair, it is not.

Firstly, the GUI installer failed to work properly on every single LiveCD I tested. I then read about Gentoo itself and used the text-mode installer Anaconda. This somehow worked and I could boot into the newly installed system.

Unfortunately, the second problem occurred. I could not install anything through Portage (Gentoo’s package manager), because all of the packages were initially masked and I didn’t know how to unmask them properly. After some reading and tinkering I managed to compile some packages in an unmasked state, but in the end Portage showed errors and this led me nowhere.

Back then I felt that Sabayon Linux is a ‘hit or miss’ initiative. It is meant to make Gentoo accessible to new Linux users, but at the same time forsakes the intrinsic complexity of Gentoo. Even pure Gentoo users have problems with Sabayon users, as people running Sabayon Linux sometimes ask for Sabayon-specific advice on Gentoo forums. Then they are often met with a cold response that ‘Sabayon is not Gentoo’. Truth be told, Gentoo is not for everyone. I tried installing it myself following the official guide (very thorough, by the by), but only managed to get the core system running. Installing the graphical interface (the X Window System) was a too hard of an ordeal. Hence, I recommend playing with Gentoo only to advanced Linux users. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart…

Overall, the ‘date’ was a somewhat depressing one. Gentoo told me I’m clearly not ready for that sort of commitment. Thereby, I decided to hone my Linux skills before I approach Gentoo once more…

 

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32-bit vs 64-bit and Why Should I Even Care?

The question I put forward is quite tricky. Despite the fact that it seems to have a definite answer, it’s more a matter of personal taste.

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Firstly, I will picture the situation from a Windows user perspective. A brand new PC laptop or desktop will contain Windows by default. A year ago that operating system would have been Windows 7, now it is either Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 – all in 64-bit. If you want to have a 32-bit version, you have to buy it separately. Occasionally, Best Buy or other vendors offer older, refurbished PCs with Windows 7 32-bit (usually computers with 2 GB RAM or less), but it is getting harder and harder to find such a bargain. Let us then assume that a typical Windows user has a 64-bit Windows 7 or 8/8.1 as he/she refuses to pay additional money for a new operating system or is fully satisfied with the one he/she has.

Now, since 64-bit Windows can properly address 4+GB RAM and allocate that much RAM to 64-bit applications, how can we take advantage of that? The answer is – not so much…

Software offered by Microsoft, Adobe and some other companies is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Hence, one can get Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office in 64-bit editions. If someone doesn’t like Internet Explorer as the default browser, there is also Opera and Waterfox – both in 64-bit. Blender, a popular 3D graphics software is available in 64-bit, as well.

This sounds like a lot, but the majority of software is still 32-bit only. For instance, games. As a vivid gamer I couldn’t really take full advantage of the RAM I had, because my games would never address more than 2 GB RAM. This was a significant bottleneck in the case of Bethesda titles, such as Skyrim and Fallout, which relied heavily on RAM to pre-load content. In addition, there are constant compatibility issues between 64-bit applications and their 32-bit libraries, for example 64-bit internet browsers and 32-bit extensions. Even Microsoft claims that it is better to use their 32-bit Office suite as it is more solid.  In general, at least for a while longer 32-bit will be the prevalent format for Windows.

The big question remains though – Should I care?

If you use your computer for Internet browsing, writing documents, basic calculations, and such, my answer is ‘no’. Currently, the only advantages of 32-bit Windows versions are:

– Using native 32-bit software that for some obscure reason fails to run properly on 64-bit systems

– Using very old 8-bit or 16-bit software that will most likely not run at all on 64-bit systems

– Using less RAM

– Running on older hardware

All of those advantages are case-specific. 8-bit and 16-bit software can be initiated through various emulators (for example, Dosbox) and 32-bit software usually does work properly on 64-bit Windows.

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Things stand a bit differently in the Lands of Linux. There, the majority of software packages are available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, so that one could technically use a 64-bit only operating system. 32-bit systems are more geared towards older, single core PCs, which lack PAE necessary to run 64-bit operating systems. Also, contrary to popular belief, 64-bit software doesn’t consume more resources and the boost in performance is enormous. Clearly, the open-source community is ready for ‘a dawn of a new (64-bit) era’. What is actually preventing that from happening is commercial companies. Drivers, Windows applications ported to Linux, gaming platforms and games themselves are almost entirely in 32-bit format. That is somewhat puzzling, seeing how many pieces of software are already in 64-bit.

This leads me to the conclusion that the conversion from a 32-bit to a 64-bit computing world is a matter of ‘won’t’ not ‘can’t’.

The Peppermint Fields

After days of venturing through the forest of Bodhi, all ragged and bruised, I stumbled upon the most peculiar view I have seen in my life. Far into the horizon stretched a vast field of what would be later known to me as Peppermint OS. I took a deep breathe and inhaled the refreshing smell of peppermint…

That is exactly how I felt about Peppermint OS. It was light, refreshing and had that spark to it. As I mentioned in one of my previous entries, Peppermint OS is considered ‘the Linux Mint of Lubuntu’. Although quite inaccurate, this statement is not so far from truth.

Looking at the basic components of this distribution, we have Chromium as our pre-installed Internet browser, LXDE as the default desktop environment, PCManFM as the file manager and Openbox as the window manager. Apart from that we also have a number of office applications which can help us get started with writing documents, preparing spreadsheets or reading .pdf files. Honestly, that is nothing special as most distributions I’ve worked with so far contained all of those or their equivalents. However, there were a few things I found truly refreshing about Peppermint OS…

Firstly, some of the applications aren’t really installed on your hard drive, but are rather applets, which link to specific sites on the Internet through independent instances of Chromium. That is exactly what authors of Peppermint OS meant by cloud-centric when talking about the operating system’s reliance on external content. Additional applets can be easily created using Ice, also part of the default installation. Back in my Windows days (how hilarious does it sound, eh?) every time I saw someone trying to incorporate a browser applet as part of an offline application, I would honestly go mad. By default that browser was Internet Explorer, probably not the most reasonable choice for handling complex scripts. Nevertheless, Peppermint OS does it right! Kudos to the authors!

Secondly, something I have not seen in any distribution before – games. Yes, Peppermint OS comes with a few of those pre-installed and I really liked them, especially the system’s hallmark Entanglement. The game is yet another Chromium-based applet, this time relying on Adobe Flash Player (also immediately accessible and functional). It reminded me of the good old office games present on Windows (Freecell, Solitaire, Minesweeper, etc.).

Thirdly, as Peppermint OS uses Ubuntu LTS repositories, the user immediately has access to countless applications through the Synaptic Package Manager. Luckily for me, a complete set of nVidia drivers (including nvidia-prime) was present.

A bit unfortunately, Peppermint OS is not without shortcomings. For instance, browser applets in reality require more resources than normal applications. Chromium, although possibly the best browser for Linux, is definitely not the lightest. Therefore, after launching several applets at the same time RAM usage can really skyrocket.

Still, I felt that Peppermint OS, much like its vast metaphorical fields of peppermint, will always be a place for me to return to when in need of refreshment…