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Sabayon 11 Review – Usability Upgrades

by Rob Zwetsloot

Sabayon is Gentoo-out-of-the-box, but does the “for human beings” approach not work for the Linux distro built on being infinitely customisable?

As a distro that iterates very quickly, Sabayon has already gone up three version numbers since this time last year. While this may imply that there are only small updates each time, the release notes seem to imply that there are always some fairly major changes going on behind the scenes. This iteration there’s support for EFI/UEFI boot and secure boot, and only recently the package manager had an overhaul to become Rigo.

The out-of-the-box philosophy extends to a great selection of default apps

Sabayon comes in four initial flavours: GNOME; KDE; XFCE; and a much newer MATE iteration. Each of these are just for a default environment, and the others are of course easily accessible from the package manager, among many more. They even include Cinnamon in the mix. Installation uses anaconda, the Red Hat installer, albeit not the brand new version causing some problems with people in Fedora 18. This means that the process is fairly painless, although unlike some versions of anaconda, you set up a user account during the installation, and not afterwards. This is good on one level though, as installing takes a while for the distro to be copied to disc.

The GNOME experience in Sabayon is in Fallback mode, which is a little odd since the Live version used the full GNOME Shell. As it’s running GNOME 3.6 though, GNOME Classic still functions perfectly well. Of course, the functionality and availability of GNOME Classic in the future seems to be at risk, however with MATE as an option, this should not affect people with a particular desire to use that kind of desktop environment.

Sabayon’s out-of-the-box claims seem fairly validated by the stock selection of applications. Alongside the usual selection of a browser (Chromium), some system tools and an image viewer, there’s also GIMP, the full LibreOffice suite and plenty of media playing options. There isn’t a mail client though, however you can easily get one from the new package manager if you don’t rely on webmail.

Gentoo Sabayon
The Rigo package manager is a lightweight, informative package manager

Rigo is a great, simple and quick package manager, with a nice layout that makes it easy to find the packages you want. It’s a sort of cross between a traditional package manager and the software centres of other distros, although there’s no featured or sponsored apps like in Ubuntu. One of the nice things about Rigo is that, just in case you didn’t look hard enough in the info pages, some info boxes will pop up on the interface to let you know what dependencies will also be downloaded, and what licenses the software is distributed under as well. While they’re not intrusive, you cannot turn them off, so it may annoy some more than others.

Each version of Sabayon also comes with Fluxbox and the new Sabayon Media Centre software installed, both accessible as desktop environments during login. The latter is actually just XBMC 12, the latest version of the HTPC software, however it’s an interesting addition to the distro. It even allows you to install Sabayon as just Sabayon Media Centre, extending the uses of the distro beyond the desktop, and allowing it to work out-of-the-box as a media PC. Fluxbox is of course the lightweight window manager that is in some ways the main environment of Sabayon. It’s very quick, and is a fine alternative to the other DEs if you need to get every last drop out of your system.

It’s a very different take on Gentoo then, and one that isn’t unwanted. Of course, the Gentoo core is still there, so while for some people it’s perfectly usable as standard, for others you can always tweak away to your hearts content.

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    • lionhater

      I like Sabayon and use it at the moment. It is a “just working”, very user/noob friendly, perfectly rolling and robust distro; have installed from the old Sabayon 10 iso, then upgraded and though having done some silly things along the way, I’ve got a perfectly functional system at the end, no hiccup.

      Everything works better than *buntus/Debians with much less CPU temps (with KDE).

      Yet it has some annoyings: You can’t remove pulseaudio, gstreamer, everything GTK and maybe some such other cruft. You can’t either install conky without audacious, ridiculously. Rigo (apart from being annoyingly a GTK app!) starts a background daemon balooning RAM to 200 MB (500 MB in another user’s experience); you need to manually kill it everytime you use rigo though you may not need it often. And sofficebin daemon starts out of the blue now and then as well.

    • Roger

      As with many binary distros (ie. Fedora, Debian, …), I always have had issues within the past year trying to install the binary distros on boxes with older NVidia video cards using the default Nouveau drivers. (Such as no video or black screens on boot using nouvuea.) The only working Xorg drivers for these distros was basic VESA/VGA/FBDev drivers..

      And yet, My installed Gentoo, as well as new installs from the Gentoo install LiveCD, functions perfectly well on those older boxes!

      Also, Sabayon I think had issues with using the NVidia-96* version of binary drivers, and insisted on only using the newer versions or something. (With Gentoo or any other binary distro, users can simply install the specific version of the binary NVidia drivers they want.)

      Although I want to migrate my older i686 boxes to a binary distro, none of them appear very stable.

      Also found the Sabayon bug reporting process a little finnicky along with the command line package manager’s wierd color theme. ;-)

      Bottom line, I’d prefer using a Gentoo based binary distro, but may forego using Fedora instead, as Fedora is more stable. Especially with older hardware, since there should be no bugs and things should just work on older hardware.

    • lionhater

      Well, sorry Sabayon, Manjaro is better.

    • tek wyzrd

      I used Sabayon for years but decided to switch to an Arch distribution when the Sulfur package manager was killed off and the less than useful Rigo package manager was imposed. The rampant ‘less is more’ and ‘users are stupid so make it simple’ attitude has destroyed a once excellent distribution.