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Sabayon 8 Xfce review – Gentoo for the masses

by Russell Barnes

Sabayon’s Gentoo heritage might prove a difficult pill to swallow for some, but Russell Barnes explains why that definitely shouldn’t put you off Sabayon 8…

When Joey Bernard reviewed Sabayon 7 for us late last year he concluded that it was an ultra-modern offering that boasted all the amenities one would expect from a cutting-edge Linux distribution. He also noted that, as a rolling release, Sabayon is the sort of distro that you can install once and never have to worry about again.

We must admit that we instantly fell in love with Sabayon’s weekly updates. The transition to Sabayon 8 for those that installed Sabayon 7 (or earlier) would have been completely seamless and those users can rest assured that its bleeding-edge features remain eternally wet to the touch.

Sabayon isn’t just any rolling-release distro, though. It’s a ‘true’ rolling release, which means instead of being based on a development branch of its parent distribution, it’s based on a rolling-release distro itself. Since Sabayon’s family tree leads directly back to Gentoo, you’ll be hard-pushed to find a purer thoroughbred in the Linux field. We’re great believers in the rolling-release philosophy since it benefits and rewards long-term users with regular updates, the idea ultimately being to ensure your computer ‘just works’ without the biannual potential for catastrophic upgrades. Sabayon achieves this (Gentoo perhaps not so much).

Sabayon 8 Xfce review - Gentoo for the masses
Sabayon 8 goes out of its way to make sure you know what you're doing

First impressions count, and for the Xfce version of Sabayon 8 we’re reviewing here, they’re incredibly positive. Art and design might not rank particularly high in the grand scheme of distro creation (at least in some quarters), but Sabayon 8 creates an air of authority from the moment the 1.5GB live DVD loads. The classic design continues onto the desktop itself, and it even manages to transcend Xfce’s aesthetic simplicity. Everything about Sabayon screams class, and attention to detail rolls right down to the ‘Live Help’ and ‘Entropy Store’ desktop shortcuts to ensure it’s just as welcoming as it is easy on the eye.

For a direct descendant of Gentoo, Sabayon is incredibly easy to use (and we’re not just referring to the many conveniences associated with Xfce 4.8). Of particular highlight is the Anaconda installer, which clearly signposted each step in what proved to be a very painless installation process (and contrasts nicely against much older releases where Gentoo’s Linux Installer was used). Sabayon’s bespoke Entropy package manager is excellent too. The latter’s capability to add comments and vote on available packages – a feature that’s grown in popularity since Apple popularised the app store concept – was welcome, but we were particularly enamoured with the built-in ability to add documentation to applications like a wiki. Clever stuff.

Sabayon 8 Xfce review - Gentoo for the masses
The Entropy Store is no Ubuntu Software Centre to look at, but its functionality is excellent

To further the impression that Sabayon is an accessible home and business desktop solution, it’s also packed with ‘tips and tricks’ dialog boxes. Though easily switched off, the tips and tricks on offer for Xfce, Entropy and more besides were a very reassuring detail that proved useful from the off.

One of our main concerns regarding Sabayon 8 isn’t rooted in the distro itself, more its propagation around the open source community. At the time of writing there was only a single Torrent seed of Sabayon 8 available, a full week after its release. To make matters worse, most of the ISO mirrors were drip-feeding the download at sub-100Kbps speeds. Though Sabayon ISOs aren’t nearly as big as they used to be, a 1.5GB download at those speeds is enough to turn anyone off. Here’s hoping the project’s supporters take note and work to remedy the situation.

Verdict: 4/5

Torrent availability aside, Sabayon 8 Xfce is an excellent example of Linux at its best. Xfce provides a simple and clean interface and the project team have dressed the desktop with a number of subtle style choices and conveniences that bring Sabayon 8 above the Linux scene’s substantial background noise.

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    • Gerard

      Loved it! Fabulous distribution with excellent weekly updates. Would have loved to have installed it for daily use. Unfortunately the Entropy package manager is too limited for me. I did contact Sabayon about the packages I needed but they had never heard of them and suggested that they must be new rare proprietary ones. Not so as they are freely available in many other distribution repositories, and have been for years.

    • SenzillamentSoc

      You are right about the mirrors. To solve that I used aria2c with various site to download it.
      What I love of this distribution is that it is bleeding edge and upgrades well.

