7 Jun 2011

How to do simple things the Sabayon way

Gentoo penguin
Do you think there is only one penguin Tux? You are wrong. There is whole family of them. They are all brothers, because they have same father: Linux kernel code by Linus Torvalds. But they are not identical. They have their own names: Debian, RedHat, Slackware, Arch. Each brother has his own family: Linux distros based on certain base code. I have written about members of many families already. Except for one which is yet to be named.
This Tux received his name from fastest underwater swimming penguin: Gentoo. Today I will take sample from this family, and this sample is named Sabayon.
Official download page provides links to different versions of Sabayon. Latest release with name 5.5 is available with KDE, GNOME, E17, LXDE and XFCE desktop environments, as well as in ServerBase and SpinBase variants. Unfortunately KDE and GNOME versions both weight too much for CD or 1Gb USB stick which I have. That's why my choice was made for Sabayon XFCE version.
Sabayon is officially supported by Unetbootin utility. I successfully "burned" ISO image to USB stick. I also tried dd command option later, but it did not work with Sabayon 5.5.
USB stick is ready and plugged into USB port. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!

Booting and first impression

Sabayon logo
Boot time of Sabayon linux is relatively quick. I had no issues here. As opposite to some other distros, Sabayon does not ask additional questions during boot.
Once booted, I faced XFCE 4.8 desktop. It has small dock at the bottom and taskbar panel at the top.
Desktop itself is full of icons. Other than expected links to /home and Sabayon installation program, it is full of links to existing partitions of local hard disk. Links are there, but they do not work! Click on them and you see... error messages about missing authorisations. What is the point of these links? That is beyond my understanding so far. As you can understand, noone local partition is mounted automatically. If you need to access data there, feel free to do manual mounting in terminal: command mount is still there. I successfully managed to mount NTFS partition from there. Honestly, I have not tried to mount ext3 partitions with my exiting systems, but I do not expect any problem there.
Sabayon XFCE desktop
Sabayon includes couple of dozens of different windows styles. You can chose a stile which fits your expectations. From more or less standard blue-grey-white combinations to more ultra black-and-yellow ones.
There are several desktop wallpapers included, but almost all of them are variations of XFCE logo (mouse) in different backgrounds. There is not much variety I'd say.
Unfortunately, I have not found screenshot utility in Sabayon XFCE, that's why I place screenshot from official page.

Keyboard configuration

Next step for me was to configure keyboard layouts. Default one is English (US), and I changed it to English (UK) and Russian. Layouts can be added in Applications Menu - Setting - Keyboard. There are 2 objects with this name actually: with and without icon. The one with icon does not work, but menu object without icon works OK. Layouts can be added easily, but you cannot change order of existing layouts. If you want to re-arrange order, you need to delete and then add again.
Unfortunately, I found no way to enable keyboard layout indicator on the panel. Method which I used in Linux Mint XFCE did not work in Sabayon.

What is in the box?

Set of applications available in Sabayon linux is very limited. I think this is inheritance of whole family. Gentoo Linux was founded as distribution with minimal set of applications shipped as standard.
Sabayon XFCE uses Thunar as file manager. It is default file manager for XFCE desktop environment.
Midori is default browser. You know, this browser is very minimalistic one, and does not support many modern features popular in the Internet. Other than Midori, XChat IRC is the only Internet application available out of the box.
Abiword is sole representative of office applications (not counting Leafpad)
There is no multimedia player in Sabayon. Multimedia applications only include Mixer and Xfburn.
Ristretto Photo Viewer is the only application in Graphics.
Of course, there are some standard system applications and utilities like terminal, partitions editor etc.

WiFi epic

My experiment with Sabayon, as many others, was ran on Compaq C300 laptop. It has WiFi card Broadcom 4311. Famous model, isn't it? So many problems it creates to users all over the Linux world.
As in many other Linux distributions, Broadcom 4311 card was not recognised automatically by Sabayon. Of course, it is listed in lspci, but not more than that.
Here my epic started. I found several methods of getting Broadcom 4311 up and running in Sabayon. Let's see what they offer.
  1. First method  is to install Windows driver via ndiswrapper. I decided not to try it because it's very outdated.
  2. Second method was discovered on Sabayon Forum. It advises to use this page:  http://www.linuxwireless.org/en/users/Drivers/b43#firmwareinstallation and extract driver using tool called b43-fwcutter. Those who use Broadcom 4311 know about this tool for sure. The page itself claims that Gentoo has b43-fwcutter in pre-compiled repositories, and one should emerge it. Unfortunately, when I tried to do this, I got message
  3. emerge: there are no ebuilds to satisfy "b43-fwcutter".
  4. Third method is described on Gentoo wiki: http://en.gentoo-wiki.com/wiki/Broadcom_43xx. It says that for Linux kernel versions 2.6.32 and above, driver is already delivered in repositories. It should be enabled by command
  5. emerge net-wireless/b43-firmware 
    Sabayon 5.5 XFCE has kernel 2.6.35. I tried this command, and guess...
Neither of three methods works. Actually, method from Sabayon forum (second in the list) is most lenghty one and requires reboot. Not sure if it works in Live version.
In other words, all my attempts to make WiFi working in Sabayon Linux failed.

