Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

First impressions: Sabayon Linux Four Oh!

Two years ago I ran into Sabayon Linux for the first time.  Version 3.2 was about to be released and I gave Sabayon a spin on my laptop. The article on my Dutch website about my experiences is still attracting a lot of readers, which indicates a consistent and growing interest in this Linux distribution. Strange enough, I wasn’t very lucky with later releases which simply refused to be installed. Two weeks ago Sabayon Linux Four Oh! was released. How far did Sabayon progress over the last two years?
I downloaded the dvd from the newly designed Sabayon Linux website. The test run with the live dvd on my laptop (Acer Aspire 3681 WXMi, 1 Gb RAM) went fine, including (and that was a pleasant surprise) being able to go online through my wifi connection with any tweaking.  Though I am in the middle of wrapping up a book on open source software and commencing work on an open source yearbook I decided to go for a fresh install on the laptop. I know, not the smartest move considering the fact that previous releases wouldn’t install at all and a DOT.Oh release isn’t normally the best release possible.

The next pleasant surprise was that nothing went wrong with installing it and the speed of it. Four Oh! is way faster than previous releases I tested. I went for the GNOME desktop, but I got KDE and then some more as well. The dvd gives you a ‘fat’ install with a large collection of software. I don’t mind 😉 The basic setup went great. Screen resolution, sound and wifi were exactly as they should be. This meant that Sabayon Linux achieved a complete out-of-the-box experience, a feat not seen in many other Linux distributions.

Two years ago Sabayon used a red theme for its release and it gave a unique feel. Now there is a dark and blue theme. The polish is still there and in this Sabayon continues to shine. It is stylish, but… (Yes, here is my first criticism) the theme is less unique.  I have seen too many dark themes in the last couple of years. They seem to be popular and Sabayon did a good job on it, but it didn’t give that “wow!” experience.  No big problem, since changing a theme on GNOME is easier than changing a diaper.

The next thing I usually go for is package management. In the past Sabayon relied exclusively on i’s Gentoo roots, meaning source-based install of software. I have seen Kuroo and Portage, but both made it cumbersome to quickly add a new piece of software. Since I used my production laptop for the test I needed to be able to add new programs like Bluefish on the fly. Enter Spritz Package Manager. The team is developing a new package manager and Spritz is a nice front-end. No source-based install, but directly from the Sabayon repositories. Well, that was a big difference. The website claims to have 8500 packages in the repositories and installing new programs was easy. I knew the names of the programs and using the search function was simple enough. No doubt the interface will mature into something more accessible for users who don’t know what they are looking for. The currect categories can be understood by experienced users, but the interface isn’t for casual browsing. Within minutes the programs were on my desktop.

This doesn’t mean flawless. Bluefish went fine, but Banshee refused to start once installed. When I checked the starter I noticed that the command was loaded with options that actually prevented the program from launching.  Kompozer wasn’t there, but NVU was. However, NVU would eat up all CPU capacity and crash shortly after.  I played with Sabayon for more than a week and this type of minor errors would pop up here and there. Nothing big but enough to leave the impression that this release is work in progress.

I worked mostly on the GNOME desktop with some sidesteps to the KDE desktop. I feel more comfortable with the GNOME desktop, but the KDE desktop of Sabayon is a pleasure to work with. The option to use the classic KDE menu should firmly remain where it is. I don’t like the panel style. It takes too many clicks to find a program and with the large collection available you quickly get lost.  I could do my work on both desktops.

Sabayon didn’t last on my laptop however. It wasn’t a problem to use  ‘outside’ programs like Webilder or Dropbox,  two programs I like very much. I had everything I needed to work with. But…(and this is my last one) the desktop was sluggish, not snappy and responsive. I use Ubuntu extensively, tried Mandriva and OpenSuse on the same laptop and in comparison Sabayon Linux is almost as sluggish as OpenSuse. The difference might only be a few seconds per application, but it was enough to leave a cumbersome impression.

On the plus side, and I do want to end with that plus side, Sabayon Linux remains a bleeding edge distribution with very recent versions of the desktops and the programs. Combined with a very easy install routine, a great looking desktop (albeit less unique than in the past) and a much better package manager Sabayon Linux still is a Linux distribution that every one should at least give a try. Four Oh! is a rolling release, meaning you can keep it up to date via the package manager (almost) indefinitely. I went through a first set of updates like a breeze.

So, coming back to the question: “How far did Sabayon progress over the last two years?” what is the answer? Well, Sabayon kept its strong points: bleeding edge, style and easy installation, and is adding a solid and fast package manager to extend your box.  With a distribution that is pushing forward as much as Sabayon is doing you can expect some rough edges, but -apart from minor issues- it didn’t hinder me from using Four Oh! for day to day work. The only set back is the speed of the desktop. There is definitely some room for improvement in that area. But, overall, a nice release. Kudos for the team. I will be checking Sabayon again in the near future.


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7 thoughts on “First impressions: Sabayon Linux Four Oh!

  1. Pingback: Boycott Novell » Links 04/01/2009: Big Win for ODF in Brazil, Penguin Awareness Day Coming

  2. Sabayon Linux is great os but no so stabe. I installed the 3.4F version and works fine in my laptop except the wifi card. I think i will give a try again with the new version. Thank you for the article.

  3. Sabayon 3.4F was a testing release dude, that’s why it would have been unstable.

  4. none was wrong on said:

    Sabayon 3.4F was not a testing release, it was an official release (The F stood for Fast), as official a release as you get with any distro of Linux, that is.

  5. MrChilly on said:

    Nice review…and since we have similar laptops, I had pretty much the same experience. If I remember correctly, a lot of my crashes were due to the ath5k module, which for some reason doesn’t like my laptop. No biggie, b/c madwifi still works just fine.
    I went back to sidux, and not to go fanboy on this reply, it’s almost flawless on this laptop. I say almost because of my video card and my preference of running fglrx to drive it. If you want an up to date kernel, you have to install the debian kernel which is pretty easy with the sidux scripts. If you get a chance, you might wanna give it a shot. The install is under 10 minutes, and you’re left with pure ebian goodness. You get that out of the box feeling, but you also have easy alternatives to turn to if you don’t like the defaults (I too use gnome..which is an apt-get away). I had used gentoo for about 4 years, then switched to sidux, but like a lot of others, I still like to try some new distros on occasion.

  6. Distrowatcher on said:

    Really liked 3.2 – was a bit sluggish on my dual Xeon processor workstation though. Did have quite a few quirks- programs crashing for no reason (don’t remember specifics at the moment ). But as a whole, really good out of the box experience. Much better than Vista ( and that is not meant as an insult to Sabayon).
    But 3.5 and 4.0 releases – will not boot up the live DVD. Tried the cheatcodes on the website, but to no avail. Only distro that I couldn’t run as a live CD/DVD. Just don’t have the time to play as much as I used to. My main distro is all the playing I wish to do.
    Think Sabayon has Gentoo headed in the right direction.
    Gentoo 2008 is way more borked up. Too bad you two don’t play well together. Gentoo could learn a few pointers from the Sabayon team.
    Will stick with Rock Linux.

  7. RiverSoul on said:

    I’ve been using Sabayon 3.4f for quite some time now, in Dual boot with windows XP. The experience has been very rewarding. Just yesterday, i laid my hands on 4 oh. And oh! I had mixed feelings. I miss beryl. But i love the new feel. Maybe I’ll install it tomorrow.
    Definitely is worth a shot.

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