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Sabayon 15.10 Review

Sabayon 15.10 is the most significant monthly release since version 14.01, especially for those with a preference for the KDE desktop, as this release finally updates to the Plasma 5 series. In addition, installation is now performed using the new Calamares program instead of the unpopular Anaconda.

Review

When I reviewed Sabayon 14.08 it was only the third Linux distribution I had used, and at that time I liked it very much. Having seen that multi-booting was simple with a UEFI/GPT system and the right distributions, I wanted to try a rolling release. With Sabayon 14.08, I found a very responsive and easy to use system with much newer software than what I had been used to with openSUSE (because of my limited knowledge of its optional repositories). I was also surprised by its stability -- even with a period of several weeks of not using it, thus not updating it, having read the horror stories of Arch suddenly breaking -- which, by the way I haven't experienced with an Arch installation happily rolling since January 2015 on the same Lenovo V570 eight-OS multi-boot system.

But after using Sabayon for about six more months, and in the meantime experiencing Arch, Manjaro, and learning about openSUSE's additional repositories, Sabayon's limitations with respect to my needs began to become increasingly apparent to me. This was due to the lack of packages on Sabayon through the default Entropy binary package management system but were available on other distributions. For example, all three update channels of the new Opera browser, among other software was available in other distributions, either through official repositories or the AUR on Arch systems and the OBS for openSUSE and some other distributions, not to mention third-party developers making software available in .deb format. Not only was software not available, but it was not as simple to compensate for the missing software by creating a binary package as it is on openSUSE and other distributions that use the RPM package format or as it is in Arch -- not that you need to do this in Arch. Note that for those that don't want to deal with packaging, the Sabayon developers are willing to make packages available by request through their bug tracking system, but the bug tracker requires registration. Ironically I am too lazy to register, but I am willing to learn to package software if the right tools are available.

There were other issues that increasingly bothered me, like decisions to not offer ffmpeg to this day even though the problems with ffmpeg and libav are long over, and even worse, getting past the lack of ffmpeg, to not package software like Tragtor which depend on either ffmpeg or libav to be able to use the alternative libav. And similarly to not package the Qt Curve widget style to allow the "Configure" button in the widget settings of KDE System Settings to be active. And then there was the long delay in making Plasma 5 available, which didn't make sense for a rolling release that claims fresh software always, when other rolling releases had made it available, although this may have been an issue with the upstream Gentoo.

So why am I coming back to Sabayon now? I did always like its stability and performance. Sometimes it seemed that after executing a command, the output scrolled through the terminal and the command prompt returned seemingly immediately.

Updating Sabayon 15.10 with the Equo Command Line Tool and an Overview of the Rigo GUI Package Manager
The Equo command line program is a fast, informative, and colorful program.

I also missed the colorful and humorous Equo client-side command line component of the Entropy package management infrastructure.

And it is a change of pace from Arch and its derivatives, and the other more mainstream distributions I use. Also and more importantly, since this monthly release has finally made Plasma 5 the default KDE desktop instead of the Plasma 4 series, I thought I would try it again, but this time with a commitment to learn it on a deeper level, meaning learning some of its Gentoo fundamentals and using some of the Gentoo's Portage package management system to enhance software selection. This would require following the guide on the Sabayon wiki to convert the system to a hybrid source/binary package managemnt system. Following this procedure should give me access to all of the packages available from Gentoo, but not available from Sabayon, to be built from source the Gentoo way. There was also a post on the Sabayon forum that provides an overview of and links to instructions on using some functions of Gentoo's Portage to build binary packages and then install them using Entropy, such that Entropy manages the installed packages and not Portage. This method is probably safer and I will try this installation method first; check on the ordinatechnic blog soon to see how this goes.

Since I left Sabayon, it seems that development activity has increased with the addition of new developers. There are some new additions to Sabayon tools such as a docker image for building packages -- currently in an alpha stage, and plans to bring back editions of Sabayon that had been abandoned previously, such as a server edition. There are also efforts to bring Sabayon to other processor architectures, such as ARM.

One of the more immediately apparent changes, for those who have used Sabayon in the recent past are the new installer -- the much more user friendly Calamares distribution-agnostic program developed jointly by a few distributions. There is also a new color scheme, new artwork, a somewhat new logo, and a heavily customized SDDM greeter theme that is very different from the what is typically done by other distributions using SDDM, where they simply add a different background and a color scheme to the original SDDM greeter design provided by KDE. The blue default background with stylized stars has been replaced with a flat dark grey, as shown in the following screenshot.

