Date: March 22, 2007
Author(s): Rob Williams
We have been a fan of SabayonLinux for quite some time, so we could not pass up a chance to tinker with their heavily anticipated new version. In addition to updated software, 3.3 brings about a new color scheme. It’s also touted as being more stable, so let’s put it to the test.
Due to time constraints and other content in development, I haven’t had the chance to evaluate that many Linux distros recently. When SabayonLinux 3.3 became available however, I had to make time. When I first used SL last August, I was impressed from the get go. It’s not to say that using SL was a trouble-free experience, but by far it was one of the simplest and "fun" distros to use.
At the time of our first SL article, it was also the first time the RR4 name was set aside in favor of Sabayon. Since that time, the distro has enjoyed huge success and now ranks as the 8th most popular distro over at DistroWatch. While the credibility of these rankings are often disputed, there’s no denying that SL is making a mark.
It’s no surprise though. Lead developer Fabio Erculiani has an undeniable and infectious passion for what he does. There are many people who are good at what they do, and Fabio is one of those people. The effort he and his team put into SL is evident, since each new version doesn’t offer only a few minor updates, but is often an overhaul of the previous version entirely.
There are a few different reasons why SabayonLinux stands out in a crowd. First is the fact that it’s a complete package. You will not install SL and be unable to do what you need to right away, whether it be spreadsheet editing, photo manipulation, music playing or even DVD movie watching.
It’s robust selection of pre-installed packages is one gripe that some hold against the distro, because there is way more than what people need. I don’t disagree with this. No one out there will use all the programs installed, since there are multiple application types for a single purpose, such as a web browser. That’s where their Mini-Edition comes in though. It’s far smaller, but still offers the core functionality people have come to expect. At this time, the mini-edition is not available for 3.3, but should be in the coming weeks.
Another reason SL has proven successful is thanks to it’s hardware detection/configuration capabilities. Meaning, when you first boot into SL, every one of your components should function properly. This includes your audio, 3D graphics, wired/wireless internet, power schemes and even bluetooth devices. I’ve used many distros, but none have matched the detection as seen here. There is a 90% chance that you will not need to configure anything. Booting SL on my laptop for example, it automatically setup my wireless, so I just had to select my network, type in the WEP key and I was good to roll.
All that aside, 3.3 has numerous new features and updates that you should know about if you already use the distro. Here is the (somewhat) long list of new features. I wanted to skim it down a little bit, but almost every entry here will be of interest to someone.
Now that we have that out of the way, we can move on to see how well the latest version performs and what’s new.
Once again, the Live DVD is feature-packed and allows you to perform a lot of tasks without installing it to your hard drive. I didn’t include a screenshot, but the options at the boot screen are: Start SabayonLinux 3.3, Start without Music, Anonymous Internet Browsing, Start Graphical Installation, Start Text Installation, Play with Sauerbraten, Play with Coldwar (demo), Start in safe mode, Start in Console mode, Start in Internet Kiosk MX mode, Start GeeXboX Media Center, Start Freevo Media Center and finally, Debug mode. Most of these are shortcuts to begin an application after the desktop loads, but others are completely different, such as GeeXBoX and Freevo.
I focused primarily on the default option, which boots up the OS with music playing throughout the entire process. Those who are on the go a lot will find the Anonymous net browsing option to be of interest. It starts up Tor on boot, so all of your surfing will run through a proxy so as to retain an extra layer of security.
At the boot, you will have the option to change the parameters, which you -will- want to do unless you enjoy 1024×768. I booted with the “res=1680×1050” option, so that I would retain that resolution at the desktop. Any parameters you specify at the boot will be retained after the installation. For whatever reason, I still always have to boot with “noapic” on my AMD AM2 machine. It’s been this way with all recent Linux distros, not just SL. I am unsure why I receive this problem, but it might be the combination of hardware I have, as many who do use AM2 don’t have to specify that flag.
Once you begin the boot process, it will take about three or four minutes to reach the desktop, which looks like this.
On the desktop itself you will find three games, live chat, Google Earth, installer updater and of course the installer itself. To get to this point, I did run into a few problems. I use USB audio on this PC as the primary device, but I have a sound card installed as well, which I plug headphones into directly. At the boot, Sabayon chose the sound card as the primary device. Not surprising, or something I could disagree with, since that’s the case most times. Under KMix, my USB audio was shown, so I knew that the snd-usb-audio module had been loaded into the kernel. However, whenever I tried to run alsaconf to set the USB as the default device, I received errors. In the end, alsaconf did not recognize the USB audio as it should.
I had this problem with Gentoo in the past as well. I forget which kernel modules I was missing, but it was fixed within a matter of ten minutes. I wanted to make sure the USB audio was configurable under Sabayon though, so I rebooted and disabled the on-board sound card in the BIOS. This time around, SL installed the USB audio no problem, and it worked fine. Just bear in mind that if you also use a USB device as a primary sound card, you may have to tinker a little bit inside the kernel or do what I did. You can easily install the sound card after Sabayon is installed and deal with it that way.
