Updated: March 22, 2013
Ola, guys. Let us review Sabayon 11. This time though, I will be deviating from my usual KDE experience and check whether this semi-monster Gentoo-based distro can deliver equally fun results when blessed with a less mainstream desktop environment.
Anyhow, my past reviews with Sabayon have gone from stupendous to buggy to somewhat boring. My feeling is that the distribution has lost its passion and momentum, and that is now merely trying to make Gentoo more presentable, while wallowing in lost identity. That's what version 8 has taught me. So let us see what version 11 can do.
Live session - Special
You know how people like to call their neighbor's child special, so as not to insult them, so they can have someone water their plants when they go on a vacation? Well, we have a similar situation developing here. And I have already learned a valuable lesson. Not all Xfce distros are equal, and not all Xfce desktops are identical. Xubuntu did a fabulous job in the past year, not once, but twice, and then I had it committed to my netbook, too, where it kicked ass. With that kind of expectations, I booted Sabayon 11 to undergo a different kind of experience.
The desktop is a bit too dark, and the icon background looks cheap. The network systray applet complained about being disconnected from the network, when it was never connected in the first place. And there's no audio button. This is more Fedora than Xubuntu, I have to admit.
It worked, but it was very slow, and sometimes, file transfers would stall. Me no likey.
Only partial success here. Flash worked, but MP3 did not, although it should have. But then, bugginess seems to be the middle name here.
There were a whole bunch of little problems that cropped. I did mentioned the volume icon missing. Well, it turns out the Fn buttons for increasing and decreasing volume did not work either.
The vi text editor is missing. I mean, c'mon. Vi, in Linux, not there? That's the basic of every distro, no matter if you like the alternatives likes nano, pico, emacs, and other merry fellows. Oh, the window border is transparent, so screenshots also capture what is underneath, and this irks me so.
Another big was one was network resolution. Sabayon uses the dnsmasq like most distros, so /etc/resolv.conf is actually a symbolic link. But what the distro did was add a weird and unneeded 192.168.2.254 address as the first nameserver, which slowed down the DNS queries dramatically. I had to delete the symbolic link, create the file and manually populate the DNS entries to resolve the issue, after which the response and performance went back to normal.
Then, I was looking for an easy way to restart the network stack, but there isn't anything convenient, just a bunch of per-interface scripts under /etc/init.d, which feel very much UNIX-like. Most of those are irrelevant, so expect user confusion if the issue ever comes up.
Lastly, my Wireless access point had a double entry show up in the network manager menu, and I wonder why this is. What's the bloody point anyway?
Installation - whatever
This was also somewhat frustrating. You get an Anaconda-like installer, only this one is even more restrictive when it comes to disk selection. It forced me to choose one of the two identical SSD, and then, only let me partition that. Naturally, Murphy's Law made sure my choice was wrong, so I had to go back and select the second disk.
Then, the installation began. You get a very plain, uninspiring slide show that tells you hackers use LXDE or Xfce, while people who like to bleed use E17 and such. Nothing could be further from the truth, and there is no correlation between skill and aesthetics. This is exactly the Die Hard mentality that makes me want to go Sparta on any CS graduate.
The first boot almost never happened. I booted into Ubuntu so I could update the GRUB2 bootloader, which I did. Then, when I selected Sabayon on next reboot, it dropped into a minimal shell, complaining that it could not find the root device, and if I could specify one myself. Typing /dev/sda2 fixed the problem, and the system came up. So there seems to be some Ubuntu Gentoo conflict.
Yes, the first thing I did was change things a bit. You know the drill by now. It wasn't really easy, and I hit a few snags. For some reason, I could not change the panel height to 32px. Either 31px or 33px worked fine. Then, to add app shortcuts to either the top or bottom panel, I had to drag and drop them, with quite some trial and error and frustration. I also added several new programs, but more about that later. However, bottom line, Xubuntu does this much better with its bottom panel acting as a smart dock.
One of the weak sides of Sabayon was/is the Gentoo-based package management. In the past, you had to handle funny applications, front and back, named portage, portato, magneto, and a dozen others, none of which contributed positively to your experience.
Nowadays, it is much simpler, with Rigo, although Magneto still exists and does nothing. Moreover, the package manager is slow, tends to stall while thinking, it is too verbose with its messages, but it does seem to work fairly well, and so much better than anything else we've seen. Oh, Rigo is officially called Application Browser.
For a monster distro, Sabayon 11 comes with a relatively simple repertoire. Then, it also uses Midori as its browser, and yet it offers GIMP and LibreOffice. Does not compute for me, this thing. Firefox was my addition, so your own default set will cover Transmission, Shotwell, Exaile, and a few other applications, but nothing grand. Remember the good ole days when Sabayon would bundle XBMC and a dozen games. Not anymore, it seems. Not with this spin, anyway.
I also tried installing the bad and ugly Gstreamer plugins. This did not resolve the music problem, so the MP3 playback issue remains. Really not nice, and hardly the OOTB experience so hailed everywhere.
Sabayon has always been considered a heavy distro, and this version is no exception. However, at 600MB, it is way hungrier than most other similar, Xfce distributions and even ups some KDE desktops. At least the CPU usage was low, and the system was very responsive, but memory wise, it's a boat full of loat, or simply bloat.
Do not. Simple do not. CUPS via Web interface? No. 1999 is long gone now. To say nothing of the Welcome message that reads Site under maintenance, and small print in black on dark gray background. What!
Some more art, entirely thanks to my skillz:
Perhaps the Sabayon dev team did not invest sufficient resources to make the Xfce version shine just as well as their mainstream edition. However, somehow, I doubt it. Given my past experience, the overall behavior and feel appear to be a part of a longer trend. For some reason, Sabayon is losing its charm, and this version is no exception.
Sabayon 11 is fairly fast, robust, relatively free of errors, and comes with a much improved package manager. But then, it's also buggy, not really attractive, totes a meager app selection, and has a few really nasty problems, like Samba, multimedia and printing. The friendly tone is gone, and you're facing a rather somber, unforgiving Gentoo distro that does not favor noobs. If you must then please do, but there are many simpler, more attractive alternatives. Xfce wise, Xubuntu leads the way, by far. And to sum it all up nicely, Sabayon 11 deserves around 6/10. And I want that Italian passion back.