Ever since the smaller of my two hard-disks went up in smoke, I had a new hard-disk and installing a new Linux rather high on my to-do list. Both is now done.
As for a hard-drive, I got one of those nice Seagate Barracudas. Speed-wise they are only avergage, but you can hardly hear them operate which is a huge progress if you compare that to my other drive (a Maxtor one).
Installing linux unfortunately became a neccessity, too. The setup I've been using so far was a Linux-from-Scratch. I have to admit that it worked splendidly well but the fact that I needed to compile everything by hand and that upgrading any packages is virtually impossible made it impracticle on the long run. But as I did like the idea of having a lean system that was specifically compiled for my machine, I installed Gentoo over the weekend. At first it went all fine. It was a snap to make a network install over DSL.
But yesterday it became apparent that many things aren't that bright at all. It was impossible to get my precious mp3-player working. It's a bit heavy on dependencies in that it requires MPEG::MP3Play, Ogg::Vorbis::Decoder, Ogg::Vorbis::Header, MP3::Info, some terminal related modules and a piece of Inline::C I wrote around libao. Second bad thing about gentoo is xawtv: Depending on which version I installed, it either segfaulted right on start-up or it merely produced a blue screen. I was able to get it working without Xvideo support but that meant I couldn't make it run fullscreen at a higher resolution without black areas around the screen. Thirdly, Gentoo makes it virtually impossible to set up mail properly. It does offer the various MTAs such as sendmail, postfix or exim. But apparently I need to configure it myself. For exim, this would be fine if it was exim3, but they only have exim4 which I was never able to get running. Their suggestion of using nbsmtp will prevent my newsreader slrn from installing as it requires a proper sendmail binary. So that is inacceptable as well.
So eventually I turned back to Debian which I had used happily for years (until this hard-disk was nuked). Installation wasn't quite as nice as the minimal installer image does allow you to install it over modem but strangely enough not over DSL. Some manual interventions were therefore necessary. Another thing that I hated was the bootloader. By default it tries to install grub. After telling me that it detected two more bootable partitions (windows, linux from scratch) and ensuring that it could easily integrate those into the MBR, I hit 'yes' and upon reboot ended up with error message 18 or so. I knew this was would happen. One reason why I always stick with lilo is that I know it works.
After a while those initial anoyances were cleared. Everything's now up and running (including exim even though it's exim4 but Debian kindly offered to configure it for me). There's one thing that's still troubling me: xawtv does work but it will lock up the machine after a few minutes. And with lock-up I really mean lock-up. Not even Magic SysRq will work any longer. Things like that, I am sure, will be notoriously hard to fix with no helpful logfile entries whatsoever. But apart from that, my old opinion stands: Debian isn't quite as flashy and hip as other distributions, but it's always the one that reliably works.