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Distro reviews

REVIEW: Sabayon 6 (Xfce) and a look at my migration away from Gnome.

Xfce customized to be more like my Gnome desktop. After only a few minutes work, the results are already pleasing. Lets not forget though its Sabayon 6 - an excellent distro! (Oh and the Space Marine desktop is due to the fact I'm currently loving it on PS3)

It’s no secret that Gnome 3 (and Gnome-shell) are not being well received by everyone.  Canonical is going with its Unity and for many other Gnome users, the future is Gnome-shell.

KDE is/was never an option for me, I simply don’t like it.  Over the last few years I’ve tried to get on with KDE, but found myself time and again going back to Gnome after only a very short period of time.  Maybe that’s because when I migrated fully to a Linux desktop, I mostly used Gnome and have now become indoctrinated in working with it.   Series 2 offered everything I wanted, it was simple, clean and familiar, however with its move to 3 series I find that it no longer has a place in my heart.  Without repeating views which I’ve stated many times in the past, I will merely say that Gnome-Shell to me feels as if it should be on a smart phone, not a desktop form factor.  My personal comfort zone in desktop computing is not having a “cushion” between myself and the OS (Gnome-shell).  People may disagree, people may like Gnome-Shell.  I do not.

My first Xfce experience came a couple of years ago with the distro Wolvix and at the time Xfce impressed me with the same simple functionality that Gnome had previously offered me for so long, it seemed then only natural that when Sabayon (my distro of choice) was returned to my desktop, I went with Xfce.

My previous Sabayon (Gnome) desktop. As you can see, I'm not far off realizing my goal of an Xfce alternative.

So lets look at  Sabayon 6 Xfce, where I’ll be dropping in my observations of Xfce as we go along.  For this review I’m running the 64bit version.

Sabayon is a strange distro, in all the experiences I’ve had, it offers out of the box support for hardware, rock solid stability but its never achieved the ranking on DistroWatch that it so rightfully deserved.    I understand (as I highlighted in a recent TechBytes episode) that the ranking is in no way indicative of the actual usage stats, but even so, I would expect Sabayon to have more people talking and ergo more hits on its Distrowatch page.

Installation – Sabayon the unsung hero!

Whilst its common to read about the simple installation of Ubuntu, Mint et al, Sabayon has been running with a simple installation certainly before I migrated over originally.  After choosing your partition options (in simple English) you are taken step by step through the rest of the process without the “l33t speak” which can put some users off.  Again, I go back to what I said earlier and it’s a surprise why Sabayon has not received more attention.

Sabayon prides itself on providing many proprietary packages at install time, its no bad thing for the user who does require some proprietary solutions.  I am almost 100% sure that on previous releases of Sabayon you could “bulk accept” licenses, which now seems to be replaced by having to click on each one separately.

So whats included in a default install?

One comment I’ve made time and time again when looking at a distro is the need to customize much of the default flavour with my own preferences.  This is not said as a complaint and its to be expected that all an individuals requirements are not going to be met out of the box with the developers vision of the distro.  That being said, Sabayon Xfce really was by far the most “ready” after install for me.

Entropy covers all your package needs. Its very simple to use however can be rather sluggish on operation.

Xfce is 4.8.0  which is the most recent version, released on January 16 this year, Thunar 1.2.2 is the file-manager, a lightweight offering that serves its purpose well and compliments Sabayon Xfce as a distro for those on more limited hardware, however more powerful machines will be given an easier time – more time to dedicate to running essential applications, not the platform from which they are launched (the OS).

Chromium as its default web browser scored points since I’ve been using it from early in its development (and I believe 5.5 bundled Midori so it was a relief to see that gone), LibreOffice is presented in version 3.4.3

There’s none of those play once games included either, which saves the job of removal after installation.

There were a couple of surprises for me though.  There was no mail client (Thunderbird at the ready!) and instead of Audacious (or similar) we were given Exaile, a package which I have never used before.  Quite why this decision was made I’m not sure, in terms of footprint and cpu usage there’s very little difference (that I’ve found) so to me, the aesthetically more pleasing Audacious would have been a better choice (that’s if you choose to run it in Winamp Classic interface!). – I think Sabayon Xfce needs to consider that it will no longer only be a choice mostly for those on very limited hardware.

