Date: August 11, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams
The distro formally known as RR4 is soon to be released, and we have taken a hard first look at what’s being offered. Based on Gentoo, Sabayon already has a solid base. Add superb Live DVD functionality and a complete installer, this is one distro worth watching.
Zabaglione is an Italian dessert made with egg yolks, sugar, a sweet liquor (usually Marsala wine), and sometimes cream or whole eggs. It is a very light custard, which has been whipped to incorporate a large amount of air. Zabaglione is traditionally served with fresh figs and is sometimes also spelled sabayon.
There’s a new distro in town! Ok, kind of. Formally known as RR4 Linux, Sabayon is the result of a recent name change, but the core development goals are still intact. RR4 became a popular distro with those who wanted a Gentoo based system, but didn’t want to go through the laborious installation and configuration process. Whereas Gentoo delivers a base system for you to build on top of, Sabayon installs a complete desktop environments, including applications. The goal is to make the installation easy, and quick.
I use Gentoo on all three of my machines, so I guess I am a fan. However, I have never experimented with other distros based on it, but Sabayon recently caught my eye due to it’s colorful scheme. Throughout the article, I will be expressing experiences with an RC2 copy of Sabayon. RC2 is currently still in testing, and the final copy will be publically released on the 26th of this month if all goes according to plan.
Sabayon does not come on CD-Rom ISO’s, but rather DVD ISO’s. The reason for this is due to the mass amounts of available applications on the disc, including over 5 desktop environments. The disc will act as a Live DVD, which you can use just as you would if the OS was installed. Of course, from this point you will have the option to install onto your hard disc. I will get into all of this shortly. Let’s first take a look at what we are dealing with after booting with the disc.
Though I was unable to snapshot the boot screens, it was a rather lengthy experience. From the moment I started the boot sequence, I was ready to use the Live desktop in 7 minutes and 23 seconds. This is no doubt due to the mass amounts of support the distro supplies. From the getgo, you will have full 3D Acceleration support, and even bluetooth. One thing that scared me [literally], was the fact that KMix is near full blast, even off the live CD. So at 1:30am, I was not expecting the 20 seconds long distro intro sound.
Prior to logging in, you will have the option to choose from KDE, GNOME, Fluxbox, Xfce or Enlightenment. I chose KDE as it’s my environment of choice.
One thing you will notice, is that this is not your ordinary Live DVD desktop. If you feel like doing a bit of gaming, you can load up the Cold War demo, since your 3D capabilities are automatically configured. The same goes for Google Earth. You also have quick access to a partition editor and also the installer. If you are using an older installer, you can update it with a few clicks. Since Sabayon is not yet publically released yet, I was unable to test out that feature.
It becomes apparent quick that Sabayon does not believe in outdated software. We are equipped with KDE 3.5.4, which was only released a little more than a week ago!
This is further evidenced by the up to date kernel (2.6.17), gcc and X version. I assume they chose to stick with a conservative X 7.0.0 due to the fact that we are still lacking NVIDIA drivers for 7.1. Here you can also see the various mounts, although they mean nothing after you install it to your physical drive.
One thing you may have noticed by now is the special KDE theme. It obviously has a lot of borrowed features from Windows Vista, but works well. All of the window edges are transparent, and the background wallpaper will shine through. The transparent parts are even moreso see-thru than Vista though… you could read text through them. This special theme is only available through KDE, although the other desktops borrow some of the minor features. If you choose to use XGL, the transparency is gone, as it will completely take over.
Also found on the desktop is the Klik application, which merely opens up the website with instructions on how to install. I have never bothered with Klik before, but it may prove a good software installer for those who want it… similar to Freespires CNR. NX connection wizard is also there if you need to connected to a remote machine.
If you are in need of some partitioning prior to the installation, Gparted is kindly placed within reach. To install Sabayon, I was planning to use /dev/sda which was a blank drive, so I had nothing here to take care of.
When I said that the distro includes plenty of applications, I was not joking. Case in point:
If you can find a program -not listed- that you would expect on a Live distro, I would be surprised. I could only find two of three applications not there, but they are specialty applications that you wouldn’t need on a live distro. It’s not just like this for KDE though… other environments include numerous specific apps also. Overall, this is one seriously packed Live DVD.
Upon looking in the Home directory, you are greeted with various Gentoo specific folders, including a Portage snapshot and Stage snapshot. In this case, Stages for x86 and i686 are included. When Sabayon is publically launched, there will be a seperate 64-Bit edition for users who are in need of it.
In some ways, Sabayon is the best Live DVD I have ever come across. It looks incredibly sharp and has superb hardware detection. My primary complaint would be that it -is- incredibly bloated, due to all of the installed applications. Though, this ‘issue’ has it’s highs and lows. If you are using Sabayon strictly as a Live DVD, everything is here that you need. If you are just using it to install the OS immediately, the bloated-ness is not going to prove a big deal.
