I used Gentoo for a few years, and at first I loved it. Mainly because of portage, but the only distro I had experience with before Gentoo was Slackware, and I used to install packages and dependencies manually, so you can see why Gentoo would was so appealing to me.
When I first began my new job, the only distro available was Ubuntu, which deep down I hated without any real reason. I guess I saw Ubuntu as being “too user-friendly” and Mandrake-ish: Bloated and sluggish. But 10 minutes into using it, I made the decision that as soon as I get home, I’m wiping out Gentoo and installing Ubuntu.
You Learn From Compiling Apps Yourself
This is somewhat true, but I don’t believe it applies to Gentoo/portage. There’s nothing educational about watching shit scroll across the screen. None. If you want a real learning experience, try Slackware or Arch. You’ll learn if you’re forced to figure out what an app depends on, and what the most efficient compile flags are for your system. With Gentoo, the app is being compiled from scratch, but you aren’t doing any work, or research, for that matter. Running 1 command and then grabbing a bite while you wait for portage to do all the work for you isn’t going to teach you more than installing an RPM.
Gentoo’s installation isn’t going to teach you much of anything either, except maybe that patience is a virtue. The Gentoo docs are great, but each step is spoon fed to you. You’re basically copying and pasting commands so you can compile all the necessary files to get you started. After installation, Gentoo is as user-friendly as Ubuntu, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.
Compiled Apps Are More Efficient Than Packages
Maybe. Prebuilt packages are usually compiled independently for each arch, and are already optimized, probably by people way more experienced in the field than you. Compiling your own apps can be slower if you don’t know what you’re doing, but even if you optimize your portage compile flags, the peformance difference between a prebuilt package for the specific arch vs an app compiled on that arch is minimal. There are too many drawbacks to compiling every app from scratch to make this tiny performance boost (which is just theoretical) worth it.
Compiling takes time. Not only does the app need to be compiled, but so does each of its dependencies. Compiling Xorg, OpenOffice, Gnome, or any big app will require that you leave the computer for a few hours, as the high load when you’re compiling something makes it unusable. System updates also take a long time, which means that…
You’re more likely to avoid updating. If you’re busy, the last thing you wanna do is drop what you’re doing for an hour just so you can update ABC app from version 2.3.0 to 2.3.1. Even security updates can be ignored if the app is big enough. I just installed about 15 new apps on Ubuntu, only took around 5 minutes in total, and 80% of that time was spent downloading the packages.
Gentoo Uses Less RAM Than Distro X, Y, or Z
By default, Gentoo is usually leaner than most distros, but that doesn’t mean you can’t easily tweak Ubuntu or any other distro to only run the apps and modules you want. Most distros use up a lot of memory because they offer a lot of functionality. Sure, you can disable nearly everything you “don’t need” and you’ll get a speedy system that runs on a stick of 256 megs of RAM, but why sacrifice functionality and aesthetics?
I’m also lazy and I hate closing programs, so I like to just keep my most used apps open. This means keeping Gimp, Mono+Tomboy Notes, Firefox with 50+ tabs (uses up 600 megs of RAM, at least), numerous gvim windows, terminals and SSH connections, numerous servers and services, Pidgin, Rythmbox, Compiz (which increases productivity, mind you), and misc apps like Agave, GColor2, MySQL query browser, etc…
I need the functionality, so I’m willing to put down money for more power instead of sacrificing my producitivity just to save a few bucks. Besides, RAM is damn cheap. I just picked up 8 GB of OZ DDR2800 (4 sticks total) for $20, brand new.
Ubuntu Has Excellent Support
This doesn’t apply to Ubuntu exclusively, but to any distro (or OS) that has an active community and great hardware support. Somewhere down the line you wake up and realize that you just want to get shit done and you want your computer to Just Work. Eventually you get tired of spending half of your time tweaking and hacking away and would like to devote as much time as possible to actual projects and work. I was shocked that my wifi worked out of the box with Ubuntu, as did everything else.
You can say that Ubuntu is to other distros what Rails or CakePHP are to CGI programming.
Ubuntu really demonstrates how far Linux has come. There’s a reason it’s so popular: It pwnz. If you want a “lean Ubuntu”, you can try Debian, which Ubuntu is based on. I use Debian for most of my servers and old boxes.