Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Ubuntu On The Road To Bloat

I boot my Ubuntu laptop and log in. Shortly after logging in, the IO onslaught begins. I open up a terminal and 'top' exposes the offender 'trackerd'. I begin the motion to kill it. This is a familiar sequence for me, something I have done every day since, well, so long ago I can't remember the exact day I started doing it. A few weeks, at least. Today I hesitate. I have been impatient, unforgiving, and dismissive of Tracker - the application 'trackerd' serves - because of how it renders my PC unusable. I usually 'kill' it so I can resume my daily online routine, but today I decide to wait it out, to let it run it's course.

This means I can't browse the web. Well, perhaps I can, but not using Opera which is my browser of choice. For while 'trackerd' is indexing my home folder, Opera hangs for up to 10s at a time. This is not actually the fault of either Tracker or Opera, but instead a consequence of poor Linux kernel releases which have occurred at an unfortunate time for Ubuntu because the Ubuntu team have chosen one of them for Gutsy and are stubbornly in their refusal to take a chance on next, imminent kernel release. I sense that my current frustrations are soon to be borne out across the globe on the desktops of users who do not have the knowledge to deal with it.

I have tried several things. Firstly I tried to disable Tracker so that trackerd never comes alive to hog my resources. I used the official 'tracker-preferences' application - Indexing Preferences under System->Preferemces. When that didn't work, after rebooting I had a minor epiphany that doing the same as the super user (sudo ...) may be the answer. Still, after another reboot, 'trackerd' is going strong. At least I can rule out prophet as a prospective vocation. I tried disabling Tracker in the start-up programs dialog that is obscurely named 'Sessions' in Gnome. That didn't stop it either. None of these have had an effect after multiple reboots. It is hauntingly reminiscent of Windows. I can't uninstall it because the meta-package ubuntu-desktop requires it (and uninstalling that opens a can of worms I really don't have time to deal with).

"Preferences" - I prefer Tracker off but it's going to run anyway!

It must be said that I am using Gutsy Gibbon, the development version of Ubuntu. So I should anticipate some problems, but it's not problems for me that I'm worried about. I've been using Linux for years. I can fix something if I really have to, I can tweak my system and solve my problems. It is those making the transition from Windows to Linux that I am worried about. They hear how stable and wonderful Linux is, but then boot into something that is attacking their harddrive from day one. That's not a good impression to make.

After an hour of waiting, eventually another process usurps 'trackerd' at the top of 'top'; 'tracker-extract'. Perhaps my desktop is going to be returned to me? No, not yet, it soon goes away and 'trackerd' resumes control.

I'm sure that Tracker is a nice application, much in the way Google Desktop on Windows can be nice for people who use it. However, I am not happy that the Ubuntu powers-that-be have decided to impose Tracker upon us in the way they have. At the very least, make it unintrusive - much like the update manager, have it ask permission to do things. A nice system tray icon and notification that it would like to index your data, thereby introducing itself, that would have been an intriguing surprise and I could opt for it to eat my resources at a moment that is convenient for me, instead of the most inconvenient moment when I first log in and really want to be using my desktop. Or I could opt to disable it without having to dig and find out about it the hard way.

Finally after an hour and a half, my hard drive stops grinding. The familiar shine of it's activity LED satisfyingly fades. I pause to wonder if Gutsy will be the Windows ME of Ubuntu releases, one so problematic that when the next (ironically LTS) release comes out, the new release looks better than ever. I'm sure Windows 2000 would not have had so many plaudits had Windows ME been half decent or even never seen the light of day.

I'm sure eventually the Ubuntu developers will solve this, in this release or the next. I'm hopeful this problem won't affect too many people - I have a few SVN repos that perhaps take more "indexing" than the usual /home folder will require. I'm just worried about the increasing featuritis of Ubuntu. Vista has hit the headlines for it's outrageous requirements, poor performance and compatability. Surely now is a time to be careful about adding too much, careful about following in the footsteps of Microsoft who have traditionally met faster computing with more computing-intensive software. By bucking the trend and releasing something light, we can impress users with the efficiency of our open source world. Gutsy Gibbon will not be welcomed on older computers, and I fear the trend of Ubuntu will be to keep adding "new features" in further releases and going further down the heavy hardware road.

Hopefully now it's had it's initial uninterrupted playtime, perhaps Tracker - with all known options set to disable it - will now leave me alone to work in peace.