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Sabayon 14.08 Review

Sabayon seems to be a distribution that had been highly esteemed and popular in the past -- as evidence by the distribution version selection dropdown on the Opera browser download page listing Sabayon and by Vritualbox and VMware offering a customized install of Sabayon -- but has lost some of this esteem in recent years. It is a Gentoo based system, but unlike Gentoo allows a choice of binary (default) or source package management. It is also a rolling release distribution that is stable, easy to use, essentially completely functional, has unique extras by default, and depending on the user's interest and desire has the potential to be more powerful than the average Linux distribution. This is a recommended distribution that is one of my favorites.

Review

According to Sabayon's website, the disributionaims to

deliver the best 'out of the box' user experience by providing the latest open source technologies in an elegant format. In Sabayon everything should just work. [They] offer a bleeding edge operating system that is both stable and reliable.

I think they have succeeded.

As Sabayon is a rolling release -- but with sensible safeguards to prevent breakage, software is more current than some other distributions which update key software only when releasing a new version of the distribution, which sometimes only happens once a year or once every 18 months. Although this is not relevant for my system, I believe they have the latest video drivers for higher end and rare video hardware. What is relevant for me, however, is up to date software in a reliable system. For example the latest version of the LyX document processor is available in the default repository, wheras in Ubuntu 14.04 based systems this latest version is only available through ppa.

As for more widely used packages, the initial update, after installing Sabayon on August 29 from an iso downloaded on August 3, updated KDE (or kdelibs) to 4.13.3. It also came with Chromium 36 by default and the necessary binary plugins from Chrome for playing flash in Chromium. Firefox is not included by default, but Firefox 31 was available in the repository; the flash player plugin, also available in the repository had to be installed to play flash videos in Firefox.

A good selection of multimedia, communication, graphics, and games are installed by default. No office suite or stand alone word processor or spreadsheet programs are installed by default, which might not be a good 'out-of-the-box' experience for some, but allows user choice without making the iso download larger than necessary. In any case, installing these types of packages is trivial; what is not trivial is finding and installing appropriate drivers for video hardware, multimedia codecs, finding and adding optional repositories where these are available, and making sure the dependencies created by installing these codecs does not compromise system stability. Sabayon has the latest video drivers for even high end hardware and installs the necessary codecs for playing mp3 audio and mp4 video by default, completing a good "out-of-the-box" experience.

In addition, a unique works 'out-of-the-box' experience is the default installation of the Steam gaming platform and XBMC media center. Steam and XBMC sessions are even available to log into directly as stand-alone sessions as well as being able to be started from within a standard desktop environment as an ordinary application.

Brief descriptions of some aspects of getting and using the distribution follow in the Quick Facts section and more detailed descriptions follow that, where warranted, but the bottom line is that Sabayon offers an easy to use, reliable, and subjectivly fast system with up-to-date software with the unique extras of a Steam platform and XBMC. And if users want to put in more effort, they can have a flexible completely self configured and optimized system using the Gentoo way.

Quick Facts

Desktop Environments

KDE, Gnome, and XFCE desktop environments are available, and are included in live ISO versions of each environemnt. Other less popular desktop environments are available by either first installing the minimal iso and installing the DE from withing the minimal installation or installing one of the other desktops from the ISOs and then installing the the desired desktop. Besides the three major ones, LXDE is also available as a major category in the repositories. Cinnamon, MATE, and Razor-Qt DEs can also be installed from the repository as well as the Enlightenment 17, Openbox, and Fluxbox window managers, among others.

Package Management and Included Software

Binary packages are managed by the Entropy infastructure, which on Sabayon's end manages the set of three repositories and builds packages. On the user's installation end Entropy provides the Rigo graphical package manager and the Equo command line package management program. Both are very capable and easy to use. Someone who is used to apt may even like using Equo after learning its most used commands and options.

As stated above, almost everything most users would need is installed by default. A very recent version of Chromium with the necessary Chrome components to play Flash videos is included. Common multimedia codecs and multimedia players are included by default. The only software one might want to install may be based on one's own preferred software for an uncommon task.