Default KDE Plasma desktop on Sabayon 15.10
The Default KDE Plasma 5 Desktop
The new logo is reminiscent of the logo used by Sabayon at the peak of its popularity in the late 00s.

The GRUB theme and the Plymouth bootsplash also conform to the new color scheme and logo. The GRUB theme is the common plain menu format with the same background as the desktop. The Plymouth bootsplash has the same background as the desktop without the logo/logotype in the corner, but in the center there is the "filling up" progress animation of the shadow of the logo which pulses with the logo at the end of the "fill up". This is an improvement over the 14.08 version in my opinion, as, if I remember correctly I had to download a different theme to suit my tastes.

Unfortunately, some of Sabayon's characteristics that I didn't like when I tried the 14.08 version are still there. Take for example, the fact that Plasma 5 is just now available from the official repositories with the October monthly release whereas Arch and Manjaro made it available in January when it was considered usable (openSUSE had it available since the initial release in July 2014 through non-official repositories), and although the new Opera is available, the other release channel versions, opera-beta and opera-developer, are not available as they are in other distributions. Even packages that are common in other distributions such as the increasingly popular tlp, and glances are not available.

This lack of software issue, as previously mentioned, can be easily solved by requesting software to be packaged by using Sabayon's bug tracker. And for those more inclined and willing to learn more than the basics, there is always the option of converting to a hybrid source/binary system where primary package management is handled by Entropy with occasional management by Portage. A safer option is also available when package customization is not desired, but supplementing the available software in the Sabayon repository by using Portage to build binary packages from Gentoo sources for installation by Entropy.

Although rare these days, now that Sabayon is not as popular as it used to be, there are community binary repositories to provide additional software sources. For example, I was able to find the tlp power management software in a community repository. The video below shows the process of adding a community repository, which involves, as in many distributions, whether by command line or a GUI front end, placing a repository configuration file in the appropriate location -- in Sabayon's case in /etc/entropy/repositories.conf.d/.

Adding a Community Repository in Sabayon 15.10
At the height of its popularity Sabayon probably had lots of community binary repositories. There seems to be only one that is still active, but fortunately the one featured in this video provides the tlp package, which is not available as a binary or source package in either Sabayon or Gentoo.

Surprisingly, tlp is not available in Gentoo. But it is probably available in some Gentoo overlay, which is another source of software for Sabayon.

Apart from the lack of packages, I had a new issue this time as a result of installing on additional hardware. I installed Sabayon 14.08 on an a Lenovo V570 with Phoenix Technologies EFI v 2.0, an Intel Core-i5 2450M processor, integrated Intel Graphics HD3000, and an Intel Centrino® Wireless-N + WiMAX 6150 wireless network interface. This time I also installed Sabayon on an older HP EliteBook 8540w with an HPQ (HP-Compaq) EFI v 2.0 UEFI which was an optional conversion from BIOS and included a very early experimental user interface, an Intel Core-i7 650M processor, an Nvidia Quadro FX880M dedicated graphics card, an Intel Centrino Unltimate N-6300, and a Broadcom Bluetooth card. The Lenovo had no issues at all apart from the very minor backlight control issue as mentioned in the previous review, but the HP had numerous issues involving the graphics drivers. The issue began with the live environment which was rendered in very low resolution using, according to kinfocneter, a VMware emulated graphics adapter. Sabayon only includes the latest Nvidia drivers in the ISO, causing this issue with the live environment.

In the installed system, after downgrading to the appropriate drivers -- to version 340.xx of the Nvidia drivers from the current 355.xx, the situation was worse, as I only got a black screen. I even followed the instructions on getting Nvidia working from the Sabayon wiki, which mainly involved blacklisting the free driver for Nvidia cards, Nouveau. So I decided to switch to Nouveau, as I would have anyway after trying the proprietary driver in order to be able to use the console terminals accessed through the Ctrl + Alt + Fn keys, which isn't possible with the proprietary driver. Again I ran into a problem, this time because the Nouveau driver module is blacklisted by default in Sabayon through the file /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf, with a comment that indicates a preference for the proprietary drivers. Because of the default blacklisting of the Nouveau driver, the fix for making the Nvidia driver work not necessary anyway.

After blacklisting the proprietary Nvidia drivers and removing the Nouveau blacklist, I was able to get a system that works as I want it to, with the console terminals despite the rare transient artifcts when resuming from sleep. This might be satisfactory for me since I don't game, but others with older non Intel graphics may have to tinker more to get proprietary Nvidia drivers working.