That "problem" was the only real one I had during boot. Everything else went fine, without issue. First introduced with SL 3.26, I believe this is still the only distro that implements SuSEs kicker, besides SUSE of course. For those who haven’t used it before, it replaces the KDE menu with one with more creative functionality. Just by looking, you can easily see how it works and how it differs from the official K menu. One of the best features is the search bar up top which helps you find the application you are looking for quickly. For those who dislike the new menu, you can just right click this one and click "Switch to KDE Menu".
If you boot into the desktop and have problems, you will appreciate the "Live Help" icon. Essentially, this will bring you straight to the #sabayon channel on the freenode network. At any given time there is usually around 50 people hanging out in there, so chances are someone will be able to help you through your problem.
Before you ponder an install, you should open up the partitioner on the desktop to make sure everything is good. Originally, I had two Windows partitions, since this is all done on my benchmarking computer. I removed the second one since I didn’t need it anymore and formatted it to ext3. The installer will reformat it and partition it as it should be, while leaving all other partitions alone. If you have multiple Linux installs, you will need to be careful here, as the default action is to delete all Linux partitions off the drive.
With that out of the way, let’s install.
Sabayon uses the popular Anaconda installer, so the experience will already be familiar to most of you. As with most things SL though, the installer is completely customized with various new options and theme.
First things first. Read the introduction from the developer and then choose your keyboard configuration and language.
The first real option you will receive is regards to the partitioner. If you trust the installer, you can have it configure your partitions for you, or choose to do it yourself with disk druid. I allowed the automatic partitioner to do it’s thing, which worked out fine. Once done that, you can choose your default desktop environment from KDE, GNOME, E16 and Fluxbox. Regardless of what you choose, they will all be installed.
From this point, you will be able to configure your partitioning scheme a little bit. Since I had a fresh ext3 partition, I allowed the partitioner to reformat it and structure it as it deems necessary.
If you have multiple OS installations, you might want to configure them here. By default, Sabayon will label the Windows boot loader as Other, so you might want to rename it accordingly. The following option is your network handling. Chances are good that your network will function already, so it should be good to leave at default. If you load up a web browser and nothing is displayed, you will need to find the problem and configure it manually.
Time Zone configuration is pretty straight forward. I usually leave it at default because I am lazy. The only thing it will really effect is daylight savings time. You can set your root password here and set up a primary user. If you plan on having more than one user on the computer, you can set those up here as well, or set them up manually later on using KUser or the command line.
That’s it. The time came to give the go ahead, and a half hour later it was all done.
Overall, installation was as simple as I expected. It seemed to take a little longer than 3.26 did, but still was pretty reasonable.
I have a rule of thumb that if the Sabayon Live DVD works well for you, so will the installed system. It essentially carries over the settings you used, so as long as you don’t have any bizarre issues, you should be good to go, post install. This was the case for me… everything worked just fine.
The installed environment has a cleaner desktop than in the live one. Here you will still find the Sauerbraten and Wesnoth games, live chat and also Google Earth. Kuroo is here as well, and I will touch more on this in a few minutes.
I will express a few opinions I have with Beryl. I am not sure why, but every single time I run it, I always run into issues. For this reason, I have no desire to run it on a full time environment. It’s fun, but not efficient. Beyond efficiency, I ran into a few show stopping bugs that at first, I couldn’t figure out.
First is the image below. You can see the console, but no frame around it. Meaning, I couldn’t close, maximize or minimize the app. I was unsure what the issue was, so I rebooted and the problem went away. However, I ran into the same problem soon after, and found the problem to be with Beryl.
When right-clicking the Beryl emerald in the tray, you will see an option for "Reload Window Decorator". This solved everything, so I stuck with it for a while. Then while working on the system, something happened that I couldn’t screenshot. The entire screen became black, with only the top and bottom bar being visible. Everything could still be used, but you may as well be blindfolded. After this happened, I rebooted the machine and turned Beryl off.
So while I think Beryl is a great tech-demo, it’s still not ready for prime time. It’s just far too prone to issues. Those aside, let’s get into the good stuff. Sabayon is known for including the latest software (sometimes bleeding edge), as you can see in the shot below. Included here is the latest kernel and latest stable version of GCC. Xorg 7.1 is what’s considered "stable" currently in Portage, but Sabayon includes 7.2.
I was pleased to see the latest NVIDIA driver installed as well, which adds SLI (for what it’s worth) support for 8800 cards, as well as support for the new Quadros. As you can also see, my USB audio worked without a hitch.
One thing I have begun to wonder about Sabayon personally, is how it handles the software. As you probably already know, Sabayon is built upon Gentoo, which uses Portage as it’s software repository. I believe Portage to be one of the -best- out there, so I hardly disagree with it being included. However, it does lead to some small issues.
