Updated: March 3, 2012
Once upon a time, Sabayon impressed me as a cute, furry mutation of Gentoo, a distribution forged in virgin's blood and C code. It was big, even massive, and dared fight byte for byte with the likes of Vista. While most distributions were proud to claim their minimalistic share of GB for the installation, Sabayon shouted gimme more. It was nice. Lots of fun stuff, games, a media center, whatnot. Then it went downhill.
Between versions oh-four and oh-five, some of the fun was gone, traded for maturity that did not suit it well. In fact, I let Sabayon rest for a while before picking it up again for today's review. Now I'm aware of its Gentoo legacy, so credits are due when they are due, but that does not make the need for a suitable, friendly desktop environment any less. Therefore, me asking, can Sabayon deliver?
Sabayon has a somewhat complicated boot sequence. You can even choose to listen to music while the system churns memory pages and readies the desktop. After much anticipation, you reach a dark-colored KDE desktop.
Look and feel
Sabayon has reasonable looks, although the dark wallpaper can be a little oppressive on your eyes. The system menu is classic KDE, simple and functional.
But it's not all roses. You do not have any application shortcuts in the panel, nor a plasma space on the desktop, so you may consider adding some there. Most notably, the lack of visibility of the file manager is annoying. However, adding Dolphin results in a rather spectacular overlap failure:
I do not know why this happens, but it looks bad. The only way to work around the problem is to drag & drop icons onto the desktop and place links there. Using the right-click option from the menu gets you that ugly effect above.
Speaking of effects, they did not quite work for me in the live session. Apart from the basic window border glow, cube, expo and the rest could not be activated. We will see what happens later after the system is installed.
You MP3 and Flash support out of the box, so no worries there. However, VLC is the default media player and not Amarok; moreover, VLC uses a non-consistent skin that does not align with the rest of the desktop theme.
Installation - Dis thy neighbor
I left the rest of the testing for until after the installation. The installer is a classic KDE one, but it does not maximize the screen. Moreover, after you're asked what kind of storage devices you want to use, you are not taken into the partitioning setup. Instead, you complete all other steps and only then configure your disks. This sort-of jump in the installer wizard is a little weird.
Then, you get a slideshow running while installing. It's not very inspiring, as it looks like a handful of screenshots taken from Impress or alike. But what I found most entertaining is the content. First, I did not know that "hackers" run LXDE, Xfce or Awesome, nor that to bleed you should run Enlightenment 17. Who else has Xonotic? I don't know. What is Xonotic? TCO, isn't that a corporate word. Seriously. Released every four months, and you expected someone to use your distro as a server in a business environment? And what's with the Debian analogy?
So you're being amused and annoyed as one while you wait for the installation to complete. Since it's a hefty DVD, there's a lot to wait. But eventually, it completed successfully. I had the dual-boot all figured out.
Using Sabayon - Not like driving Enzo
Let's see what gives.
Sabayon should have a very rich application stack, and it does. But you do end up asking yourself where all those GB have gone. Now, as you start testing and prowling the system, looking for handy programs, you come across some weird stuff. For instance, Chromium is included, but it's not the default browser; Konqueror is, which is why you get that warning when you fire up Chromium, but not always, randomly, just to keep you sharp and ready.
Your satisfaction is boosted by the Amarok Amazon MP3 Store plugin, which ever so gently excludes you from the list of the chosen ones. I always hated country-specific plugins in any software, and this one is no exception.
You also get the usual and unusual share - LibreOffice, Marble, Kopete, and more, but it does not justify the weight. You are also blessed with fresh visual bugs. Like Mint KDE, Sabayon 8.0 suffers from the same Amarok-related bug. When the program launches, it changes your desktop theme from Air to something dark. And if you drag LibreOffice into a desktop corner, the window turns black for some reason and will only shows its expected contents when fully visible inside the desktop screen space.
After the installation, I thought I might get some luck. Nope.
I have always complained about Sabayon's package management, which is based on Gentoo Voodoo, with the emerging of potatoes and whatnot. You also get Entropy, Magneto, and Professor Xavier to help you with the compilation. Let's not forget equo and sulfur. I mean please. What's up with that?
Still, it seems that package management is that easier this time around than it ever was before, but the silly multitude of names and synonyms for something that should simply be called package/update manager must stop.
System performance, stability, suspend & resume
Sleep and whatnot worked fine. The system did not crash, but it wasn't exactly Austro-Hungarian army barracks discipline either. However, my biggest gripe was the system responsiveness. Sabayon 8.0 is quite sluggish on the aging T60. It does not seem to like old hardware, and it shows. You do get frustrated after a while, waiting for things to move and respond. Memory usage hovers around 0.5GB but CPU likes to spike quite a bit, even when doing simple things.
What's with the Windows XP update-like icon for the package manager?
I might be getting old and/or bitter, or just plain tired of the sinusoid wave of quality that seems to grip the Linux world. Every new release, every new desktop environment release, every single one of them brings in a fresh new inconsistency. It seems the only thing that is consistent is the inconsistency. And Sabayon is right there, too.
Another explanation is that KDE is good, but simply badly used by some, as you have distros that manage well, e.g. Kubuntu and openSUSE. But then many others do not, or just enjoy the same bounty of unfixed bugs. Either way, one may point out that most if not all bugs in Sabayon 8.0 stem from KDE. Frankly, I do not care. Bottom line is, Sabayon is not a good candidate for desktop use. Sluggish, bland, buggy even, bloated to be sure, and with its fair share of bad QA. Used to be a passionate monster, now it's just a sad dino playing with a broken toy in the corner of a dark, moldy room encircled by claymores.
But I'm not here to debate Linux. I'm here to conclude a review of Sabayon 8.0. C'mon, seriously. Sabayon is an Italian distro. Where's the passion? Where's the color? Where's the spice? What gives? Something went wrong somewhere, and it's not getting any better. At the time being, I'd say 6/10. If this were an action movie, you'd be watching Pride and Prejudice now. Well, one can only hope, but I'm sure out of hope.