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1. if you compile your kernel, it can give your system a slight boost in performance. Also you can learn a lot about linux this way.
2. see www.kernel.org for the minutae of differences between kernels. But generally speaking in each kernel update there are bugfixes, new drivers etc...Life is complex, it has a real part and an imaginary part.
custom kernels have a faster boot since you can remove the autodetection of hardware from the boot. you can still use hotplug or whatever (i don't really know) to detect hardware that you connect after the OS has booted.Here's why Linux is easier than Windows:
Package Managers! Apt-Get and Portage (among others) allow users to install programs MUCH easier than Windows can.
Hardware Drivers. In SuSE, ALL the hardware is detected and installed automatically! How is this harder than Windows' constant disc changing and rebooting?
how would i go about compiling a kernel