Linux users - hell, even BSD users - have been known to criticise Gentoo for its installation method, usually because these users tried installing Gentoo and failed. This is a bad mindset to have; while graphical installers are superb, the aim of Gentoo is not to be newbie friendly. Unfortunately, newbies tend to have little patience and open their mouths wide for a large corner of the Linux community to hear, but the problem is not with Gentoo; it is with the user.
The first time I installed Gentoo, it took me a good three hours just to get a base system installed - only because I reread each line in the handbook at least five times to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I was extremely paranoid. I ran into some issues, but they were all my own fault, not Gentoo’s fault.
These days, Gentoo takes me under an hour to get a base system going, and about 6 to get a fully functional OS up and running with X and KDE. I never run into problems because instead of blindly reading the documentation (this is a bit of an oxymoron) I understood what was happening in each step, and why it had to happen. And let me tell you, knowing what’s going on puts you into a whole new world of comfort using Gentoo.
Initially, I felt like I was walking a tight rope; that anything could break at any moment. But an OS is only as stable as the user’s skill and knowledge is sound. In other words, if you know what you’re doing you could turn Gentoo into anything you want, as stable or bleeding-edge as you want, and implement whatever you want however you want. Got me? There’s a lot of control the user has, and if he knows how to use it, it helps rather than hinders.
Gentoo’s text based install is enough to throw off ‘newbies’, but it hasn’t always been this way. At one point, a GUI installer was in development, however it has been dead for years. Why? Obviously, it was unnecessary and unsuccessful for those reasons. It provided no benefit - in fact I imagine it hindered - and if I personally had the choice between the two, I would always choose text-based installation on the grounds of having complete control over everything in my system. Trust me, it goes a long way.
Others have criticised Gentoo’s install for being too reliant on the user to get things right. This is a fair claim: there are no prompts of what to do next, but that is why there exists a Gentoo Handbook which explains every step of the installation in detail. I’ve seen it described as ‘easy as reading a cookie recipe’, and I have to say I am in agreement. As I stated above, you do what you will with Gentoo. If users want more of a guided installation approach - and they don’t care about all the features that cannot be emulated from Gentoo - Arch is probably a better idea.
FreeBSD and Gentoo have been pitched against each other a number of times; a quick Google search would support this claim. What many FreeBSD supporters attack is Gentoo’s failure to ship a working kernel, leaving the user to configure it. Unfortunately, this makes it seem as if Gentoo users who roll their own kernels must wade through pages and pages of configurations, looking for kernel options in the very dark corners of ‘make menuconfig’. But nothing could be less true.
Those who choose to manually configure their kernel only have to change two options to have a working kernel: processor type, and filesystem type. Everything else necessary is set. I do not see how this is a burden; the point of Gentoo is to configure anything you want as much (or as little) to your liking. The power is in the Gentoo user’s hands.
If Gentoo shipped a kernel with every possible kernel options selected, not only would that result in a bloated kernel of almost totally unused components - like those found in most other distributions - but it is much easier to select what you need rather than having to deselect what you do not require. It’s simple: when you need something set in the kernel, you know exactly where to look. But with a kernel loaded full of configurations pre-selected, how will you know what you may or may not need? How is it beneficial to wade through pages of configuration options deselecting almost everything, instead of selecting only the few components which you require? Hence, the kernel Gentoo ships is fine; if anything, it could come with even less default configuration options selected. And finally, the kernel I have been referring to is my favourite kernel, gentoo-sources, however the user has the option of using several other kernels as well, such as vanilla-sources: the kernel directly from upstream.
Gentoo has a variety of options, and the point of the text-based installation is to get things right from the beginning. As we demonstrated here, it is much simpler to select what components you need, rather than having to deselect everything you do not need. Not only is the latter more time consuming, but it can break existing functionality in many distributions very easily, because the entire structure of the distribution is based around these particular components.
With Gentoo, you make your own distribution. You do what you want to do. From system logger to desktop environment, you have the choice. Gentoo is the only distribution that can give you that amount of choice; no other - including Arch - can rival such a feat.