The default image viewer is ristretto 0.0.93 which is a rather bemusing choice, it’s quite laggy (especially when zooming in and out of large files), that I replaced almost immediately with Eye of Gnome 3.0.2 which offers a far better experience on my rig.  There was also no screen grab utility present, so currently I’m using Shutter – something I think will be replaced shortly.

Unless I’ve missed it, there is no media burning software included.  That didn’t matter much to me, as I’ve yet to see a non-KDE distro package K3b, my package of choice there.

Transmission 2.33 is present and I think its been (unofficially) decided that as far as most people are concerned, it’s the defacto BitTorrent client for the desktop (in the Linux world).  I’m still waiting for anyone to come forward with advantages of Deluge over Transmission.

Entropy Store is your package manager and whilst its a simple enough affair to use, its a little bit of a pig performance wise, even running on a quad-core.  That doesn’t detract from its flawless operation and simplicity – however I think its something which should now be addressed (its been this way ever since I first tried Sabayon).

My requirements had me introducing a few packages, LottaNZB, K3b (as stated above), Skype, VLC and as I’ve said in the past,  Sabayon repo’s are large and comprehensive.

Conclusions

Previous versions have had some complaining about boot-time.  Whilst Sabayon is not the fastest “booter”, it’s certainly no slouch and I can have a net-ready machine in around 35 seconds.   I’m sure with a little work, I could trim that down a little, however in days of Windows machines that I’ve seen taking over 2.5 minutes (and apparently being acceptable to the user) I don’t really feel the need to complain about 35 seconds of my life.  Conversely, shut down takes around 10 or so seconds which again is respectable.

Having been a Sabayon user previous (albeit in a Gnome incarnation) you have a Gentoo based distro which is speedy (more so with Xfce) and reliable.  The Sabayon repo’s are comprehensive and the default packaging on the whole (with a few surprising omissions) was good.

With Sabayon almost certainly making the move to Gnome 3 sooner or later, perhaps what critics once touted as a flaw of Linux (the amount of diversity and choice) is now paying dividends.  For Linux users, we are not forced to follow the visions of the big name distros and as you will see in the Xfce observation below, the amount of choice means that finding replacement is usually no problem at all.

For those looking for a rock solid, punchy distro I would wholeheartedly recommend Sabayon.  For those wishing to migrate away from Gnome, I can thoroughly recommend Xfce.

The XFCE Solution?

Whilst I have briefly reviewed Sabayon, the main purpose of this article was to explore Xfce.  As mentioned earlier, Gnome 3 is not for me.  I am not alone either since it appears from numerous forums that many people are already looking for Gnome alternatives.  Prior to installing Sabayon Xfce, I spent a couple of hours with LXDE.  I’ll probably be covering that over on Diaspora in due course.

With moving to Xfce, my first task was making it as similar to my Gnome 2 series desktop as I possibly could.  Having a taskbar at the top of the screen for my applications menu/shortcuts and the bottom for virtual desktop management and open packages.  It’s the way I work, maybe not the way you do.  I was recently talking about DE’s and noted that any machine running just the single “tradition” single taskbar at the bottom of the screen, has me getting flashbacks of Windows, not pleasant ones I hasten to add.

Getting to grips with Xfce was rather simple.   As you can see in the screen-shot, I have what already resembles a Gnome desktop and this was only a few minutes of work.  I have noticed a few aesthetical features missing from Xfce (which maybe someone can answer) the main one being I’m offered no transparency on my taskbars – hardly a deal breaker though. I should just elaborate, for some reason, the transparency slider just does not effect the taskbar (this may be an issue my end and I’m looking into it)

I am very happy with my Xfce “emulation” of my familiar Gnome desktop and I believe people would be hard pushed to differentiate my rig now from its previous Gnome incarnation.  I can confidently say for anyone looking to jump off the Gnome ship before 3 settles in, you can not afford to ignore Xfce, especially if, like me you were less than comfortable with KDE.

I said earlier that migrations away from Gnome have been mentioned in many forums and that in itself poses many question, notably:

How will the (presumed) surge of users to Xfce affect the development? – With the last release (4.8.0) being in January this year, can we expect a more rapid (with assumed more contribution) cycle?

