Sabayon 11 Review – Usability Upgrades

Sabayon is Gentoo-out-of-the-box, but does the “for human beings” approach not work for the Linux distro built on being infinitely customisable?

As a distro that iterates very quickly, Sabayon has already gone up three version numbers since this time last year. While this may imply that there are only small updates each time, the release notes seem to imply that there are always some fairly major changes going on behind the scenes. This iteration there’s support for EFI/UEFI boot and secure boot, and only recently the package manager had an overhaul to become Rigo.

The out-of-the-box philosophy extends to a great selection of default apps

Sabayon comes in four initial flavours: GNOME; KDE; XFCE; and a much newer MATE iteration. Each of these are just for a default environment, and the others are of course easily accessible from the package manager, among many more. They even include Cinnamon in the mix. Installation uses anaconda, the Red Hat installer, albeit not the brand new version causing some problems with people in Fedora 18. This means that the process is fairly painless, although unlike some versions of anaconda, you set up a user account during the installation, and not afterwards. This is good on one level though, as installing takes a while for the distro to be copied to disc.

The GNOME experience in Sabayon is in Fallback mode, which is a little odd since the Live version used the full GNOME Shell. As it’s running GNOME 3.6 though, GNOME Classic still functions perfectly well. Of course, the functionality and availability of GNOME Classic in the future seems to be at risk, however with MATE as an option, this should not affect people with a particular desire to use that kind of desktop environment.

Sabayon’s out-of-the-box claims seem fairly validated by the stock selection of applications. Alongside the usual selection of a browser (Chromium), some system tools and an image viewer, there’s also GIMP, the full LibreOffice suite and plenty of media playing options. There isn’t a mail client though, however you can easily get one from the new package manager if you don’t rely on webmail.

Gentoo Sabayon
The Rigo package manager is a lightweight, informative package manager

Rigo is a great, simple and quick package manager, with a nice layout that makes it easy to find the packages you want. It’s a sort of cross between a traditional package manager and the software centres of other distros, although there’s no featured or sponsored apps like in Ubuntu. One of the nice things about Rigo is that, just in case you didn’t look hard enough in the info pages, some info boxes will pop up on the interface to let you know what dependencies will also be downloaded, and what licenses the software is distributed under as well. While they’re not intrusive, you cannot turn them off, so it may annoy some more than others.

Each version of Sabayon also comes with Fluxbox and the new Sabayon Media Centre software installed, both accessible as desktop environments during login. The latter is actually just XBMC 12, the latest version of the HTPC software, however it’s an interesting addition to the distro. It even allows you to install Sabayon as just Sabayon Media Centre, extending the uses of the distro beyond the desktop, and allowing it to work out-of-the-box as a media PC. Fluxbox is of course the lightweight window manager that is in some ways the main environment of Sabayon. It’s very quick, and is a fine alternative to the other DEs if you need to get every last drop out of your system.

It’s a very different take on Gentoo then, and one that isn’t unwanted. Of course, the Gentoo core is still there, so while for some people it’s perfectly usable as standard, for others you can always tweak away to your hearts content.