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What Is Gentoo?

written by: KateG•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 11/14/2009

If you are wondering if Gentoo is for you, or just wondering what the heck it is, then this is the piece for you.

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    Gentoo is an operating system that comes to us from the world of Linux. The odds are if you know anything about Linux,you know that Linux comes in a wide variety of different types, unlike Windows and Macintosh systems which only have 1 current version. The Linux operating system has a wide variety of current versions each with its own traits, that are often referred to as flavors.

    This analogy is quite apt when you look at the many varieties that are available, each of which can give you a different taste of the Linux world.If this diversity in the world of Linux is similar to looking at all of the species on the planet of earth at once, then the Gentoo version of Linux is a microcosm of the world of Linux. Kind of like the technology based version of a small and isolated tropical island which has taken a small number of species and made a variety of new forms of life from that small gene pool.

    In this case, the small bit of starting material is the basic code of the Gentoo operating system. And the abilities to create diversity is thanks, not to evolution, but instead to something called portage.Portage allows a user of Gentoo to adapt the system up or down in order to meet their needs. This means that Gentoo Linux can be easily used for just about anything, from working on a complex server with a need for high security, to a home based user who wants to be able to play video games.

    The system of portage gives the user the ability to download only the parts of the operating system needed, you get the most of what you need to run your secure network or complete your latest quest in the World of Warcraft.

    Portage is also a benefit when it comes time to upgrade, as you will only get the parts that are relevant to how you use your system. Which is good, because you don’t want to burden your machine's memory with too many useless files. Now that we understand how Gentoo creates a wide variety of system configurations --and there are more than 1,000 of them currently-- we can talk in general terms about how to use Gentoo. Since there is a great level of variability with this system we'll only be talking about the base system.

    Gentoo is navigated with a desktop that you may find to be hauntingly familiar if you use Windows. The programs are, for the most part, stored in a main menu that is accessed by a button on the lower left hand side of the screen. They also use those familiar desktop icons to make document storage and retrieval easy. The system is fairly intuitive and does not require you to know a lot about how to use the command prompts for most of your day to day tasks.

    Gentoo is one of the most variable systems that you can use. It's strong centered, and can change and grow with you as your needs and abilities as a Linux user grow.

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    The Gentoo DesktopThe Desktop in ActionThe Logo