This problem with the graphics card in comparison to how graphics are handled by Manjaro -- which provides a choice of using the proprietary or the free drivers when starting its live environment, thereby enabling the selected driver in the installed system, and includes the Manjaro Hardware Settings Manager to easily switch between drivers after installation -- may be illustrative of Sabayon's character. It is probably best suited to those with the latest high end hardware who demand the best possible performance for the best experience in hardware intensive applications such as gaming.

The fact that to get the most out of Sabayon, and in my case to make it even usable long term with respect to software availability, the user needs an understanding of the Gentoo foundation and Gentoo's Portage package management tools is also illustrative of Sabayon's character in that it is more suited to experienced Linux users who want to use Gentoo's flexibility and power to optimize their system and are willing to learn the tools used to manipulate the flexibility and power.

Quick Facts

Feature Availability
Architecture x86_64
Installation Media 64 bit ISOs using one of the major desktop environments are available from mirrors
ISO Environments ISOs are available with KDE Plasma 5, GNOME, Mate, Xfce, or minimal console based.
Desktop Environments KDE, GNOME, Mate, Xfce seem to be official as they are available as ISO environments. Other environments are also available such as Cinnamon, LxQt, and Enlightenment from official repositories.

Page URL
Main page sabayon.org
Forum Sabayon Forum
ISO Download Page Sabayon Mirrors

After selecting the closest mirror, navigate to appropriate folder. In the case of the Sabayon mirror at UMD: http://mirror.umd.edu/sabayonlinux/iso/monthly/ and download the ISO of your choice

The big "Download Sabayon" link on the main page is broken.
Packages Sabayon Packages
Chat Sabayon Web Chat
Development Home Sabayon Development GitHub
Bug Tracking Sabayon Bug Tracking

Installation

As mentioned in the header, the biggest change in Sabayon this release, and the only significant change in a long time as far as I know, is the replacement of the Anaconda installer with the new distribution-agnostic installer, Calamares. At this stage it is missing some features that Anaconda supported, like LLVM and LUKS (and none of the power of openSUSE's installer). But it provides the benefit of a simple and straightforward user experience with a linear progression through install steps by clicking next after each stage instead of Anaconda's process obfuscating 'hub-and-spoke' organization.

Installation generally went well on both laptops on which I installed Sabayon. The only problem, as mentioned above, was with the installation process was on the laptop with an Nvidia dedicated graphics which is so old that it uses legacy Nvidia drivers, which are not available on the live environment and falls back to an emulated VMware driver. Because of this the live environment was rendered in very low resolution.

Otherwise the live environment worked well and the installer performed well. It set up everything, including the little details like configuring everything needed for hibernation and Plymouth -- details that some distributions sometimes overlook.

Necessary Fixes and Enhancements

There was one issue for each of the laptops on which I installed Sabayon. On the Lenovo V570 with Phoenix Technologies EFI v 2.0, an Intel Core-i5 2450M processor, integrated Intel Graphics HD3000, and an Intel Centrino® Wireless-N + WiMAX 6150 wireless network interface, I had the same problem as with Sabayon 14.08, were backlight control either through the keyboard controls or through the desktop environment would not work even though the OSD would indicate a change in backlight level. The solution I used in this case was to add video.use_native_backlight=1 to the menu entry in the grub.cfg file of the openSUSE GRUB which controls the booting on this laptop. This is the method I prefer to make modifications to GRUB related settings. It is also possible to make the addition in the GRUB settings file /etc/default/grub as one of the parameters to GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT.

On the other laptop, an HP EliteBook 8540w with an HPQ (HP-Compaq) EFI v 2.0 UEFI which was an optional conversion from BIOS and included a very early experimental user interface, an Intel Core-i7 650M processor, an Nvidia Quadro FX880M dedicated graphics card, an Intel Centrino Unltimate N-6300, and a Broadcom Bluetooth card, backlight control worked with every control method using the Nouveau driver; no adjustments were necessary to the kernel command line. The only thing I needed to do for my use case, which doesn't require gaming, was to remove the Nouveau blacklist from /etc/modeprobe.d/blacklist.conf, and to make sure the Nouveau driver was installed. I later had to uninstall the Nvidia driver to keep it from being included in package updates.

