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Sabayon 9 review – Gentoo for the impatient

by Koen Vervloesem

If you have tried Gentoo in the past but its compile times have put you off using it, maybe try again with Sabayon 9 KDE, which couples Italian elegance with Gentoo’s raw power…

Sabayon 9 is the latest release of the Gentoo-based Linux distribution aimed at cutting-edge users who don’t want to spend a whole weekend compiling from source before they can use their distribution. It does this by providing an out-of-the-box desktop experience including proprietary video drivers, Adobe Flash, and so on, as well as attention to eye candy and detail. The Anaconda installer makes installation a breeze, although it crashed when we tried to resize an existing partition.

Under the hood, Sabayon 9 has the 3.4 Linux kernel with PAE (Physical Address Extension) to support more than 4 GB of RAM on 32-bit systems. The rolling-release distribution has official flavours for the ‘big three’ desktop environments: GNOME 3.2.3, KDE 4.8.3 and Xfce 4.10.

Sabayon 9 review - Gentoo for the impatient
The Sabayon 9 ISO is packed with applications

We put the KDE version to the test, as the GNOME version doesn’t ship the latest GNOME 3.4 release. The 2.4 GB Sabayon KDE ISO comes with a huge selection of applications, including Google’s web browser Chromium, the music player Clementine, the media player VLC, the media center XBMC, the desktop globe Marble, LibreOffice 3.5.3, and so on. But as Sabayon uses a rolling release model, you’ll get weekly updates.

The graphical package manager Sulfur has been replaced by the Rigo Application Browser. This is a quite minimalist package manager with a clean interface: the only way to browse Sabayon packages is by searching. It doesn’t even have a list of applications by category. However, once you get used to the search-based interface, Rigo works surprisingly well, even including “Did you mean foobar” suggestions when you mistype a package name.

Sabayon 9 review - Gentoo for the impatient
Sabayon 9 also includes the popular XBMC 11 ("Eden") application

However, this deceptively simple Google-like interface covers already a lot of functionality for a first release. For instance, Rigo regularly shows you helpful notices from the repositories, such as a solution for the problem of LibreOffice freezing when creating a new document. You can also vote for packages and write comments (you have to register an account on the Sabayon forums for this functionality), update the repositories manually or show the list of pending configuration file updates.

Of course many advanced tasks of Sabayon’s Entropy framework for package management are not accessible in Rigo, but according to the press release Rigo “includes 99% of the features people are supposed to find in a tool that can be used to find, update and remove applications”, which we tend to believe.

An interesting feature Sabayon has inherited from its mother distribution is straightforward support for ZFS, Oracle’s filesystem for Solaris. Due to a license conflict between the CDDL license of the ZFS code and the GPL license of the Linux kernel, the developers couldn’t provide out-of-the box ZFS support in the installer, but after installation you can simply use the familiar zfs and zpool commands to create ZFS pools and datasets for your data and work with them. All this functionality comes from the ZFS On Linux project, which implements ZFS as a Linux kernel module.

Sabayon 9 review - Gentoo for the impatient
Sabayon 9 surprised us with out-of-the-box ZFS support

In principle, it’s possible to use ZFS for your root filesystem in Sabayon, but this requires a complex procedure: install Sabayon normally, boot into a live CD, create a tarball of the installed root file system, reformat your hard drive with a ZFS filesystem, and unpack the tarball to this filesystem.

As GRUB2 includes official ZFS support since version 1.99, the result will boot fine. It requires some fiddling, but we can’t think of anything cooler than the elegance of the Sabayon desktop coupled to the power of ZFS, including snapshots, clones, deduplication, and so on. We’d love to see ZFS promoted from tech preview to a fully supported filesystem in Sabayon 10.

Verdict: 4/5

Sabayon 9 is an excellent example of what Linux is capable of. This rolling-release distribution taps into the power of cutting-edge Gentoo and makes an elegant out-of-the-box user experience around it. At the same time, the developers are innovative enough to rethink their package manager and to include technology like hardened base system packages and ZFS support.

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    • Jesnow

      It’s not gentoo.

      Just go, load up a Sabayon system, get a root prompt and type

      # emerge –sync && emerge -DNup world

      and see what happens. I did, and was not impressed. Sabayon may be derived from gentoo, but it is not gentoo.

    • sab

      emerge should not be used like that.
      If you read the doc you see package manager is binary and called entropy.
      Main command is equo
      However sabayon can use both package manager at the same time but you need to sync them with equo.
      The purpose of sabayon is not to be gentoo but a binary version of gentoo with the advantages and inconvenients (less customizable).

    • @Jesnow:

      It’s customised Gentoo, using mainly Testing branch ebuilds from the main Portage tree plus ebuilds from two Sabyon overlays: sabayon and sabayon-distro. So you need to use Layman to add the two overlays and sync them first. The ‘sabayon’ overlay can be used by Gentoo users (just like any other overlay), whereas the ‘sabayon-distro’ overlay is only of interest to Sabayon users (as it contains e.g. the Sabayon binary package manager, Sabayon-specific tools, and so on).

      Some of the overlay ebuilds don’t have an equivalent in the main Portage tree, whereas some of the overlay ebuilds are used instead of a corresponding ebuild in the main Portage tree (grub is one example).

      It is possible (and not particularly difficult, albeit time consuming) to convert Sabayon to pure Gentoo, and vice versa. I have done it myself a couple of times. Gentoo is often called a ‘meta distribution’ because each user can customise it the way they want. Sabayon is just an example of that.

      For people who don’t want to use a source package manager, the Sabayon binary package manager (named ‘Entropy’) with pre-built packages from the main Portage tree plus the aforementioned overlays, provides a working installing without having to configure and compile. Of course, as the Entropy packages were built on another machine, one cannot choose which USE flags to include and exclude, although one can use emerge to rebuild a package on one’s machine and change the USE flagsc at that point.

      Basically, if one wants the total flexibility of Gentoo, use Gentoo. If one has used Gentoo but wants to try a binary-based distribution that has the same structure (e.g. init scripts and so on), then Sabayon is a perfectly decent choice.

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    • gregzeng

      Thank you for the review & forum discussion. Wanting to use latest kernel, without compiling. This MIGHT be the way.

      Interested in large binary app store, but EXT4 … Wikipedia, Phoronix suggests that Ext4 is the best. Curious on power usage, benchtests … will find out later if it is better than Pinguy 12.04 (my favorite so far).

    • @gregzeng

      It also supports ext4, amongst others. You choose which file system you want to use.

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    • berot3

      so can i use portage and equo at the same time? no conflcits? what do i ahve to take care of? only keeping it in sync with layman?
      i would like to use mostly equo but from time to time it would be great if i could emerge something myself.

    • jo13

      wow this is beauty os than ubuntu, i will move from ubuntu to this distro, nice review

    • @berot3

      I did use emerge to install ‘app-emulation/lxc’ on my sabayon. At first, I was somewhat scared because I don’t want to break my 1yr old sabayon installation. But, it turns out that both equo and emerge can live happily if we are careful about what we do with emerge.

      Once main difference is, emerge pulls dependencies from gentoo main tree, not from sabayon overlay. I sort of messed-up dockbook package when I emerged lxc.

      Basically, If the package is available on sabayon (most of the time, it will), then use equo, If they are not there, then use emerge.

      Sabayon is fantastic, I tried various distros before settling with sabayon the updates don’t break and even if they break (happened one time for me) the community is spot-on with a solution.

    • What is it, then? I’m still trying to decide between Sabayon and Korora.