Sabayon 10 Review

Sabayon 10 is the second stop on my distro hopping tour. Sabayon is based on Gentoo, a ridiculously configurable source-based distribution. The developers focus on providing a stable, fast, and versatile distribution with the best “out of the box” experience available. The software in Sabayon is described as “bleeding edge”, and according to the official wiki, it seems that most of the software comes directly from Gentoo’s testing branch. The last time I used Sabayon, it was version 4, and I was trying to use it on my netbook. I used it for a few days, then a problem with Xorg forced me to switch to something else. Now I’m ready to try again, and I expect things to go a lot smoother this time.

First impressions

Some key features in version 10 include GNOME 3.4.2, KDE 4.9.1, Xfce 4.10, LibreOffice 3.6, and version 3.5.4 of the Linux kernel with BFQ" enabled. Version 10 also ships with the Mesa 9 stack, Infinality Freetype patches, and Rigo, a new graphical frontend to Entropy that replaces Sulfur. For this review, I will be using my Dell Latitude D520 and the Xfce ISO file. After writing the ISO file to a spare flash drive with dd, I rebooted the D520 and the boot menu loaded successfully. The menu had several options, including entries for starting the Live system in graphical mode or text mode, booting directly to graphical or text installation, and even booting from the first hard disk. Unfortunately, my camera wouldn’t cooperate, so I don’t have any pictures of the menu to post.

The desktop features a nice blue and grey theme with two panels and only 5 icons. In addition to the usual Home and Trash icons, there’s an icon for launching the installer and two more pointing to the Chat and Donate sections of their website. The top panel and the window borders were partially transparent, an indication that desktop compositing was enabled. By desktop compositing, I mean Xfce’s own built-in compositor. The window, GTK, and icon themes were well integrated, and the simple background was unobtrusive and easy to look at. Overall, I found the desktop to be elegant and easy to navigate with no surprises.

The default desktop for Sabayon 10 Xfce
The default desktop for Sabayon 10 Xfce

Having the GIMP pre-installed helped in this review
Having the GIMP pre-installed helped in this review

Besides Clipman, nm-applet, and Xfce Power Manager, the desktop was devoid of running applications. In the main applications menu, I found up-to-date versions of Midori, Pidgin, Gnote, Transmission, XChat, Gnome PPP, Shotwell, The GIMP, Exaile, and Totem, along with the usual Xfce configuration tools and a few system utilities. In addition to the applications, I found that Adobe Flash and several codecs were already pre-installed. I didn’t get a chance to test DVD playback, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that worked too. Like many other Live distributions, Sabayon is geared towards getting the user up and running quickly with day-to-day tasks, even if they don’t have a hard drive.

At first, my wireless card didn’t seem to work, but running sudo modprobe b43 in a terminal solved that problem and I was able to connect to my router. Aside from that, the wireless, suspend, battery status, and screen brightness buttons all worked, and the touchpad was fully supported. 3D acceleration and sound were also supported, and I could even suspend to RAM (enter sleep mode) from the Live environment. Satisfied, I backed up everything on the D520 and got ready for the installation process.


For this installation, I chose to install Sabayon alongside LMDE. That way I could switch back to LMDE if Sabayon ever became unstable and vice versa. Sabayon uses a customized version of the Anaconda" title="" installer from Fedora, so there really isn’t much to write about here. I put together a screenshot gallery for the curious.

Select the installer language

Upon rebooting, I saw that the GRUB menu had been successfully updated and both Sabayon and LMDE were listed. After making sure everything still worked with LMDE, I started Sabayon. The startup process was hidden by a splash screen of sorts with a progress bar at the bottom, and a message telling me to press F2 for verbose mode. After about 15 seconds, the login screen appeared with the same background as the boot menu. Upon logging in, Xfce loaded with the same theme and layout as the Live environment. The only difference was the Install icon, which was now an icon to start Rigo.

A few seconds after logging in, an update notifier applet started in the system tray and a message appeared telling me that the system was up-to-date. After manually loading the b43 module again, I used the tray applet to check for updates and it found 311. The initial update process was surprisingly long, taking nearly two hours, but the process completed without any errors.

311 updates available...
311 updates available…

Upon rebooting, I noticed that the startup sequence was faster, and this time, the b43 module loaded automatically. After logging in and checking to make sure everything still worked, I started installing my usual payload of apps with Rigo. I really like the new Rigo frontend. I find it to be more streamlined and easier to use than Sulfur. Instead of menus and a bunch of options that are always present, Rigo only displays buttons when you can actually use them. Rigo also doesn’t skimp on features. A single click on the button to the left of the search bar opens a menu listing several options.

The Breaking Stuff menu
The “Breaking Stuff” menu

The developers also included a splash of humor in Rigo. As seen the screenshot above, the window title changes to “Breaking Stuff” when the menu is displayed. When installing, removing, or updating packages, the window title changes to “Working Hard”. Like in previous releases, the Entropy package management system also tracks software licenses, and allows the user to review the license for a given package and choose whether to accept or decline the license. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to filter installed and available packages by license, so setting up a completely free system is not yet possible. On the bright side, the only proprietary packages I found were game demos and drivers for graphics cards and printers, so you won’t have to worry about Sabayon nagging you to buy stuff (though donations are greatly appreciated). Besides the package installation countdown, I don’t have any complaints about Rigo. I was able to install everything with one exception: eCryptFS.

According to the Gentoo Wiki, the ecryptfs-utils package requires the suid flag, or the ecryptfs-setup-private command won’t work for non-root users. In my case, the ecryptfs-mount-private command wouldn’t work either. The alternative method using the mount command also failed, so I guess eCryptFS on Sabayon is currently broken. There are other encryption tools available, so this isn’t exactly a deal breaker, but I was forced to decrypt my files in ArchBang and then copy them over to Sabayon. I will update this post again if I find a way to make eCryptFS work normally.

Final thoughts

Sabayon is a bit odd in the packaging department. Rather than build an entire binary Gentoo spinoff, the project simply moves the overhead of compiling source code away from the user instead of removing it entirely. Also, as the ecryptfs-uils package clearly demonstrates above, some things can slip through the cracks occasionally, but I guess that’s a consequence of running “bleeding edge” software. Aside from that one package, I didn’t experience any performance or stability problems. All things considered, Sabayon is a great desktop distribution for those who want a taste of Gentoo without the administrative headaches. As for replacing Xubuntu, Sabayon ranks about the same as ArchBang, but I won’t erase my hard disk just yet. There is still one more distro to try.

Sabayon logo pulled from here. Copyright Fabio Erculiani, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5.

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