Gentoo in Transition?

Now that the founder and chief architect of the Gentoo Linux project, Daniel Robbins, has resigned from his post, what’s next for Gentoo’s growth ambitions with enterprise distributions?

On the heels of Gentoo Project’s latest Linux distribution, version 2004.1 which came out today, contributors and project managers said Robbins’ departure may help spur Gentoo to new acceptance among enterprise players.

“Daniel’s departure from Gentoo was preceded by a lot of flak from
developers regarding the constant delays in getting a not-for-profit
organization set up, thereby transitioning Gentoo away from Daniel’s sole ownership (in terms of intellectual property, which had been owned by Daniel’s Gentoo Technologies, Inc.),” Gentoo’s head of developer relations, Jon Portnoy, told

“Daniel felt that his commitment to Gentoo was being questioned, which was very stressful for him on a personal level. He’s stated that he wishes to move on with his life.”

Gentoo Linux considers itself to be a “metadistribution” because of its extreme customizability and that it’s not a “one size fits all” approach, project members said. Gentoo’s Portage system essentially allows users to build a custom Gentoo Linux installation from a tree of over 6000 maintained packages. Gentoo currently
has over 200 developers and according to the group’s statistics, “tens of thousands of users.”

The Gentoo approach to building a Linux distribution is seen by Portnoy as a good fit for enterprise customers.

“Enterprise users typically don’t want a vendor to dictate what they’ll use; they want to be able to say ‘we want X, Y, and Z’ and deploy that,” Portnoy told “Gentoo’s from-source approach and
total flexibility means that it takes very little effort to deliver that
kind of customized system.”

Portnoy said he believes it is more important to the free software
community that there are more than only a pair of vendors deciding the
direction enterprise Linux takes. “Moreover, it’s important that enterprises not feel ‘locked in’ to those vendors through the practical necessity of having reliable services and support,” Portnoy told “The more distributions that are accessible to enterprises, the better.”

The lead developer of Gentoo’s enterprise distribution efforts also said it’s important that more than two distributions exist in the enterprise space. “I also think that it is important for community-based distributions, such as Gentoo and Debian, to maintain a spot on the enterprise/corporate radar screen,” said Kurt Leiber, Gentoo enterprise project lead.

“Community-based distributions are less encumbered by short-term goals such as quarterly profits and stock prices, so they can act as a counter-balance to the Red Hat’s and SUSE’s of the world that have to think about those things. I think it’s good to have other distributions out there to give users another choice,” he told

“Gentoo is being widely used in corporations today, from large Fortune 50 corporations to large Universities to smaller mom-and-pop shops,” Lieber added. “The key similarity between all our users seems to be a more advanced level of knowledge and comfort with Linux.”

Gentoo is not considered the easiest point and click type distribution out there, Leiber admitted, but he stressed that it has its own particular appeal.

“The most common reason I hear for switching to Gentoo is because we do the best job of letting them do what they need to in order to get their job done,” Leiber told “We don’t have a lot of setup wizards and guided configuration tools, which many people list as a drawback of Gentoo. However, from a lot of the people I’ve talked to, they view it as one of our key strengths.”

One of the critical differences between a non-enterprise distribution and an enterprise distribution is a certain degree of predictability and stability in the code base in order to plan upgrades and maintain application dependencies.

Gentoo does not currently have that sort of predictability in its package building Portage tree. However Leiber argued that the reality of a full Gentoo Linux Enterprise distribution is not that far off.

“If we had the cash and resources right now, we could probably have at least an initial version out in six months. A lot of what we need is mostly there. We just need to tweak it a bit.

“The initial version probably wouldn’t have much more than the
stable/predicatable portage tree but for a lot of folks, that’s the biggest hurdle that Gentoo gives them right now.”

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