Review of Exherbo Linux (From A User’s Perspective)

Exherbo is a Linux distribution led by a small team of opinionated developers. It’s lean, to say the least, but when they give you a solution for something you can believe it’s well engineered and that it does that task well – nothing more.

Technically, Exherbo is most similar to Gentoo. It inherited some of Gentoo’s parts, and a fair bit of the mentality. You get deep configuration and understanding of your system. In fact, it’s required for use. If you don’t understand your hardware and the basic components of a Linux system, you’ll have a hard time getting it running. Don’t let that scare you off, though; it’s an excellent platform for learning.

That said, it’s obviously meant for a subset of users. Let me describe some things about me that led me to Exherbo. I like to understand everything that’s going on at some level of depth. I can’t rest until I understand, and I mean that literally – I’ve been up late most of the week trying to get my wireless working perfectly. I also like a lean system without a lot of moving parts that I didn’t ask for. It’s harder to understand what you don’t know is there. I appreciate performance and stability, like anyone, but I believe they are borne of simplicity.

I’m a long-time Gentoo user, and this reminds me of the early days of Gentoo before the committee. Progress is rapid and parts of the machine are being swapped out as it runs. The developers are passionate about what they’re doing, and if you agree with them, it’s a great place to be. One of the more vocal developers, Ciaran McCreesh, is a good example. He comes off as abrasive, but take his messages without emotion. I usually agree with him and he definitely writes good code. (He’s also a vim devotee.)

If you just want things to work, don’t use it. In fact, until last week, they actively discouraged anyone from using it. That warning has been lifted since I did my install, and they even added some user documentation. (Think of it as crib notes for your install – Gentoo’s handbook run through a compactor.) If you want to learn how your system works, from the hardware all the way to the user environment, give Exherbo a shot.

A side benefit of building a Linux system from scratch (with any low-level distribution) is that you get to see all the amazing work put forth in the free software community.