A Review and Endorsement of Sabayon LXDE

screenshot of my Sabayon LXDE desktop

So I recently discussed my move to Lubuntu on my new ThinkPad.

Before moving to Lubuntu, I briefly gave Sabayon Xfce a spin. It was interesting, but there was a little bit more of a learning curve than I was prepared to commit to at the time.

But once I had my new machine working, I decided to try out Sabayon on the old one, a ThinkPad T43. Since I’ve fallen in love with LXDE as a desktop environment, I wanted to see Sabayon’s take on it. I liked it so much on the T43, I wound up installing it on the T420, my everyday laptop.

Sabayon is an intriguing distro. It’s based on Gentoo, but is much more user-friendly. From what I understand, a lot of Gentoo packages need to be manually compiled. Sabayon includes a standard package manager with a very nice selection of software. Adding and removing software is pretty ordinary, once you’ve played with Entropy, the package manager, for a little bit. I also found the advanced interface a little easier to use, since that gives you the option of searching the repositories or your installed programs.

The Sabayon LXDE default applications are fairly vanilla. I immediately added gedit, Chromium, Firefox, and GIMP. I also installed the xfce4-appfinder, which I use as an application launcher. I was also going to install Clipman as my clipboard manager, when I noticed Parcellite in the repositories. It’s comparable to Clipman and seemed to have less dependencies.

There’s also some kind of issue with the GNOME keyring and Network Manager, where every login also requires you to authenticate the keyring before Network Manager will connect. It was annoying more than anything, so I removed Network Manager and swapped in Wicd, a very nice and very underrated network manager.

The default Sabayon LXDE icons weren’t great, so I popped in Lubuntu’s. And since Lubuntu doesn’t have Wicd art, I replaced the Wicd icons with the Lubuntu Network Manager ones, which just involved messing about with /usr/share/pixmaps/wicd and changing some file names. It’s silly, but I really like the Lubuntu wifi indicators.

I was able to get the ThinkPad trackpad scroll working relatively easily, once I figured out what most other distros call .xsessionrc is .xprofile in Gentoo/Sabayon.

Wireless printing was also effortless to implement.

Sabayon is solid. It needed some work to perfect, but once I set up some Openbox key launchers (I’ve become very dependent upon Ctrl-Alt-T to launch a terminal Ctrl-Alt-E to open the file manager — the T43 lacks a Windows/super key), it began to feel comfortable.

Entropy has a nice selection of programs, which I appreciate since I’m not huge on compiling my own packages (and the Sabayon documentation kind of warns new users off of doing so). I was able to find SpiderOak, my new backup tool, in the repositories, but they also have packages for DropBox.

Because Sabayon is a rolling distribution, there are also, as one might expect, very up-to-date packages available, like the new version of GIMP that includes single window mode. Closing GIMP no longer feels like Whac-a-Mole and has probably added hours of free time to my year.

It’s still early, but so far, Sabayon has been relatively stable. It doesn’t have the out-of-the-box beauty and seamlessness of Lubuntu, but using Lubuntu as a template, I’ve been able to give Sabayon that same kind of ease and convenience. But there are some issues. Suspend doesn’t work on the T420, although it was fine on the T43. gedit is also a little buggy. There seems to be an issue with the snippets plugin that’s causing some crashing.

Sabayon comes with a few desktop environment options. There’s KDE, GNOME, Xfce and Enlightenment versions. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Xfce version, but I think that might have had more to do with Xfce 4.8 than Sabayon’s implementation.

Finally, a note about support. Sabayon has a forums area, but it’s not the same volume of answers as you’ll find with a Debian-based distribution. Google seems to know to direct Sabayon queries to Gentoo areas, and a lot of times, the answer you need can be found in the Gentoo forums, which seem a little busier than the Sabayon ones. Online Linux help tends to skew Ubuntu-related, so troubleshooting can take a little longer than you might be used to. The answers are out there, but they’re not as readily available as the Ubuntu-related ones.

But Sabayon is well-worth the extra effort. Especially given that it’s a rolling distribution, meaning all of my hard work configuring things won’t have to be re-done in a few years. Ubuntu-derived distributions are great. They usually work out of the box and a lot of thought goes into the UI (whether you personally agree with the thoughts or not). The tradeoff is that the distributions can often feel a little bloated, and sometimes it can be hard to track down what part of Ubuntu is controlling what. Sabayon is a nice halfway point between the ease of Ubuntu and the full-on control-every-aspect-of-your-distro experience of something like Arch.

So far, it’s been great for someone likes me, who likes to play with his OS, but doesn’t want it to be his full-time job.