If Gnome 3 is in the most part to appeal to the more casual/average user, will this fragment further the Linux desktop? With Canonical moving in its own direction (and doing very well I believe) we could see a very different Linux landscape this time next year.

These questions will be answered in due course, but I think that one thing is for certain, the Xfce user base will expand considerably over the next few months – and rightfully so, its a fantastic collection of projects.

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Mail: bytes4free@googlemail.com
Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights on freenode.net.
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About Tim Sparrow

Online tech writer, novelist/author of sci-fi literature and co-host of the TechBytes Show! I believe in multi-culturalism & diversity. Luton Town FC supporter.

Discussion

26 thoughts on “REVIEW: Sabayon 6 (Xfce) and a look at my migration away from Gnome.

  1. Nice combination of your current interests :-)

    If the next release of OpenBSD only offers Gnome 3, I will also be switching my desktop systems to Xfce.

    Posted by Wim Wauters | September 25, 2011, 10:11 pm
  2. :) The one thing that is not permanent on my desktop is the wallpaper…it will be going soon…it merely stands as a tribute to a cracking title I’m enjoying at the moment on the PS3.

    Posted by openbytes | September 25, 2011, 10:19 pm
  3. Unity < Gnome 3 < XFCE!

    I've been a long-time lover of XFCE largely because I greatly appreciate being able to summon, OpenBox-style, all my menus by clicking anywhere on the desktop (or by hitting a specific key — the WIndows key, perhaps?).

    Also, having all the myriad system modification options available in one panel — ala MacOS — is infinitely preferable to the way this is handled in Gnome2.

    Not a panel fan — in any OS, I auto-hide the Dock/taskbar/panels: Quicksilver, Gnome-Do, Launchy all serve my needs w/o having to mouse all over the screen to effect some action.

    Something you didn't mention about Sabayon is its package management: one of the things I think Ubuntu does rightest is stick with apt-, as they've taken the worst aspects of the iTunes/AppStore model and applied it to its Software Center. If we don't wish to use Sabayon's Entropy Store, what's our Terminal-based install options(s)?

    Thanks for the article(s).

    Posted by gyffes | September 26, 2011, 1:34 am
    • Sabayon uses Emerge in the command line (as its interface to Portage the package management system)

      “Not a panel fan — in any OS, I auto-hide the Dock/taskbar/panels”

      A comment which many people have said to me before. Maybe its my Workbench roots on the Amiga that I like to see a taskbar (at least one, preferably two)

      Appreciated for your response.

      Posted by openbytes | September 26, 2011, 6:50 pm
  4. Sabayon 7 (Xfce) Will be a “full blown” release comparable to G and K.

    Posted by Joost Ruis | September 26, 2011, 7:38 am
    • Hi there! Have you a link or a description of what “full blown” entails. I’m very guilty of not keeping a close eye on Xfce up to this point (since I used Gnome) so I would be very interested to hear what this entailed exactly.

      Kindest regards
      Tim.

      Posted by openbytes | September 26, 2011, 6:55 pm
  5. hi,

    did you try updating kernel on sabayon ?

    kernel+nvidia update is hell on sabayon

    Posted by Dr.Saleem Khan | September 26, 2011, 8:06 am
  6. Nice review. I also think Sabayon is an underrated distro. I’ve used it for 2 yrs and have never had a serious issue. Regarding XFCE, I definitely prefer it over gnome3 and KDE because it seems faster and lighter on resources. But, I ended up choosing E17.

    Posted by Chris | September 26, 2011, 9:23 am
    • Thanks for the feedback. On a performance note (and not scientific by any means) Ive found that roughly, Sabayon xfce demands half that of my cpu as to what Sabayon Gnome did. Going off memory, when idle, Gnome used 16% of a single core, in a comparable situation with xfce it was using about 6-7%

      Posted by openbytes | September 26, 2011, 6:53 pm
  7. Unity < Gnome 3 < XFCE < LXDE!

    After playing around with Linux Mint 11 LXDE, I've decided that LXDE is a better fit for me than XFCE or any of the other minor traditional desktops. I used to think it was just an amateur project, but it is totally usable. The file manager is extendable using PCManFM-mod and can include custom actions on right-click. There are a few menu editors available that work well enough (LXDE does NOT come with a menu editor built it)….. I've been using LXMED – http://lxmed.sourceforge.net/.

