Best of the best
I am an old user of gentoo, I do not remember exactly how long ago I installed it, but I have learned over and over again that there just isn't a replacement for the gentoo's adaptability (distro included ;) ). I use it for every imaginable file action - burning cds, encoding, decoding, ...
I have found that the best way to use gentoo is to combine it with bash scriots, they add all the power of linux scripting, while gentoo just passes parameters into scripts. This way you retain realiability and do not loose any functionality, since there still are a few glitches with gentoo and I wouldn't recommend it for a regular superuser usage. On the other hand, it is awesome for a casual user and I mean awesome - you really should try this.
The one thing that really bothers me with gentoo is the functionality of the mouse - I have written to the author a few times about it and he remains adamant that its just fine, well actually its ok, since gentoo is mainly set to be used with a keyboard, but I would prefer the other way :).
And let me just add: Thank you Emil, this is my favourite linux app :)
You are missing a few things, I think.
I am a linux newbie (using it about 2 months now) and I disagree with you on many points. Standardization is in my view a great aspect, but in the end leads to limitations for the advanced uders (I think we all agree that linux is more powerful than windows because of that). I like the Idea of the gentoo portage (and am using gentoo) and gentoo policies on choice. Linux is really all about choices and standrdization would eliminate much of these choices. You mention ease of use as something that is great, but actually it takes away the strength out of everyhing. Yes it is true that I have to read a million-page manual just to get something to work and it is true that this prevents mass usage, but when it works it works PRECISELY as I want it to work and we shold not sacrifice strength of an OS just to gain additional people.
In my opinion Linux should shun the commercial programs as best as it can, because it takes the essence of linux out of it. If I ask you why there is so many different programs and choices in linux, it is simply because there is no commercial programs that could fill in the gaps. In short term, commercial programs are great, but this hinders small programs that use other programs tha use other programs (example is cd burning cdparanoia+cdda2wav+cdrecord+a common interface program like xcdroast=audio cd) commercial programs take all that beneath their wing and hinder the choices as well as prevent small programmers to successfuly distribute their free programs.
If I draw the bottom line here, I can say that theere are distributions like mandrake taht are supremely easy to use (for those who dont even want to hear about the shell), but if you are advanced user you will probably switch to gentoo or some other distribution and stop using owegrown X desktops and switch to smaller leaner, more optimizable managers. KDE&GNOME are becoming so windowish with their pretty, but ueless and veryslow interfaces which can only be personalized to some point.