Sabayon offers three levels of rolling repositories -- a weekly repository -- the default enabled (the one I am using), probably the best option for stability, a daily repository, and a limbo repository which is likely to break the system. All of these repositories are based on the source packages in Gentoo's repositories but built into binary packages by Sabayon and distributed from Sabayon's own repositores along with some of their own packages.

Because Sabayon's foundation is a Gentoo system, it allows the use of source based packages instead of binary packages and a Sabayon version of Portage -- the Gentoo package management tool. Although not recommended, advanced users have the option of mixing source and binary package management.

Ease of Use or Challenge Level

When using Sabayon as a binary package system, it is very easy to use; optional repositories do not have to be added for multimedia codecs, hardware drivers do not have to be hunted down, and recent versions of popular packages are available from the normal repositories.

Using Sabayon as a source based package system, however, might make it very difficult to use. This option is discouraged by Sabayon except for advanced users and is not necessary for most users, who do not require complete customization of the system. Users who might want some software that is not available in the repository and do not want to request a binary package to be built can mix the Entropy and Portage systems, using Entropy for the binary packages and Portage to build a custom package from a source aquired from anywhere. Mixing the systems is most likely not necessary for almost all users and would increase the difficulty of using Sabayon even more than as source based system only and increase the likelyhood of breakage, unless the recommended precautions followed.

Some might assume that because Sabayon is a rolling release, the system would be breaking all the time. This assumption would be wrong. After using this distribution for about two months (including a reinstallation for a hard drive upgrade), nothing has broken. The only thing I needed to do was reconfigure GRUB2 once after a kernel update to include other Linuxes installed on the system in the boot menu. This is nowhere near the unacceptable breakage I expereinced with Korora 20, a Fedora 20 re-spin, where it removed everything from my EFI partition except its own files. (Fortunately I had a copy of this partition).

Again, although it is a distribution with some advanced features, it is very easy to use (I probably have this impression because I am using its binary package system and not the source based one). The Entropy build and package management infrastructure's Equo command line program is very simple and intuitive and seems to perform almost all system management tasks. After having reviewd the Sabayon wiki, it's output when using the --help option is comprehensive enough to preclude the need to visit any other documentation.

What Works and What Doesn't

One of the reason's I like Sabayon is that many features that some distributions ignore is that everything works. UEFI installations are supported, even with secure boot. Some distributions, which I wanted to try for their pure KDE environemtns, can't even properly install in an EFI system, even without secure boot, without workarounds that are disruptive to existing partitions and without sacrificing the benefits of UEFI and GPT.

Suspend to ram (sleep) and suspend to disk (hibernate) both work well out-of-the-box without any issues and are managed very well by KDE and even integrated into the 'Power Settings' 'System Settings' control module. Distributions like Voyager and Ubuntu based system also are capable of hibernating, but by default can only be activated from the command line and can't be accessed in the graphical interface in places like power settings or the shutdown dialog. The Plymouth boot theme also works without issues, providing a very nice looking theme with a pulsating Sabayon logo and a progress bar.

The only thing that doesn't work in my installtion with the KDE desktop is my Targus Bluetooth dongle.

Download

Download Versions

Until very recently 32 and 64 bit versions of Sabayon were available. Now, however, only 64 bit versions are available. ISOs including either the KDE, GNOME, or Xfce DE are available. A minimal version with a minimal graphical system and a completely command line version called Spinbase are available.

Download Sources

Four different ISOs of the latest monthly snapshot of Sabayon (currently 14.10, as of September 7) each with either the KDE, GNOME, or Xfce desktops, or the minimal version are available for direct download from the Sabayon website. The website also provides a list of mirrors by location and a torrent tracker.

Installation

I installed Sabayon not in a virtual machine, but an actual physical computer -- a Lenovo V570. It is an EFI system using a GPT partition table, a Core i5-2450M processor, an Intel integrated graphics card, with an existing Windows 8.1 installation. The Sabayon installation writes what it needs to to the firmware so that it appears in the list of EFI boot managers, and GRUB2 and its required files to the EFI partition in its own directory, without touching the existing Microsoft directory or the directories of any other Linuxes. After rebooting Sabayon will be at the top of the list of firmware boot managers and the system will use its GRUB menu listing Windows Boot Manager, Sabayon, Sabayon recovery mode, and other Linuxes installed on the system.

