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Sabayon 8 Xfce review – Gentoo for the masses

Sabayon’s Gentoo heritage might prove a difficult pill to swallow for some, but Russell Barnes explains why that definitely shouldn’t put you off Sabayon 8…

When Joey Bernard reviewed Sabayon 7 for us late last year he concluded that it was an ultra-modern offering that boasted all the amenities one would expect from a cutting-edge Linux distribution. He also noted that, as a rolling release, Sabayon is the sort of distro that you can install once and never have to worry about again.

We must admit that we instantly fell in love with Sabayon’s weekly updates. The transition to Sabayon 8 for those that installed Sabayon 7 (or earlier) would have been completely seamless and those users can rest assured that its bleeding-edge features remain eternally wet to the touch.

Sabayon isn’t just any rolling-release distro, though. It’s a ‘true’ rolling release, which means instead of being based on a development branch of its parent distribution, it’s based on a rolling-release distro itself. Since Sabayon’s family tree leads directly back to Gentoo, you’ll be hard-pushed to find a purer thoroughbred in the Linux field. We’re great believers in the rolling-release philosophy since it benefits and rewards long-term users with regular updates, the idea ultimately being to ensure your computer ‘just works’ without the biannual potential for catastrophic upgrades. Sabayon achieves this (Gentoo perhaps not so much).

Sabayon 8 goes out of its way to make sure you know what you're doing

First impressions count, and for the Xfce version of Sabayon 8 we’re reviewing here, they’re incredibly positive. Art and design might not rank particularly high in the grand scheme of distro creation (at least in some quarters), but Sabayon 8 creates an air of authority from the moment the 1.5GB live DVD loads. The classic design continues onto the desktop itself, and it even manages to transcend Xfce’s aesthetic simplicity. Everything about Sabayon screams class, and attention to detail rolls right down to the ‘Live Help’ and ‘Entropy Store’ desktop shortcuts to ensure it’s just as welcoming as it is easy on the eye.

For a direct descendant of Gentoo, Sabayon is incredibly easy to use (and we’re not just referring to the many conveniences associated with Xfce 4.8). Of particular highlight is the Anaconda installer, which clearly signposted each step in what proved to be a very painless installation process (and contrasts nicely against much older releases where Gentoo’s Linux Installer was used). Sabayon’s bespoke Entropy package manager is excellent too. The latter’s capability to add comments and vote on available packages – a feature that’s grown in popularity since Apple popularised the app store concept – was welcome, but we were particularly enamoured with the built-in ability to add documentation to applications like a wiki. Clever stuff.

The Entropy Store is no Ubuntu Software Centre to look at, but its functionality is excellent

To further the impression that Sabayon is an accessible home and business desktop solution, it’s also packed with ‘tips and tricks’ dialog boxes. Though easily switched off, the tips and tricks on offer for Xfce, Entropy and more besides were a very reassuring detail that proved useful from the off.

One of our main concerns regarding Sabayon 8 isn’t rooted in the distro itself, more its propagation around the open source community. At the time of writing there was only a single Torrent seed of Sabayon 8 available, a full week after its release. To make matters worse, most of the ISO mirrors were drip-feeding the download at sub-100Kbps speeds. Though Sabayon ISOs aren’t nearly as big as they used to be, a 1.5GB download at those speeds is enough to turn anyone off. Here’s hoping the project’s supporters take note and work to remedy the situation.

Verdict: 4/5

Torrent availability aside, Sabayon 8 Xfce is an excellent example of Linux at its best. Xfce provides a simple and clean interface and the project team have dressed the desktop with a number of subtle style choices and conveniences that bring Sabayon 8 above the Linux scene’s substantial background noise.