Linux for experts


I've tried many Linux distributions, from early Mandrake to free SuSE and ran Gentoo for many years since its early days. Then I shifted my priorities from building packages to having a life. Recently I returned to Gentoo with a strategy and clear motivation: no clutter, no Canonical and no systemd. After half a year I'm up and running again. A big desktop machine works from time to time through the large tasks requiring processing power. For everyday work I use a laptop, Lenovo G505s and a mini-ITX platform hosts all the important services like a backup RAID, web server, file/ media server and databases (SQLite, PostGreSQL), Gentoo binary package host. The following paragraphs outline the foundation of my motivation, to invest a little more time again, now more efficiently.

First the hard facts:

I use hardware as long as I can. With Gentoo I can run a small XFCE-based system in 2019 on a laptop from 2005 (HP Pavillion ze6000). It doesn't compile larger packages very well like Libreoffice or a decent web browser. But I can make use of distributed compiling utilizing a larger machine. Delivering binary packages, even cross-compiled ones, is another alternative.

One of the downsides is the need for expert knowledge. This in turn requires decent amounts of time to gain this knowledge. Using a computer means more to me than just saving personal letters into my personal directory. I need folding marks, date of writing the letter as well as my adress/ header/ footer setup correctly. The easiest approach for this was LateX/ the dinbrief-template – nothing less.

Some might think »Why is this simple?« John Maeda already wrote »simple does not mean easy to understand«. I'd like to add easy to understand for everybody. Writing a few E-mail responses doesn't require in depth knowledge of an operating system or web technology. Anyone can click any attachment and follow the simple steps to earn a lot of money by simply sending personal bank account details. And after the macro was executed a reboot leaves the »that'll do«-user with an encrypted harddrive and the request to pay a decent amount of crypto currency to get a key to unlock holiday pictures and adult content.

I could also take a more beginner friendly Linux version like Ubuntu or even Debian, maybe a Red Hat product like CentOS. But I like it raw and without feature creeping assistants or super services. To run a desktop machine it is not necessary to pay attention to the dependencies of services beyond the run levels of Init-V-system. I'm also of the opinion, that it is neither a good idea to copy other OS' desktop clutter like ballooning messages, auto-mounts with auto-executes or desktop search. Have a set of sharp tools doing one thing and doing it good.

It is like taking a good photo. The process doesn't happen in editing. You can't put in what isn't there. Taking good raw material makes the later stages to the final product much easier. Thus I don't need setuid-bits in mount scripts but can make use of FUSE and/ or fstab-entries. So I can make use of half of the RAM as in-memory-disk much faster than any SSD and speeding up anything from database queries to build processes. And for years I could re-purpose the entire swap-partition as suspend-to-disk-memory. My systems never swap anything out, they're too slim.

So what helps me a lot to get along: