Linux comes full circle?

John Gay johngay at eircom.net
Wed Jan 29 05:24:35 PST 2003


Or History is destined to repeat itself.

Back in the old days:
When Men were REAL Men,
Women were REAL Women,
And small, fuzzy blue creatures from Alpha Centari were REAL small, fuzzy 
blue creatures from Alpha Centari . . .
Sorry, wrong list ;-)

Beck in the days when programers were REAL programmers and had to compile 
everything from scratch:
A young Computer Programming student who didn't know any better decided to 
build his own Operating System. It grew and became very popular among the 
programming elite. Mainly because the only way to use it was to compile it 
under some other operating system first.

As the system became more stable, and more people started using it, many 
different pre-compiled versions came out. Each of these had their own 
benefits, but they became the norm. Rarely did anyone compile for themselves 
any more. Now it was easy to just install from bootable disks, CD's and DVD's.

Now we find ourselves back where more and more people ARE compiling from 
scratch again. Thanks to this particular project, along with several others, 
it's no longer the domain of the programming elite. Many people with limited 
Linux experience are managing to do it. The real question is, WHY?

My first reason for trying it was I wanted to run my favourite Desktop, KDE 
on an old PentiumMMX box and the Debian, compiled for 386 was just too slow. 
After trying re-compiling a few packages for improved performance, I was 
pointed to this project. With the excelent documantation to hold my hand, I 
was able to compile a full KDE system from scratch in almost two weeks.

The added benefit was the process explains what is being installed and why 
it's needed. This gave me a greater understanding of Linux in general. So, 
we'll call this the second reason to compile from scratch.

Third, there are many different processors in home computers these days. Each 
has different levels of optimizations and accelerations available. Debian is 
compiled for 386 as the lowest common denominator. Mandrake is compiled for 
Pentium, since many systems now are Pentium or higher. Also, GCC can not 
optimize for MMX or PIII instructions, these need to be catered for in the 
sources to take advantage of them.

However, XFree86, for one DOES cater for these instructions. You can set 
flags in the host.def file to provide the extra optimizations. MPlayer also 
can take advantage of these instructions.

So this means it's more important than ever to compile from scratch to take 
advantage of the best your particular system can do.

So, in summary, Why compile from scratch?
1 To learn more about what make Linux tick and why you have so many packages 
installed.
2 You can get extra performance from older hardware by optimizing the build 
for that particular system rather than some common base system.
3 You can tailor your build for your particular system. Taking advantage of 
extra optimizations in certain packages.

The last two seem identical, but there are certain differences. On old 
hardware, it's important to compile for the right target for best 
performance. This makes a slow system run better. On newer systems, you can 
make a good system run even better.

Just my thoughts on the state of Linux today.

	John Gay

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