I know Sabayon (or even Gentoo, or even from other systems) fans will crucify me for next paragraph, but I can't help to write it.
Why do some developers believe that complicated things will attract more users? Come on, please click on the link to Sabayon Forums page and look at the method of Broadcom 4311 driver activation. How many steps are there? It's difficult to even count! Yes, Gentoo Linux and its family is not for beginners. It is oriented to mid-to-high experienced users. But how much patience one needs to have to go through all these 7 circles of hell?
As alternative, why would not developers create something more usable like driver itself? It should not necessarily be compiled file, it can be a source file, but with simple (and short!) installation guide. Or, at last, script which does all the necessary actions of gathering parts of the driver, compiling it and so on... I am not developer, I don't know how difficult it would be to write the script. But there is nothing impossible if you have a wish and a tool. Result? Users would not be strandled in the jungle of lengthy installation guides, and even installation methods.
UPDATE: I managed to switch on WiFi card on my laptop. Read here.

Two faces of package management

There are 2 methods of software installation in Sabayon.
  1. Entropy is graphical tool similar to Ubuntu Software Centre.
  2. Portage (emerge) is CLI tool.
One may think that they are similar to Ubuntu Software Centre and apt command in Ubuntu (or analogues in Debian, Fedora, OpenSuSE etc), but difference is more than that.
Portage deals (mostly) with source codes and compiles it locally. Entropy works with pre-compiled packages, but still post-processes them.
Unfortunately, my experience with both of these tools was not ideal.
I tried to emerge some drivers for my WiFi card (using LAN connection). And neither of them worked.
I managed to find b43-fwcutter tool in  Entropy. But then... how to install it? No buttons, no menus, nothing. I got lost there very quickly.


Sabayon Linux is based on Gentoo. Both of these distributions have their own fans. But from my perspective Sabayon is not for users who want to get system which "just works" out of the box. It requires long and detailed fine tuning. Which is fine for some other users.

Story continues: follow the link.


  1. Perhaps next time you "review" a distro don't use the experimental spin iso.

  2. "There are 2 methods of software installation in Sabayon.

    Entropy is graphical tool similar to Ubuntu Software Centre.
    Portage (emerge) is CLI tool."

    That is not entirely correct. Entropy is the Sabayon Linux binary package manager and it has two user interfaces: a GUI named 'Sulfur', and a CLI named 'Equo'. Portage is the Gentoo Linux source package manager and it is usable in Sabayon Linux if the user is experienced in Portage and Entropy and knows how they interact.

    The Sabayon Linux Forums post from February 2008 that you referenced regarding the Broadcom 4311 driver is way out of date, and was for an earlier version of Sabayon Linux (3.4F). It pre-dates the arrival of Entropy, when only Portage was used as the package manager for Sabayon Linux. The initial steps to prepare the package managers after installation of the distro are given in the article 'Entropy' in the Sabayon Linux Wiki. See also the article http://wiki.sabayon.org/index.php?title=Using_the_new_b43_driver

  3. i disagree
    i tried Sabayon for weeks , It fast,stagle & very user friendly too.

  4. I left kubuntu, linux mint, opensuse, mepis, and on all the computer I admin I installed Sabayon KDE with satisfaction of the users that are simply users. Sabayon KDE and Sabayon GNOME must be tested here to taste the distro correctly!

  5. @Anonymous1:
    Sabayon 5.5 XFCE is stable release. Where does it say that either this release or Sabayon at all is stable?
    Then, why can't I review any release I like? If you wish to write a review yourself, feel free to do so and be my guest poster

  6. @Anonymous2:
    Thanks for clarification around Entropy options. Appreciate this.

    Also, thanks for the link about b43 driver. Unfortunately that method does not work in Live mode because requires reboot. If anybody can tell me how to do so without reboot, I can give it another try.

    Anyway, your comment is most useful so far for this post!

  7. @Oranjer:
    Nice to hear that it works for you. Unfortunately, I have seen another face of Sabayon, which is not so nice. That's my fate...

  8. @speedyx:
    I can try KDE or GNOME version, but on another laptop with has Realtek 8191 card (Toshiba L500). Do you know if this one is supported? I did not find 819* series in Wiki.

  9. Chen Xiao-Long7 June 2011 at 15:22


    No need to reboot :D Just run these commands as root:

    rmmod b43 #Unload b43 module
    rmmod ssb #Unload ssb module
    modprobe wl #Load wl module a.k.a. Broadcom STA driver

  10. I am an experienced user - more than ten years - of Linux for primary technology use, standardizing on Sabayon Linux desktop (KDE) in last three years.
    Your proposition on developers creating install scripts for difficult WiFi drivers is valid but misplaced, as the Sabayon team is small, and such project could be best undertaken by Gentoo group itself.

    Since XFCE is very limited - by choice - in GUI features and compatible applications, there will be many compromises in it's use.

    Suffice to say that Sabayon 5.4 and earlier have been successfully, and generally painlessly run in my organization, even for very quirky applications like Skype for Linux.

  11. @Chen Xiao-Long:
    Unfortunately you're not 100% right. But you were very close to correct answer.
    Fortunately, I read wiki page linked by Anonymous2 in full.
    There is no need to blacklist anything.
    All I had to do it to modprobe b43. That's all. WiFi activated.
    I write this from Midori in Sabayon XFCE!

  12. @W. Anderson:
    My thoughts about script to install complex drivers is misplaced in the first instance because it is on my blog, not on bug tracker or any other official page. But you're right, Gentoo should think about the script, not Sabayon.
    Now, when I have my Broadcom 4311 WiFi card working just after one command (see above), there is no need to write the script.

  13. Dear DarkDuck,
    I hope you see my message as it is.
    You have to install Sabayon before write anything.
    Anyway, the Sabayon Live has many problem, as the freezing, when you try to do something and open two or more applications in a same time.
    I normally use and like Sabayon, I dislike KDE and I very hate Gnome 3.