Both laptops have Bluetooth adapters, the Lenovo, in the form of a Targus dongle, and the HP, an integrated card. In neither case did Bluetooth work with Sabayon. The Targus dongle usually works on some Debian based systems. The fact that the integrated module didn't work with Sabayon was disappointing because I expected more from the integrated adapter than the USB dongle and also because it works well in Ubuntu 15.10 and Manjaro installed on the same laptop, especially with the Cinnamon desktop in Manjaro, which I was even able to pair to the LG HBS-900 Tone Infinim Bluetooth headset.

Software

As was the case with Sabayon 14.08 a good set of programs was installed when using the KDE live ISO environment, including games, all necessary multimedia codecs, and the latest version of hardware drivers. The only program lacking was the LibreOffice suite. This isn't really a problem except for the first time you need this since it can be installed easily.

Some of the software installed by Sabayon by default, shown in GNOME
Some of the software installed by Sabayon by default, shown in GNOME.

The LibreOffice provided by Sabayon includes a custom startup splash featuring a stylized chicken foot graphic in a dark theme; the only other distribution that does this is openSUSE, but with additional more substantive customizations.

Besides the lack of a default installation of an office suite, programs for common tasks are installed by default including Google Chrome -- the default web browser, VLC multimedia player, Gwenview for image viewing, and Clementine music player.

Some of the software installed by Sabayon by default, shown in GNOME
Some of the software installed by Sabayon by default, shown in GNOME.
Note the Kodi Media Center.

Other notable software installed by default is the Kodi multimedia player for home theater systems, and the Steam platform for game distribution. Unlike previous versions, where logging into a dedicated Kodi and Steam session was possible, with this version it is only possible to log into a dedicated Kodi session.

Some of the software installed by Sabayon by default, shown in GNOME
Some of the software installed by Sabayon by default, shown in GNOME.
I installed all of the browsers shown here, Firefox and Opera.

Both of these can still be accessed as programs from an already running session of a desktop environment.

Some of the software installed by Sabayon by default, shown in GNOME
Some of the software installed by Sabayon by default, shown in GNOME.
I installed the new Vivaldi browser, which is available in Sabayon's repositories.

The above screenshot shows the Vivaldi browser which, in the reverse of the typical situation, Sabayon has in its repositories while other distribution's don't.

Some software that I usually install, besides Opera Beta and Opera Developer are missing in the binary Entropy package management system, but are available from other sources that Sabayon can access. These are the tlp power management program, which is increasingly popular on many distributions and the glances alternative to htop. As mentioned in the main review both of these can be obtained with some work, tlp from a community repository and glances from Gentoo repository through Portage's emerge. As far as software for serious work, Sabayon has not disappointed always making a current version of LyX and Qt Creator available.

Package Management

Package management, when using Sabayon as a binary package system is provided by Sabayon's Entropy infrastructure. On the client end, this includes the Rigo GUI program and the Equo command line tool.

Sabayon's Rigo package management tool running in Cinnamon
The main page of the Rigo GUI binary package manager, part of the Entropy Infrastructure.
Rigo doesn't display this page when starting it, but shows package categories. This page is only presented by going "back" from the initially displayed page.

The Rigo command is a very simple interface designed for speed, simplicity, and to mimic the feel of using Google's search page, as evidenced by the above screenshot.

Rigo doesn't display the above page when starting it, but shows package categories, as shown below. This page is only presented by going "back" from the initially displayed page.

The initial page of the Rigo GUI binary package manager, part of the Entropy Infrastructure
The initial page of the Rigo GUI binary package manager, part of the Entropy Infrastructure.
When starting Rigo, the user is presented with package categories, which can be selected to show all of the packages in the category.

The command line alternative to Rigo is the Equo program, also part of the Entropy binary package management infrastructure, shown below updating the local repository metadata cache.

equo updating the local repository metadata cache in KDE
Equo updating the local repository metadata cache.
In this shot equo update is running in Plasma 5, in Konsole with a non-default preset color scheme. Equo adapts its colorfulness to the chosen color scheme.

Some common equo commands are:

equo update

for updating the local repository cache.

equo upgrade

to upgrade all installed packages to the latest available

equo search packagename

search for an available package

equo install packagename

to install a package, and

equo remove packagename

to uninstall a package.