    I spent an hour or so with the Mint live cd trying to dupe all my precious Gnome 2 functionality and after a while, the only thing I was missing was a couple of little Nautilus features, but these weren't show-stoppers. I had been trying to make XFCE my place to run to after the Gnome 3/Unity assault, but it just didn't feel right. If anyone else feels like that, give LXDE a try as it will probably surprise you.

    Posted by raph | September 26, 2011, 1:10 pm
    • +1 for LXDE. I have lubuntu on an old machine in one of the kids rooms for media playing and it seems nice and clean and fast.

      I had Xubuntu (or rat-buntu as my kids call it :) on the same box a couple of years ago and it didn’t quite work so well.

      (FYI It’s a 733 mhz machine with 1gb ram >10 years old)

      Posted by LukeRazor | September 28, 2011, 7:23 am
  8. Very enjoyable article, thanks Tim. Time to look at Sabayon XFCE again, last time I did was 5.3 and it felt huge and slow. Hoping it’s a bit speedier now. If you have Qt installed, as you did to get VLC, why not try qBittorrent? I find it a lot better than Transmission, very much like Ktorrent which for many is the best graphical torrent client ever, but without needing KDE-libs installed.

    Posted by Barnabyh | September 26, 2011, 4:33 pm
  9. Thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to reply. After my article was linked on a couple of large sites Ive got numerous responses to answer both here, on various social networks and on email. Thank you so much its very rewarding.

    I’ll be answering all the points very shortly, maybe a side effect of being linked on both Tuxmachines and Distrowatch means that all the feedback has come at once. Having just returned from work theres quite alot to answer!!!

    Thank you so much again, in the meantime (whilst I work through the feedback) I have a request that is a sort of spin off from this article. I am writing another piece on Xfce and am looking for anyone who is kind enough to provide me with a screenshot of their xfce desktop. I am looking to showcase the range/diversity asthetically of Xfce. If you would be willing to assist I’d love to include your desktop (Ive already had a few submitted).

    Cheers all, speak to you shortly!

    Kindest regards

    Tim.

    Posted by openbytes | September 26, 2011, 6:41 pm
  10. I picked up the link for this article from Linux Today and it did make an interesting read.

    Unity and Gnome 3 (shell) seem optimised for media consumption and have apparently moved away from the “workstation” environment.

    I have a numer of PCs used in a home environment and use a full blown DE for work (KDE), but have used Unity for media and for this purpose it is perfectly useful. The question will be whether the two purposes can be amalgamated or not. Win8 seems split functionally and may appear inconsistent as a result so it’s an issue not just apparent on Linux systems.

    Posted by fandangio | September 28, 2011, 7:09 am
    • Unity is rather an oddity for me. Whilst my personal preference says that its not the way I like working, I recently said on TechBytes and have regularly documented that my wife took to it straight away.

      I am unsure how much (if any) market research Canonical has done into it, but for someone like my wife who uses a PC merely as a tool she took to it immediately.

      I have to say as well, I know quite a few grizzled Linux veterans who also find Unity fine, so it appears in respect of Unity (and certainly for my wife) Canonical seem to be doing something right.

      My only criticism of Canonical was that whilst Unity is in its early stages, I would have liked to have seen it as an “extra” where people were not given it as default but had to select it. I think the transition in Canonicals Unity direction would have been better received and would have stopped some of the criticism.

      I personally think (hope) Canonical is on to a winner, they are certainly making inroads into the mindset of the mainstream user as having an alternative (and unique brand) to Windows.

      Posted by openbytes | September 28, 2011, 11:55 am
  11. Quote:
    “It’s no secret that Gnome 3 (and Gnome-shell) are not being well received by everyone”
    1) Your grammar is terrible.
    2) To claim that everyone is not well-recieving Gnome3 is a slight over-estimate.
    3) Gnome-Shell is optional, not required, you can fall back to the standard gnome UI without the shell
    4) No one has forced you onto Gnome3, You decided to install it, and if you don’t like it, you should fall back to gnome 2.x which you was happy with.

