I'm giving the new version of Vidalinux, a sort of more friendly version of Gentoo, another whirl on my laptop. The second beta is a vast improvement on what amounted to a time consuming, somewhat interesting, and ultimately fruitless attempt to install the first beta. The first version is lacking in PCMCIA support so I scrapped it very quickly. I assume that it would be possible to get the first version up and running with a fair amount of burning source packages to CD and whatnot but that seems kind of contrary to the intent of the distribution. It was a lot smoother this time around with the exception of having to install my own pppoe software in order to get networking up and running. Rp-pppoe is a pretty small package and would probably be a worthy inclusion given the huge amount of eyecandy-ish packages included.
All of that said, for the second beta I think they're doing an excellent job. Nearly all of the show stopper problems that I had with the first beta have been fixed and the installation while painfully long on a slower machine and ultimately unconfigurable during the install seems like it's shaping up quickly. I didn't see any obvious snags during the install that would matter to the average user. The lack of detailed information about what the installer is actually doing drove me crazy but that is a cranky personal preference and is probably beneficial for most folks.
Having a source based distribution (albeit one that was installed with a lot of precompiled packages) is making me a lot more conservative about what I install although the package included are a pretty solid start. I'm not crazy about the focus on Gnome but that has more to do with a general phobia of desktop environments more than anything else. It was a trivial 20 minute aside to get Fluxbox and Ion installed and configured for a lighter environment more suited for this tired old man of a machine. Emacs took a little longer but given the amount of use it gets was worth the install time. Apache and PHP are definitely going to be more painful but I'll set those up to install before bed. It's really nice just to have a functional system as a base to work from with a pretty minimal amount of time spent on the initial install. Gentoo proper really doesn't have an installer per se so it's difficult to just walk away from it and return to a working system. That, more than any of the other difficulties encountered installing on a machine as old as this laptop, is really what prevented me from making all of my computers Gentoo-based.
I imagine that in eventuality Vidalinux will have the same relationship with Gentoo as Libranet has to Debian. There are still some bugs and sticky spots that need to be smoothed out and I'm utterly unconvinced that Open Office is the right choice for a default and unconfigurable install (it was one of the first things that I uninstalled) but Vida is still way ahead of most Gentoo implementations that I've seen so far. Like anything else based on a more popular and well known distribution as long as they stay in sync with the Gentoo tree Vida could really pick up a lot of users over time. I'm not sure what the current Gentoo install is looking like since the last time I had to actually start from scratch was Christmas break of last year but the implementation of anaconda along with the hardware detection is already pretty far ahead of the actual Gentoo installation process. I'd much rather go through that lengthy and sometimes tedious process when I have the time and CPU cycles if only because I get the exact machine that I want without fighting with the package management system. The unfortunate part is that time doesn't always run on a Christmas break table so Vida will more than likely come in very handy if I actually break a desktop install.
If I find any other major problems in the next couple of days I might tack it onto the end of this. Until then I'm going to try to get a little shut eye.