If using Sabayon as a hybrid source/binary package system, or as a pure source package system, Gentoo's Portage infrastructure is also available. The basis of this package management tool is the Portage tree -- the set of ebuilds, which are scripts that instruct Portage on how to build a package, similar to RPM's spec and similar scripts used in Arch -- which are located in /usr/portage, and the emerge command. The emerge command is used to perform most of the tasks in Gentoo-based distributions source package management. The power of the Sabayon when used as a Gentoo system is the complete configurability of everything installed in the system. The configuration is specified through the USE or -USE flags, the former specifying support for a certain feature be included, and the latter specifying that the feature should not be included. The configuration of software through these flags can be specified per package when emerging, by specifying an individual package's flags in the file 00-sabayon.package.use, or for the system-wide specification of whether a feature should be included, in the 00-sabayon.package.keywords file. The previous screenshot lists some of these important Portage package configuration files in its output.

There are also more esoteric command line tools for source package management such as eix that aren't even installed by default in Sabayon.

Documentation and Help

Documentation is provided by the Sabayon wiki. It is extensive in some respects, but unfortunately, it seems disorganized and with a lot of outdated information. It is generally good enough for users who use Sabayon in its default binary package management state and don't want to deal with its advanced functions. For this type of user, there is also the Gentoo documentation which is extensive.

Sabayon also has an active forum community where questions can be asked and developers and other users with a passion for Sabayon provide help, in addition to an IRC chat channel.

Links to help resources are conveniently provided in the Sabayon installation.

KDE full-screen launcher showing applications in Sabayon category
Plasma 5's full-screen launcher showing applications in the Sabayon category.
All the applications are links to Sabayon documentation, help, and development resources.

Recommendation

The greatest strength that Sabayon offers is a simple installation of a Gentoo system, avoiding the complicated, manual install that takes days -- for installing the entire system from source including the kernel -- for subsequent use as a pure Gentoo system. It also provides a stable, and subjectively fast system -- even when used as a binary package management system, and current software -- with the glaring exception of the aforementioned situation with the Plasma 5 desktop.

The Entropy binary package management system on top of a Gentoo system, although convenient, isn't supported, in my opinion, by an adequate selection of packages. As I found in my attempt to overcome this limitation by converting Sabayon to a hybrid system, it is actually best used as a pure Gentoo system. The two methods I mentioned above for using Gentoo tools to augment package selection will only work in simple cases where there aren't conflicting USE flags. So, the best way to overcome this limitation, and to use Sabayon to its full potential is to convert it to a pure Gentoo system. But is this really worth it for most users, considering the package compilation time and poring over ...keyword, ...mask, ...unmask, ...use, and make.conf files, in addition to other configuration management related to compilation.

So the bottom line is that I would recommend Sabayon, but only for the following potential users:

  • users who would like to try something new, without commitment, by installing on (a) new partition(s) for multi-booting
  • users who will use Entropy only as the package management system and will not ever need to use any type of software that relies on either the ffmpeg or libav libraries
  • users who will convert Sabayon to a pure Gentoo system, and are knowledgeable enough or willing to acquire the knowledge necessary to edit the ...keyword, ...mask, ...unmask, ...use, and make.conf to suit their needs

The third class of user may lose the benefit of the easy installation of a Gentoo system because changes to the above configuration files may require large sets of packages to be recompiled.

When I installed Sabayon 14.08, I was the first class of user. I liked it enough to want to keep it installed long term, but came to see its limitations with respect to my needs for everyday use. When this version was released, I decided to install it again but this time using its Gentoo tools to overcome its software availability limitations, because I wanted Sabayon's uniqueness as a component of the multi-boot system. But, a hybridized source/binary system -- in Sabayon's case (Arch is such a system if the user wants to customize using its ports system) -- does not work in practice.

Update:I noticed recently that Sabayon doesn't implement man pages by default. This is so antithetical to the Unix roots (in a much worse way than SystemD, which is arguably necessary for modern computers). The Gentoo wiki describes man pages and indicates that the package sys-apps/man-pages should be installed by default to implement man pages as part of the system.

The Gentoo Wiki page on man pages and an equo search for sys-apps/man-pages showing that it is not installed.
The Gentoo Wiki page on man pages and an equo search for sys-apps/man-pages showing that it is not installed.
man pages should be available by default as part of a "Unix-like" system.

So, I will not be coming back to Sabayon in the future, unless the Entropy infrastructure becomes more robust, allowing all of the Gentoo packages to be available and providing its own mechanism to build custom packages, if the user desires, without relying on Gentoo's tools. This is not to say that this is what Sabayon should be, as it is the Sabayon developers' vision for the distribution that matters.