03
Jun
13

Installing Gentoo Linux on a Sunfire V440 and a Linux Rant!

Recently I got one of the Sunfire V440 machine working and tried installing Debian Linux on it. I was disappointed many packages were broken, but surprised that the openJDK worked. So I decided to go looking for another OS to install. I already have FreeBSD and NetBSD on some of my other Sparc machines, and they were relatively easy to install and configure. I was looking for something new to try so I didn’t want to use something I have already tried. Solaris unfortunately didn’t seem to be an option as it’s unclear as to whether I am able to legally use it, I don’t have a physical license for it.

So looking around I found that there are few operating systems that actually support the Sparc platform, even the newer 64 bit V9 machines. Basically the BSD systems have good support and there is some support amongst Linux distributions, but there is generally little available. I found out that Gentoo Linux had a Sparc 64bit port that should work on my system, so I decided I would give it a go.

Gentoo is a very BSD like Linux in the way that software is installed, but they take the whole thing a bit further by getting you to build your kernel and base system during the install process. So it is actually significantly more difficult to install than any of the BSD systems or other Linuxes. The investment in time is meant to pay off in the form of more efficient executables, higher performance and it can be optimised for your machine at build time.

There isn’t really an installer program, you get a basic Gentoo live CD from which you manually perform all the actions required for the installation. It is basically mandatory to follow the online guide for installation (if it’s your first time anyway). Because you install the system manually, you can set everything up exactly as you want it, but it takes much longer and it is a harder process. I had some difficulty with the Gentoo live CD in that it would have trouble talking to the CD-drive after a period of time, and some parts of the live CD did not work properly. Fortunately I was able to work around it, and if it was a more serious problem you can use any Linux live CD to install Gentoo. In fact I’d recommend you do this, the Debian install disc in rescue mode works well and would be a good option.

The process of installing Gentoo is so lengthy that I’m still in the process of setting it up! But from what I can see so far, like the BSD systems, once you have set the system up it works quite well. It is a longer process, but this is mainly because of the initial installation phase. There isn’t really an advantage to using Gentoo over BSD systems like NetBSD or FreeBSD as far as I can tell, but I haven’t finished installation and haven’t started installing packages. I’ll be interested to see if the OpenJDK works as it doesn’t build under Sparc systems on either NetBSD or FreeBSD.

This brings me to something I found annoying whilst looking around the net for a OS to install. I found on pages and articles talking about systems other than Linux, the comment section invariably had some idiot claiming that Linux was somehow superior to whatever was being talked about (Solaris was frequently derided). After now having installed and used a few different Unix like systems including NetBSD, FreeBSD, Solaris, Linux, and Haiku (BeOS ancestor) I have found Linux a bit wanting especially when installed on anything but a x86 platform.

Solaris is probably the most maligned by the Linux snobs, and I see little reason why they should apart from its commercial nature. They often claim that Solaris is slow and has lower performance when compared to Linux, even when run on the Sparc platform. Having used Solaris at University for doing most of my software development for my degree I’d have to disagree, I saw little evidence to support the claims. I ran a Linux machine at the time and it was actually slower than pretty much all the Solaris systems at the University. A large part of this was due to the bloated nature of the desktop environment that was running on my Linux at the time.

Don’t get me wrong I actually really like Linux, run it on x86 hardware, and have used it for some time. I just don’t think it’s as wonderful as the snobs claim. It is not as portable to other platforms as other systems, in particular NetBSD, go ahead check it out, I’ll wait. Something else I’ve noticed is the trend in commonly used desktop environments getting more and more bloated. Both Gnome and KDE are guilty of this, and to some extend even the base Linux distributions without X or a desktop environment are getting more bloated. Ironically this is making it behave somewhat like the most hated system by the snobs, Microsoft Windows.

Windows is probably the most derided system by the Linux snobs, they dislike many of the problems found in Windows, which technically are true. As I stated before these issues are becoming less unique to Windows, and Microsoft has been improving it systems recently, the best recent ones I can think of being Windows 7 or before that Windows XP (after the bugs got ironed out). There are however a number of factors that make Windows a better system than Linux in many circumstances, which the snobs never mention.

My main beef is with the arrogance and snobbery of these Linux snobs is the thinking that pretty much everything is inferior to their sacred distro (yes they even fight over distros). In my experience pretty much all the different systems are useful, interesting, or fill a need that the others do not. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been created and achieved any success at all! I’ve found it very interesting and challenging to try other systems, and I’d recommend that any technically minded person should do the same. You might just find something better suited to what you need.

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