Installation Tips

Some of the important considerations and precautions to take are listed here before describing the installation process.

  • The most important setting to pay attention to during installation is the Reformat Partition checkbox. Be sure it is not activated when mounting the EFI system partition to /boot/efi. Also make sure that you have not selected any partition with an existing OS or one that is used as a data partition is not selected as one of the partitions to mount during installation.
  • If after selecting 'Start Sabayon 14.08' from the GRUB menu on the KDE Live ISO you are returned to a console prompt, the problem is that the default video driver loaded by the ISO is not appropriate for your device. In my case, I have an intel integrated video driver, but the default drivers loaded are the latest available ATI (or AMD) and Nvidia drivers. According to the Sabayon FAQ on the distro's wiki, the solution is -- from the console prompt -- to:
    Remove ATI drivers.
    equo remove ati-drivers
    Remove Nvidia drivers.
    equo remove nvidia-drivers
    Restart the display manager.
    systemctl start display-manager after which the KDE desktop will start.
  • If you don't want the hostname to be 'sabayon', be sure to select 'Networking' from the main page of Anaconda and change 'sabayon' to whatever you want.
  • The default user configuration includes the user in the wheel group, allowing the use of sudo. If you want this don't click 'ADVANCED SETTINGS' during user configuration as it is a little buggy and will remove the user from the wheel group.
  • This point is purely for convenience, but it is helpful to assign labels to existing partitions from which you want to access files.
    Other partitions are shown by label instead of by block device name.
Installation Preparation

With some distributions preparing partitions before beginning an install is sometimes a good idea. This is not necessary with the Sabayon KDE ISO live environment as it includes the KDE partition manager. It is always a good idea to have a backup of files and and operating systems you don't want to lose, the partition table, and the contents of the EFI partition.

Installer

Sabayon uses the Anaconda installer, the simple graphical installer developed by Fedora. The installer has been modified by Sabayon to provide specific functionality for this distribution such as providing guidance, like the popups that appear when clicking help at certain points in the installation process, as shown in the following screenshots,

One of the Sabayon specific help popups in Anaconda installer.
One of the Sabayon specific help popups in Anaconda installer.

and playing a slide show listing Sabayon's features once all options are set and installation begins.

The installer is not nearly as powerful as the very full featured SuSE installer -- which is capable of very detailed setting of installation options, as much as Arch but in a graphical environment and has built-in tools -- so if you do not want to use the automatic setup or do not want to install from within the live environment, it is probably a good idea to prepare the partitions in advance.

Bootloader

Selecting the default GRUB2 bootloader options when installing on an EFI system has good results. Sabayon creates a directory in the EFI partition, installing its version of GRUB2 and files necessary for booting even if the system has secure boot enabled.

Installation Process

I began the installation by first selecting start Sabayon from the GRUB menu after booting from the iso. This starts the KDE live environment which has an icon on the desktop for intsalling Sabayon. After clicking this icon, Anaconda starts within the KDE live session. The first step after beginning the installation by this method is to select the keyboard and language settings, as in the following screen capture.

Sabayon's Anaconda installer running in the KDE Live environment, shown here maximized.
The first screen is the language and keyboard settings

The main menu, which appears after the keyboard and language options are chosen, has selection icons for installation target disk selection, network settings, root user settings, and standard user settings. Selecting the 'NETWORK SETTINGS' icon brings you to the following screen, where the hostname can be set.

Selecting network settings from the main screen allows changing the hostname.
The default hostname is sabayon.

From the main screen choose 'INSTALLATION DESTINATION' to select the disk to install to. If you only have one disk there will only be one choice.

Installation disk selection.

After selecting the disk, there will be a popup asking for the type of partitioning as in the following screenshot.

If you want to dual boot or multi boot, or you don't want Sabayon to take up all of your unallocated disk space, choose I want to modify/review my partitions before continuing as in the following screenshot.

After selecting installation disk.
Popup asks how to partition disk.

If you chose 'I want to modify/review my partitions before continuing' in the last popup, you then come to the following screen where if you expand the 'UNKNOWN' triangle expansion icon on the left side of the screen you will see all of your existing partitions, including those containing other OSs.