    • Pingback: Links 9/3/2012: KDE 4.8.1, New Wine | Techrights()

    • Sabayon is really good distro.
      I tried KDE version, not XFCE:
      I was slightly disppointed by some rough edges, but still pretty positive about it.

    • Onederer

      I’ve always wanted to have a rolling distro. I’ve made over the years, attempts to install and run Sabayon. All were failures, for different reasons. My last attempt was two weeks ago. I first lost KDE, and running with a blank screen (KDE files were still intact, and partially running). But at the end, Sabayon totally unraveled itself, and crashed beyond repair. I’m now using MINT.

      I also tried to install and use GENTOO. And again never got that satisfaction. I may add that my wife is currently using TOOROX. It originates from Germany. The choice of English or German, is available. But not the whole OS is totally translated to English. There are a lot of loose ends. The most distracting thing is the desktop. It was badly put together. A lot of words on the desktop have missing characters. It’s a lot of guesswork to decipher the meanings of the crippled words.

      Having dealth with those two OS’s, I found the difference between the two, is that Sabayon is based on executable “bin’ files, whereas Toorox has to compile all the requested files, before they are usable. So updates, and a simple file request can test one’s patience. A lot of time can be lost while waiting for a compilation to complete. A good thing my wife’s computing needs are simple. All she’s interested in is getting her emails. This keeps my life much more simple.

    • Gerard: have you tried filing an official package request via the Bugzilla, possibly providing a link to the package source? And of course there’s always Portage, lets you compile from source the Gentoo way.

      Onederer: if you want to try it again at some point, try it from a Live environment and use that ‘Get Live Help’ button. That’ll take you to the IRC channel where you can ask for help. The team is small but friendly and the community is quite helpful. Good luck!

      Regarding mirrors, a mirrorsort will help in most cases.
      Just enter ‘equo repo mirrorsort ‘ where corresponds with the repo you use (daily, weekly, limbo).

    • bob

      The last review I saw about Sabayon was at

      Dedoimedo noted that on installation, Sabayon has a screen that includes:

      debian stable? pfft! OLD!

      I might have considered trying or using Sabayon, but that classless line has made me as likely to install Sabayon as a new version of Windows 98.


    • claudecat

      I like Sabayon somewhat, but the package management is really slow. It might not be that big a deal, but they seem to always issue updates in huge batches (hundreds at a time) after long periods of no updates at all. I gave up on it when KDE 4.8 recently hit the repos. That would have taken at least a few hours, whereas in Arch it would take 5-10 minutes. And I have never found a way of removing the orphaned packages that Entropy tells you about after updating…

      Oh yeah, and it’s definitely not cool to dis Debian either. That part of the slide show has been there for a few releases now and it always bothers me.

    • Scott

      I try Sabayon KDE about every six months. While really satisfied at first, there is always some problem that comes along with updates that begins to cause growing dissatisfaction as time goes on.

      Yes, the package manager is REALLY slow, but usually does what it should. I wish it was more reliable for the common people who cannot spend time fixing things in the terminal.

      I’m using another distro at the moment that is a great deal like Sabayon: Chakra. While it does not have the immense variety of software as Sabayon, it does have a great little community and seems more reliable than any KDE distro I have tried.

      There are ways to get other software, and a little education goes a long way. I heartily recommend it.

    • claudecat

      Chakra is indeed a great distro… the purest KDE experience available out of the box, but nothing like Sabayon. It is based on Arch (though now forked), and uses the fabulous pacman for package management. If you like Chakra but want more apps and flexibilty, try Arch. It’s some work to set up, but great once you get it tuned to your liking.

    • davemc

      “To further the impression that Sabayon is an accessible home and business desktop solution, it’s also packed with ‘tips and tricks’ dialog boxes. ”

      Hey, schill, your review is absolute nonsense. You are so far off base in this review that its clear to anyone with any foreknowledge in Sabayon or Gentoo can only laugh at how little you know. The line I quoted above is enough to prove that, let alone the rest of it which is totally wrong. Your review lends one to think that you know nothing about Linux in general. You are a paid schill, and a bad one.

    • Blah Moe

      More garbage from clowns seeking attention.

    • My dream distribution Type: Source based Rolling Release

      Best Installer / Maintenance: YAST

      YAST needs the option to and/either install compiled packages or compile package with ‘march=xxxx’, j=x, Ox, etc.

      Package system: Any, plus standard ‘*.tar.bz2’ used with configure, make, make install, etc.

      My preferred Desktop Environment: GNOME 2.