Daniel Lemire's blog

, 3 min read

Comparing Linux distros: gentoo vs. Mandrake

Want help choosing your Linux distribution? I use both gentoo and Mandrake… Let’s see if gentoo is right for you.

About gentoo

Short story: great for a machine you really care about and plan to keep a long time. Bad for a machine you rarely use and just want to work now.


  • Installation might be manual, but it is very well documented… See http://www.gentoo.org/…/handbook-x86.xml. Comparatively, Mandrake doesn’t need documentation for the installation, since the installation takes half an hour and is automated.
  • Community support is excellent. Bugs get fixed quickly. Gentoo.org bugzilla is beautiful and works well. See http://bugs.gentoo.org/. Comparatively, Mandrake has nothing like bugzilla, but rather “paid support”.
  • They support far more packages than RedHat or Mandrake (see http://www.gentoo-portage.com/). No more “hunt down this RPM” crap. This morning, I wanted spamassassin… I did “emerge spamassassin”… it went through, downloaded the necessary packages and installed everything. One command and the stuff is installed. Comparatively, Mandrake doesn’t have RPMs for everything and when it doesn’t it is really a pain. Even if Mandrake has the RPMs, finding them can be hard.
  • [main argument in favor of gentooo] I don’t see the day when my gentoo install will be outdated. I started out with kernel 2.4, I’m now using kernel 2.6… and if there is a kernel 2.8, I’ll move to it. No problem. You do “emerge sync; emerge -uD world” and your machine is
    synced with the latest packages. You can do this nightly though I don’t recommend it. Comparatively, my fresh Mandrake install is already outdated and short of reinstalling the whole thing, I have no way to upgrade it.


  • It takes longer to install, because you have no wizard. You do have a CD that gives you a nice shell, but from there, it is manual labor. Allocate a day to have something ready for actual work. Mandrake installs in half an hour.
  • Setting up stuff is all done through command line utilities, except for what KDE or Gnome provide. You basically cannot stay away from hacking /etc files. Comparatively, with Mandrake, you have GUI tools for everything.
  • You compile everything from source, so installing software takes longer. On rare occasions, something can fail to compile and you have to check up the bug reports.
  • The portage system is great, but there is a small learning curve. You have learn about package masking, portage keywords and so on. There is a tool called “epm” which allows you to mimick the “rpm” command under gentoo, but it is not the good old rpm. Comparatively,
    Mandrake uses RPMs which I knew well.
  • The portage system (“emerge” command) is relatively slow. There can be a 5 seconds delay before the emerge plan gets computed. Comparatively, installing a rpm is very quick.
  • I find that some programs like OpenOffice are snappier under Mandrake. Probably has to do with compile options. You could tweak gentoo to get the same results, but I don’t have time for this.