    Posted by Zenettii | September 28, 2011, 8:57 am
    • I’ll rise above your rudeness to answer your points, hopefully you may learn to be polite in the future.

      1, No its not – Thanks though, out of the thousands of hits from Distrowatch and Tuxmachines its you who claims it is. Even so, I do this as a hobby, I would hope people do not hold me to the same literary standards as a big name news outlet with paid writers.

      2. No I don’t. If my grammar is terrible so are your reading skills. Lets remind ourselves of what I said (you even quote it) ” are not being well received by everyone”…. See? I’m saying its not been well received by everyone….what I am not saying is “everyone is not well-receiving” (which I hasten to add, appears very bad grammar on your part)

      3. Of course you can. There’s also 2 series of Gnome (which Ive been very happy with for a long time) to others though the UI is but one of the area’s, Xfce is lighter and its a DE which is now being looked at even more favourably as there are people like me (who don’t think the direction, is suited for them). This is not to cheapen Gnome 3, I’d heartily recommend any distro with it to others if they like it. This is a case of one doesn’t suit whats the alternative.

      4. I think Ive answered that above and sorry for writing about an opinion. I don’t think Ive been harsh of 3 except for saying that I don’t like it, nor do I like the direction which it seems to be taking which appears to be a smart-phone type experience on a desktop form factor. Disagree? Fine. I assume you are very happy with 3 series and you are fully able to write your own article on why you like it. Its call opinion. Or would you rather we all kept quiet about our preferences? Its not like Ive attacked, rediculed or cheapened Gnome 3 and the hard work from the devs in any way.

      In addition your comments on me not liking something are a little rich, when on your own gravitar profile you say you don’t like “Facebook, Twitter, and Marmite.” – If I was to use your tactic, I would say, “Well just use Diaspora, Identi.ca and Bovril instead” as a reply.

      It’s called personal choice, its called personal opinion. We are all entitled to both of those. You’ve exercised yours as I have mine.

      Posted by openbytes | September 28, 2011, 10:23 am
  12. Have you done full update till now. I’m curious to see how sabayon will compare with Arch in term of fully upgrade your machine especially kernel updating.

    Posted by Dani | September 28, 2011, 12:45 pm
    • Ive just got around to a Kernel upgrade….sadly at present time, it won’t boot. I don’t have the time to fix the issue (I don’t know what that is yet) so I’ve rolled back.

      Posted by openbytes | September 30, 2011, 8:47 am
  13. Sabayon is good enough…
    I also reviewed it, but my choice was for KDE flavour.
    Welcome to read: http://linuxblog.darkduck.com/2011/07/bravo-sabayon.html

    Posted by DarkDuck | September 28, 2011, 12:58 pm
  14. I have two main installations of Sabayon 6. In one, i use KDE and GNOME2. in the other, XFCE and GNOME3.
    i use many packages of GNOME3 in XFCE, but i dont enjoy GNOME3, until this moment.
    i consider it unstable, freezing easily, and not `practical`, not intuitive….

    Posted by albfneto | September 29, 2011, 11:16 pm
  15. Hi, I find it interesting that you mention being active in #techrights, yet use the title ‘Linux’ instead of ‘GNU/Linux’, which I consider more correct. I tend to see this as a fairly reliable indicator of someone’s position in the free-software / open-source conflict, but am curious as to read your word on it, so: What is your opinion on this, and are you familiar with the opinions put forward at http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html ?

    Posted by Brendan | September 30, 2011, 10:58 am
    • Active in Techrights? not sure where I mentioned that, I don’t need too, its common knowledge. Are you refering to a conversation previously?

      The relationship between OpenBytes and Techrights has always been quite obvious. My activity in IRC revolves around being in the great channel and being an OP there.

      I see (last night) that you attended the channel. I would suggest the points you make would be an interesting direct discussion and you’re more than welcome to make them in the channel.

      I should just re-iterate though #techrights has no “one view” there are many people with many different viewpoints and you don’t need to hold a particular one to be part of the channel.

      Posted by openbytes | October 1, 2011, 11:59 am

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about.me

Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson

Writer/Novelist of many facets both in the world of technology and fantasy/sci-fi. Co-host of the TechBytes audiocast and writer for both OpenBytes and Goblin's Domain. Supporter of free and open source software.

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