If you have prepared partitions for the installation ahead of time you can select them from here one at a time and assign properties to them on the right side of the screen, including mount point, type of partition, and whether to reformat. The EFI partition is listed here also. Make sure the 'Reformat' check box is not activated when applying properties to the EFI partition here, otherwise you will not be able to boot your existing installations, including Windows, after restarting. The only property to be set for this partition is 'Mount Point' to /boot/efi. Assigning a value to the label property of partitions with other OSs on them is a good idea, especially if you need to access and write to those partition, making them easy to identify in the Dolphin file browser or any other file browser.

Create partitions or modify partition attributes

The following 3 screenshots show that I successivly chose the appropriate partitions to be used for the Sabayon installation from the unknown tab and applied to them certain values for properties on the right side of the screen. I had prepared partitions for swap, equal to the RAM of my system, for /home, and for root (/). After selecting each of these partitions I placed the appropriate value in 'Mount Point'. I also selected the EFI system partition from the 'UNKNOWN' tab and assigned it to mount point /boot/efi.

After assigning properites to each partition, clicking the 'Update Settings' button moved the partitions from the 'UNKNOWN' area to the 'New Sabayon amd64 14.08 Installation' area at the top of the left side of the screen.

The following screenshot shows all of the existing partition under the 'UNKNOWN' tab, including Windows OS, data, and recovery partitions.

Select partitions to use from the 'UNKNOWN' tab
Assign partitions prepared for the Sabayon installation to appropriate mount points.

If you had not prepared partitions to use for installing Sabayon ahead of starting the installation, you could before the process of assigning partitions to mount points, by clicking the '+' at the lower left of the screen.

As you can see from the following screenshot, I mounted sda2 to /boot/efi, set sda8 to swap, mounted sda9 to /, and mounted sda10 to /home.

After assigning partitions to use for Sabayon installation
Make sure existing OS partitions are not listed under 'New Sabayon amd64 14.08 Installation'

After making certain the right partitions are listed under 'New Sabayon amd64 14.08 Installation' and selecting each partition in this area and checking the settings on the right side for each partition are correct -- especially that 'Reformat' is not selected for the EFI partition, you can click on the 'DONE' button in the upper left corner.

A popup summarizing partition changes allows you to verify you have made the correct settings before starting the installation. If everything is correct click 'Accept Changes'.

Popup summarizing partitioning settings

The next screen will be the main screen which, after a short delay of error checking, will indicate that the installation location has been correctly set. You can then select 'BEGIN INSTALLATION' in the lower right corner of the screen.

After installation begins there are two available settings, one for setting the root password and another for creating a user. Selecting the user setting icon allows entering the user name and password. Clicking the 'Advanced' button in the 'CREATE USER' screen.

Creating a user
The default settings put the user in the wheel group allowing use of sudo.

At least the first user is made a member of the wheel group allowing that user to use sudo. I would not click the advanced tab which has a place for setting user group memberships because, at least in my case, it caused the installer to crash, forcing me to restart the install. Also note that, even though the user is part of the wheel group certain system actions involving equo should not be made with sudo, but by switching to root using su, as suggested by some Sabayon documentation

The following screenshot shows one of the slides in the slideshow during installation after all settings have been made.

One of the more important screens on the installer.
Choose whether to choose automatic partitioning or custom partitioning.

After rebooting the GRUB menu will appear allowing a choice between Sabayon or other installed operating systems.

After Installation

Sabayon provides a very good "out-of-the-box" experience, but I did install, besides specifc software for my tasks, some useful packages for usability and other customizations. I also had to fix one common hardware issue.

Making Everything Work

Of the six distributions I have used lately, all of them required a fix to allow display backlight control and backlight level OSD on this Intel graphics laptop. This is a common issue, where most suggest appending a kernel parameter to grub boot options to fix it. It has been noted that this method does not work on later kernel versions and has not worked for me on Sabayon or any other distro. What has worked for me -- which may specifically work for Intel video adapters -- has been to create a conf file for the video driver backlight control type and adding some code using the following method, adapted from these sources, as root. It may work for other video cards by modifying as appropriate.