One common command for Portage is emerge –sync && emerge -uD -av world which updates all the software installed on your system… if there are updates to be had. Well, because SL installs so much software, this command is near useless unless you want to spend a little while fixing things up. Below, you can see running this command gave me a blocked package… not uncommon.
Once that program was unblocked, I reran the updater and received this:
386 packages totalling 1.13GB! Bear in mind that the majority of this would not simply be downloaded and installed, but compiled as well. Therefore, on a very fast computer, you could expect this process to complete in just under… 8 hours approximately.
That said, Sabayons developers discourage use of emerge -uD -av world for obvious reasons. If you don’t want to put up with the mass amount of updates but still want to use that command, your option is to go through and uninstall all the programs you don’t want or need. This will take a long while, let me assure you. This method would be better suited for the Mini-Edition which installs less packages to begin with.
Your other option is to not use that command at all, but instead just updating the software you need updated, manually. This doesn’t take too long if you don’t do it that often. By default, the package.keywords and package.unmask files are full with entries, so upgrading should be as simple as syncing the repository and then emerging that app.
For an idea of just how much software Sabayon installs, I compared the installed software to my primary machine, which uses the official version of Gentoo. I use this machine full time, 12+ hours a day to do -everything- (except play games). On that PC, I have 796 packages (installed through Portage, not including manually installed ones). On Sabayon, there are a total of 1,900 packages installed by default. So it’s clear that there is likely to be many packages that you will not use.
It’s ridiculous to me to have -that- much software installed, but as I mentioned, that’s why there is a Mini-Edition. I gave it a bit of thought, and wondered why there was not a package selection during the install, like there is with SuSE or other distros. I thought about how Portage works though, and if I were a developer, I would not want to go through the headache. It -is- possible, but it would have to be done by compiling most everything during install, similar to what the Gentoo Live CD does. To save time, Sabayon includes binary packages of everything, which is why it installs so fast. But as it stands, there are far too many issues that could arise from having a package selection, such as broken dependencies. This is hard to pull off without the need of compiling, since Portage compiles everything that’s open source.
I could be looking at this the wrong way, but I believe it a package selection were possible with Portage, it would have been done already. If you don’t mind a PC with loads of software, then this will not affect you at all. If you like having a slim PC with only the packages you use, like myself, then you should be prepared to go through Kuroo or the command line to uninstall what you don’t need. In this instance, I prefer Kuroo simply because it makes uninstalling mass amounts of software all at once relatively easy.
Whew, that all aside, the core functionality that fans have come to love is still here. You pop in a DVD and it will prompt you to play it. Pop in an Audio CD and Amarok will recognize it and play. If you have a wireless internet card, you should be good to connect to your network… same with your bluetooth devices. One thing I did notice is that even though I don’t have a bluetooth device, the driver is loaded after install. In a way, this is a good thing -in case- you later purchase a bluetooth product. It would save the hassle of installing the driver yourself. One thing I did find odd was that KSynpatics was installed… which is used for touchpads. I am not on a laptop, so it’s virtually of no use here.
As I mentioned in the intro, I have been a fan of Sabayon since I first heard of it. The latest version only re-instills my faith in the distro, it’s one that keeps getting better. I’ve had my share of issues with earlier versions, but this one proved to be pretty error free. The only problems I really had were with Beryl and also my USB audio during installation. The only reason that issue confuses me is that alsaconf wouldn’t recognize it unless I disabled the onboard audio in the BIOS and then booted up that way.
The Beryl issues bugged me, but I don’t believe those to be directly related to the distro itself. Still, those issues are something you should look for in case you are going to use it as your primary desktop. The good thing is that it’s easily disabled, so if it gives you a problem, it takes two seconds to get it out of your way.
One thing I will also mention is that this to me, seemed far more stable than earlier versions. This entire article was written under 3.3, because I wanted to see if I would run into any quirky issues, which I didn’t. Once I turned Beryl off, the system ran like a dream. Easily one of the smoothest running desktops I’ve ever run. Everything was responsive, as it should be.
Overall I love the latest version. The amount of effort that goes into the distro is undeniable… even the little things are tackled. I took a look in the make.conf file and noticed that the options are set to enable dual core support on the compiler. I am running a Quad-Core machine, so perhaps in future versions, SL could detect that fact and adjust the flags accordingly. All of this can of course be changed after the fact, but many newer users to Gentoo wouldn’t know where to look.
Fans of Sabayon will be pleased. Things just keep getting better. For those who have never touched SL, you should give it a try and see what you are missing. Even if you don’t plan on changing desktops (like myself), it’s one of the best distros to play with, or use as a Live DVD if you are on the road a lot. I had a few people test it out on Apple computers, and it works great there as well. No one is left excluded! Kudos to Fabio and his team for the great work on this latest release.
As a last thought, I’ll also mention that the development team is always looking for donations to keep things going. So if you have enjoyed SL or use it as your primary system, please consider shooting them a few dollars to help them along.
If you have a comment you wish to make on this review, feel free to head on into our forums! There is no need to register in order to reply to such threads.
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