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Sabayon Linux miniEdition looks sharp on the bleeding edge

By Nathan Willis on October 16, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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Last week the Sabayon Linux project released ISO images of its miniEdition 3.1 live CD Linux distro. Sabayon has earned a reputation for running right on the cutting edge; it is the first distro to deploy a live CD using the Beryl compositing engine and Nvidia's newest beta video drivers. The only reason I tested the miniEdition instead of the full DVD ISO is that the DVD torrent estimated three days to complete the download. Seeing how much there is in the miniEdition, perhaps I should be glad.

The Sabayon miniEdition is available via torrent from sabayonlinux.org. "Mini" is relative -- only when compared to the DVD-sized main releases does a 700MB ISO clock in as small. Sabayon packs in everything under the sun on its DVD releases, so I was curious to see what made it onto the miniEdition.

Wobbly action
Click to enlarge

As advertised on the site's front page, you can boot into a Beryl-powered OpenGL-rendered desktop environment, but that's not the default setup. Booting from the CD's boot: prompt launches a conservative X server configuration without hardware acceleration.

In order to launch a Beryl session, you must enter either sabayon xgl or sabayon aiglx at the boot prompt. When I tried this, the system launched X with a paltry 960x529 display resolution, which was not only comically small, but actually too small for several non-shrinkable windows (including KDE control center and Beryl Settings Manager) to fit on screen. To fix this, append a better resolution to your boot command with the res= option. I went with sabayon aiglx res=1400x1050.

Whether you prefer Xgl or AIGLX for your OpenGL rendering is a personal matter, but it is noteworthy that Sabayon includes the latest (9xxx-series) beta of Nvidia's proprietary driver for the X.org X server. This driver introduces the GLX_EXT_texture_from_pixmap extension, thus allowing AIGLX support. The upshot is that, for the first time, regardless of your video chipset (Nvidia, ATI, or Intel), you can now choose either method (Xgl or AIGLX) and achieve the same results.

And you certainly have a lot of results to play with. Sabayon miniEdition leaves out the smorgasbord of desktop environments shipped with its bigger brother, but KDE comes loaded with more than 40 window manager themes and almost as many Beryl effects plugins.

Test driving Beryl

Themes aplenty
Click to enlarge

When you tire of wiggling your wobbling windows around on a rotating cube (and probably that will be soon), you can experiment with the newly released Beryl Settings Manager. The left pane lists all available plugins, with a check box to toggle loading of each. The right pane holds a tabbed window of settings that vary for each plugin. Some use sliders to adjust variables, some use check boxes, and most have tabs for keyboard- and mouse-activation shortcuts.

The total number of options is staggering; while you probably will not get lost clicking through them, you can easily get confused and make a mistake.

Trying to remember which keyboard shortcuts are already bound, for example, is nearly impossible, because each plugin has a separate tab with all of the options available. You can enter the same keyboard or mouse shortcut in multiple tabs and trigger no warning.

Some people might consider that a feature; I am not convinced. While it may occasionally be desirable to bind multiple actions to one keystroke, doing so without notification is risky.

Beryl Settings Manager has one other weak point: the "more info" buttons next to each configuration option often supply no such info, but just echo the name of the configuration option itself. On the other hand, Beryl scores major points for making all changes instantaneous -- no restarting X, no restarting Beryl, no "Apply" button necessary.

Under the hood

Windows and more windows
Click to enlarge

I don't want to give the impression that Sabayon Linux is a Beryl demo disc; it is far more. But the inclusion of Beryl so quickly after its first public release on September 29 illustrates the distribution's bleeding-edge stance on package inclusion. Apps and updates make their way into Sabayon alarmingly fast. Consequently, the distro's live CD is a great way to try out packages that may not be stable enough to risk installing on your production hardware.

Sabayon also trades on volume; the DVD edition includes everything but the kitchen sink. And for its part, the miniEdition packs in an impressive suite of applications, including several I had never gotten around to trying before, such as NoMachine. It also includes a number of proprietary applications and libraries in addition to the Nvidia drivers mentioned above.

Sabayon is Gentoo-based, and although the desktop experience on miniEdition centers around KDE, you have an array of interesting boot-time options -- including "Internet kiosk" mode and the GeeXboX media center front end. As was true with Beryl specifically, in general you should be wary of the risk inherent in running experimental and beta-quality software. I encountered a number of crashes over the course of my test drive -- the kind that are acceptable on a live CD but that I would not tolerate in everyday usage.

All in all, the Sabayon Linux miniEdition 3.1 packs a wallop into its 700 megabytes. There are fresh releases like Beryl and the Nvidia beta drivers, and more options than you'll have time to experiment with.

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on Sabayon Linux miniEdition looks sharp on the bleeding edge

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Packaging LiveCD with proprietary Nvidia drivers?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on October 17, 2006 12:35 AM
Didn't Kororaa did that and got themselves into trouble?
Kororaa XGL Live CD and the GPL

In May 2006 an unnamed kernel developer sent an email to Christopher Smart, the project's leader, suggesting that packaging the proprietary NVIDIA and ATI drivers was a violation of the GPL as they take GPL code from the kernel and build it into a non-GPL kernel module, qualifying as a derived work. This caused Smart temporarily removed the CD image from his website in August 2006.

Two months later, version (0.3) was released, and all proprietary drivers were removed by request. Because of this, only limited ATI graphics card support is included.

Source: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kororaa" title="wikipedia.org">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kororaa</a wikipedia.org>

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Re:Packaging LiveCD with proprietary Nvidia driver

Posted by: Nathan Willis on October 17, 2006 05:33 AM
I would recommend reading Kororaa's official statement on the issue here: <a href="http://kororaa.org/static.php?page=gpl" title="kororaa.org">http://kororaa.org/static.php?page=gpl</a kororaa.org>

In short, there are three points:


  1. It is unclear, legally speaking, if non-GPL drivers can even exist without violating the GPL on the Linux kernel itself

  2. The Kororaa team defers to the stance of the kernel developers and their interpretation of this question

  3. The Kororaa developers have decided that they are morally opposed to closed-source kernel drivers and do not want to distribute them with Kororaa even if they were to be proven acceptible in a legal situtation


Kororaa was not forced to remove the proprietary drivers, they studied the issue and decided to remove them. However, neither that decision nor any of the three points made in the Kororaa statement bears authority to influence another distro.

I'd be interested to hear what the Sabayon developers think about these issues; there is clearly some disagreement around the entire subject, and I for one have yet to hear convincing arguments on either side.

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it does not ship with proprietary drivers

Posted by: Administrator on October 20, 2006 06:02 AM
SabayonLinux does not ship with proprietary drivers. It does link both nvidia.ko and fglrx.ko at run time.

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Re:Packaging LiveCD with proprietary Nvidia driver

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on October 17, 2006 12:49 PM
1. It is legal for Non-GPL drivers to exist on the linux kernel. GPL 2.0 only govern the redistribution of the work and it's derivatives

2. It is legal to distribute Non-GPL sofftwares, including drivers, along side the GPL software, such as kernels, AS LONG AS they are not pre-linked. Once the software is in the users' hand, the users are free to link the GPL code with non-GPL compatible code, AS LONG AS they don't redistribute the result.

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Re:Packaging LiveCD with proprietary Nvidia driver

Posted by: Nathan Willis on October 17, 2006 10:35 PM
I hope you haven't posted that as a response to me, anticipating a reply, because I did not write the Kororaa statement. If you're wanting to discuss the topic, you will have to direct your comments to them. But you will have to provide more support for your case than simply stating your conclusions. The Kororaa statement (despite its name) is very in-depth.

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