  1. Determine the available backlight control methods:
    ls /sys/class/backlight/
    The result in my case is: 
    
    acpi_video0 intel_backlight
  2. Create a conf file for intel backlight control named
    20-intel.conf

    in

    /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d

    if it doesn't exist with

    touch /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/20-intel.conf

    Start an editor to edit the file. If you want to use a graphical editor in KDE for root access, it is suggested by Sabayon to use kdesu and not sudofrom a standard user prompt. Also it is recommended not to start a graphical editor or any graphical application from a root prompt. I used, from a normal user prompt:

    kdesu kate /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/20-intel.conf
  3. Add the following to the file:
     
    Section "Device"
    	Identifier "Intel Graphics"
    	Driver "intel"
    	Option "AccelMethod" "sna"
    	Option "Backlight" "intel_backlight"
    	BusID "PCI:0:2:0"
    EndSection
    

I installed the Cairo Dock application. Whithout it I may have used two panels, one as a way to managing open tasks, windows, desktops, etc. in addition to using KDE's other methods, and another as a place to keep launchers for frequently used apps. Cairo dock is said to be the most powerful and most customizable of docks.

Cairo Dock positioned at the bottom of the screen.

The 'Screen Edges' options in 'System Settings>Workspace Behavior'

The 'Screen Edges' category of 'Workspace Behavior' module active in 'System Settings'.
Set useful screen edge controls here.

are very useful, allowing setting of, among features, the desktop grid view, all windows on all desktops, and all windows on current desktop.

The 'Screen Edges' options in 'System Settings>Workspace Behavior'

desktop grid view

are very useful, allowing setting of, among features, the desktop grid view, all windows on all desktops, and all windows on current desktop.

The 'Screen Edges' options in 'System Settings>Workspace Behavior'

All windows from all desktops view.

are very useful, allowing setting of, among features, the desktop grid view, all windows on all desktops, and all windows on current desktop.

Software and Package Management System

I am using Sabayon as a binary package system managed with the Entropy tools Equo and Rigo and not the Gentoo source package management tools of Portage, so I will not be discussing the latter.

Rigo graphical package manager

Sabayon uses the graphical package, update, and repository manager Rigo a very simple and easy to use system. It begins with the 'Application Groups' screen

Rigo start screen

where you can search from every category or select an application group and search within that group. Clicking the back button inside the search box takes you to a start page, which by design is as simple as the Google search page.

Rigo start screen

Like the Google start page, it is just a search box, where you can search for packages by name. Clicking the box with tools icon to the left of the search box brings up a main menu for Rigo.

Rigo's main menu

The returned packages after a search or those listed by going through categories each have an 'Install' and a 'More Info' button.

Package search result

Clicking the 'More Info' button opens, within Rigo, a page showing some details such as dependencies and options that were used to build the package.

Details of a package within Rigo after selecting 'More Info'
Build options and dependencies are shown as well as a link to even more info.

There is also a link for even more information which opens the package's page at the Sabayon Entropy Store as shown in the next two screenshots for the LyX package.

The top of the LyX package page at the Sabayon Entropy Store
Among other information, the packages build options are shown.
The top of the LyX package page at the Sabayon Entropy Store
Among other information, links to the developer home page, source files, dependencies, and reverse dependencies are provided.

This information, although not integrated within the main package manager is the most detailed I have seen.

Documentation and Help

The only thing that I did not like about this distribution is that, although the documentation, in the form of a wiki, is good in the sense that all the documentation is available to easily and properly install and maintain the system, with even some specific howto pages -- including a howt on installing and configuring VMware Workstation, the documentaion is could be more organized. Sometimes there are different pages covering the same topic where one page contains outdated information.

The hub of Sabayon's documentation is the wiki's main page. The first thing that should be consulted is the FAQ page, which if I had done so could have solved my problem with the video driver when booting from the ISO. This page also has basic guidance on using equo and a link to what to do after install. This page refers to using Portage and a source managed system, but has a link to what to do for a binary managed system with Entropy.

Conclusion

I like Sabayon and highly recommend it for it's up to date software, which comes with its rolling release model, its stability even being a rolling release distribution, and its ease of use, not to mention things like hibernate, sleep and plymouth work well.