Less than two weeks ago, I got a new laptop from work. In the period since I have installed three different distributions of GNU/Linux (4 if you could two different versions of Ubuntu): Ubuntu Alpha (Gutsy Gibbon, early version); Sabayon, a recent DVD; Ubuntu current stable version; and Gentoo. Gentoo won again, hands down; although, Ubuntu stable version did fine for the less than a day it was on my machine.
A brief summary of the four installs will be pertinent.
Ubuntu unstable was indeed unstable. I couldn't connect to the WPA encrypted wireless network at work, the main reason for abandonment; but in reality, the installation became very, very buggy as I upgraded.
Sabayon was another top contender: a gentoo derived, very high glitz level, cool if it worked. In all fairness, I had trouble with the DVD itself, but the install was a mess, with many unexplainable instabilities. I eventually threw up my hands in frustration, and started downloading a Gentoo 2007.0 Live CD and also a Minimal Install CD.
While I was downloading those, I found a CD of Ubuntu stable, and I installed it. I was able to connect to WPA wireless, and I even considered bailing on the Gentoo install. I knew the Gentoo installation would take time, and I was afraid of the WPA issues (and even now I haven't solved that problem, but I feel a little better about it.) Ubuntu stable was better, but the die had been cast.
I have to say that Ubuntu did give me serious troubles partitioning. I have had that trouble before with Ubuntu, and I do not like the utility that is bundled with the Live CD---the Disk Druid. I have botched several partitioning jobs over the past couple of years, due to, I think, the non-intuitive command set for that GUI utility. It's easy, I suppose, if one has made a decision to install in a particular way, but there are too many things that can go wrong.
And did go wrong in my case: the Windoze partition was blown off. I admit I was relieved, and went ahead and repartitioned for Gentoo, leaving a 5 GM partition for Ubuntu if I decide I need a short term bail out, or some extra storage. (This machine has only 40GB of HDD storage!)
Finally, I tried Gentoo with a Minimal install CD. This is a CD that required a working internet connection, the faster the better. I did have a connection at home, but I gave this up when the Live CD was finally burned.
The Live CD worked well. Better than the last time, when the Gentoo Live CD bombed. This time it went well, although I had to study the installation docs carefully a couple of times. I still believe, as I have for a couple of years, that Gentoo docs are the best of all; but the installation docs are so numerous it's hard to keep them straight. I did find what I needed, although I had to watch carefully along the way.
The Live CD has taken several days to get cherried out. As of tonight, about four or five days out, it's working extremely well.
Why do I stay with Gentoo? It takes days to install, a discouraging prospect, but I'm not about to give it a second go. It's the only distro that is solid enough to not require several installation attempts, but it sure better be.
This year's Gentoo is better still. Tonight I installed the most unstable version of Avidemux, and it works perfectly. That is probably a litmus test. Vlc seems fine, and I have been working on Mplayer. Gentoo has taken everything I've thr0wn at it, and that's alot.