Speaking of installation…
Since Gentoo 2006.0 introduced a GUI installer in it’s x86 version, I had anticipated a similar installer in Sabayon. I was proven wrong. Unlike the 2006.0 installer, here you will not have to worry about USE flags, default editors, make.conf, etcetera. All of this will be taken care of for you. The most difficult part of the installer is proven to be the partitioner… which goes for any other distro out there as well.
The first thing you will be greeted with is a simple introduction, followed by Language, keyboard layout and upgrade/install.
You can choose your favorite desktop environment, which will be made default. Regardless of which you choose here, all of them will be installed. This may be considered before launch though, as the Sabayon devs are planning to add in further package selections. Partitioning can be made easy with the automatic method, although it’s highly recommended that you choose the manual way, unless you are installing to a single drive. For instance, it wanted to erase my primary HDD which contains my Gentoo and Windows installations.
In the last picture, we see that Sabayon creates a /boot mount, in addition to a / mount. A seperate Swap partition is not created, but they are going the swap file route. After making sure that settings were all correct, I proceeded to the next screen.
Setting up your ethernet should prove easy, if Sabayon picked up on it during the Live DVD boot. Chances are it did unless you are using a bizarre setup, or WiFi. My USB NIC was picked up, but would not connect to the available WPA network. It would appear as if it were connecting, then just drop out. I blame this on my subpar router.
Setting root password and primary user. Easy as pie. The setting up of the installation is done, and is ready to install.
During the install, you will be shown various screenshots of the OS, including the boot screen. This will prove good if you enjoy watching installers, but it’s like watching paint dry, really. The entire installation took just over an hour.
After the install, you are greeted with the same login screen as on the Live DVD. You have the option to choose which desktop environment you want to use, go to console, etc. In the below picture, we can see the entire installation took around 7GB of hard drive space. Not too bad, considering all that is included here.
I won’t get much into the post installation, because it’s not far different than the Live DVD. For those interested, here is what the GNOME, Xfce and Fluxbox environments look like on Sabayon.
After taking an initial look at Sabayon, I have mixed feelings. Though, I feel more joy when using it than anything negative. One reason this distro may stand out above others is because it takes a difficult base distro, and opens its arms for new users who want to experiment. When it’s all said and done, you will have a full functional Gentoo machine after the installation, topped off with a Sabayon coat of paint. What a great looking coat of paint it is.
One of the main gripes I have had with this specific version, is the mass amounts of installed packages. There are so many to wade through, that I wouldn’t dare try pulling off an emerge -uD world without going to sleep shortly after. However, with each SL release of Sabayon, a miniEdition will coincide, which will suit people like me who would rather pick and choose what apps we want manually.
What may impress me most about Sabayon is the great hardware detection. If you have a piece of hardware hooked up to your PC, chances are good that Sabayon will see it. The only piece of hardware I had trouble with was my USB WiFi adapter, which was detected but wouldn’t connect to the network. As I mentioned earlier, I blame this on the subpar router, not Sabayon.
Since this based on Gentoo, all of the benefits of that distro are here. emerge is the ‘apt-get’ here, and works well especially after you learn the ins and outs. The Portage software repository has countless applications… most you need will be there. It’s also regularly updated, and programs -need- to be stable before users are able to download it with ease. This helps prevent system instabilities down the road.
Similar to other distros, you can update all the packages on your system with a simple command: emerge -uD world. One benefit that some enjoy is the fact that if a program is open source, emerge will download the source code and compile it. This ‘optimizes’ that application for your system. I should mention though, that the quick installation of Sabayon is due to binary packages being used on the DVD. Further updating the applications, such as using the -uD world, will then compile them.
Another benefit Gentoo has is the genkernel tool. Essentially, this allows you to very easily upgrade your kernel with a simple command. Though power users will want to manually install and configure their kernel, this is a great secondary option.
Gentoo specific benefits aside, this is a great distro on it’s own even if you never touch the perks of Gentoo. For the casual user, it includes everything you will need from a base install… trust me on this. If you later want to upgrade/install new packages but don’t want to deal with emerge, a Kuroo icon is waiting for you on your desktop. It allows you the power of emerge, but in a GUI frontend.
For power users, Sabayon is one of those distros that comes packed, but holds back no control. After installation, you can do whatever you please… upgrade your kernel or packages, hack your grub.conf, uninstall programs you don’t need, change the theme to mimic a regular KDE and much more. The primary difference here is, that it makes the installation far quicker than a regular Gentoo distro.
If you are a fan of XGL and are a regular Gentoo user, you may understand the hassle of trying to get it to function. Sabayon is actually XGL capable from the start, but you need to activate it manually on boot: gentoo xgl res=1280×1024 refresh=75. I didn’t touch up much on XGL in this article though, as it’s not really the focus of this distro. It’s there for the taking, if you are interested. Here are some quick screenies to tide you over:
In short, you would be doing yourself a favor by giving Sabayon a try when it’s released later this month. Even if you don’t plan on using it as your primary installed distro, you may enjoy using it simply as a Live DVD, since it includes everything you will need. I look forward to seeing how this one progresses in the next few weeks, even few months. Kudos to Fabio and his crew for putting out a solid Gentoo based distro, that’s unique in it’s own right.
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