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.

11 comments:

Laurynas said...

Yes, Ubuntu is a bloat, good thing that there are KISS distros like Arch Linux...

bernstein said...

compared to windows vista even the gutsy you describe is light!
but this aside you have the key thing wrong:
a new user trying out ubuntu has a _very_ clean /home folder. no files, only the very basic configs. so indexing those won't take long. even on a ten year old computer. now tracker will only index new things, wich is way faster (actually i haven't used tracker for long so i can only tell that using beagle (tracker equivalent) in edgy i had absolutely no slowdowns. the only thing it did was occasinally index stuff while idle.) now remeber one more thing : the ubuntu devs. actually opted for tracker because it is faster than the feature filled beagle.
i just hope the'll fix the not able to disable problem. it is highly likely this is a bug. gutsy is still alpha software!

Kristian said...

I ran into this in an early Gutsy release, but the sympton is long gone. Upgrade your kernel...

Mặc AD Marshall said...

Charlie, have you tried System -> Preferences -> Sessions (Start-up Programs tab)? That's the normal way to stop proggies that start-up automatically after your session loads, under Gnome at least.

But maybe you should just uninstall trackerd. It doesn't sound like you're using it anyway and, for now, you probably wouldn't be losing much by uninstalling it.

In response to a review of various "Desktop" (ie, local) search engines (SEs), i tested trackerd against gdl (Google Desktop Linux) and beagled (Beagle) and a few other Linux local search engines, then uninstalled all of them except HyperEstraier (estcmd, noting estcmd is not an easy config').

I found the search results of those first three are all just generally lacking in terms of completeness or ease of use, while they all hog system resources.

Mind you, i'm still using Ubu' Feisty. Since upgrading to 7.04, i've been too busy installing, trying and uninstalling dozens of applications, within and beyond the Ubu' "multiverse", to want to try out Gutsy yet.

If you want to talk about "bloat", you should have seen some of the merciless config's and loads i laid upon this poor ol' P4-3Ghz/512Mb while it was indexing for three different local search engines, at once, plus updatedb and Picassa for Windows under Wine.

Yet Firefox would still load in 10-15 seconds with a dozen tabs restored and way too many piggy FF extensions loading simultaneously.

And, noteably, trackerd was less of a system pig than either Beagle or GDL (after configuring all three to index roughly the same paths. It was the last one i gave up on and uninstalled, for now.

I seem to remember having read somewhere that trackerd is too be the default local SE for Gutsy and your article and some comments above seem to reaffirm that. So i'm hoping the Ubuntu team will have it integrated and fine-tuned into the default installation well enough by Gutsy's late beta stage at least.

Still, seeing the struggles Google is having with GDL, i'm still doubting there will be a more efficient solution within the coming year compared to learning and using many of the options for find, grep and slocate and estcmd.

In the end, of what you've proposed is impending Ubuntu bloat and your rationale about as much, i can only wonder (1) what are you using as a benchmark for comparison and (2) why would you choose Gutsy to make this comparison when it is not merely a "development" version of Ubuntu but an alpha development version, and, especially, when you seem to be looking for an OS distro that can at least be expected to operate stably, smoothly, easily and efficiently on a wide variety of hardware configurations, as is.

Mặc AD Marshall said...

Oops, i forgot to look at your screenshot before publishing my comment. You've obviously tried the Start-up Prog's tab already. Sorry... :D

Charlie said...

Gutsy is not alpha - that's an excuse they use for stuff not working. Really it's beta. The feature freeze was long ago, so really it's even past beta, it's in testing and fixing mode.

Anyhow. I should really be more careful with my words. I'm just worried of the way each release comes with "more" by default. I mean, Tracker is enabled completely by default - that is, you don't get a choice when you install Gutsy other than to uninstall it post-install. Now I don't see average users doing that because they don't know about these things.

More stuff installed by default == bloat and Tracker is something that, along with other desktop search engines, really is designed to make the most of the extra computing power of a modern desktop.

There's a fine line between feature and bloat and installing stuff like Tracker by default is, in my mind, creeping over that line.

I am a steadfast Linux user, but that doesn't mean I won't criticize it.

Gurubie said...

I suggest you use a forum guide post about an icewm install; in the Debian forum. Install Debian Etch (as a test) with NO items selected in it's component selector (Tasksel). Then use aptitude update && aptitude upgrade && aptitude install, plus a pasted list of installed packages recommended in said forum.

http://forums.debian.net/viewtopic.php?t=5450

Then compare to bloat. I'm not saying this is without your needed build up and tweaking. I'm saying it's LEAN baby! What amazing is that there's then not much disadvantage. (..and many advantages.)

The author has the right idea. *Ubuntu needs a trimmin'.

thePsychologist said...

First off, you can remove the ubuntu-desktop meta-package - you don't need it. If a meta-package has fifty packages and you remove one, obviously you'll remove the metapackage as well.

You're also using Gutsy, so really, chances are this will be fixed.

Ubuntu by default comes with lots of software so it can be used right away without having to install for hours. Some power users obviously will consider this bloat. That's why there's an alternate install CD for power users where you can install a minimal command line system and go from there.

Personally I used this feature to install Ubuntu, and then install Fluxbox with some nice GTK themes and engines, eterm for fbsetbg to change the background, and some other programs.

This way, my startup time is blazingly fast and I don't have anything I don't want.

David said...

Charlie - "Gutsy is not alpha - that's an excuse they use for stuff not working. Really it's beta."

Nope, it's pre-beta (aka 'alpha') - see https://wiki.ubuntu.com/GutsyReleaseSchedule).

While your concerns *may* be justified, why not wait until a final release before offering these detailed critiques?

There's a reason that Ubuntu is the leading distro, and I'm confident that those in the driving seat will make the right decision for the majority of users.

Toph said...

Try this:

sudo apt-get install bum

Then:

sudo bum

Boot-up Manager is a graphical tool that will let you handle runlevel configuration, see if you can locate Tracker within the listed services and then deactivate it.

Beta Software?

Matt Nuzum said...

I've had this very same problem... on a laptop it's especially bad because they have smaller, slower disks. Therefore even though trackerd is running nice'd (low cpu priority) its disk usage slows everything down. The net effect is when you boot your computer you have to walk away for five min (assuming you've let the full-scan run once prior) before you can do any work.

Exciting news, I saw that trackerd has a new setting (new in the last few days) that allows it to delay for a certain number of seconds before it begins indexing. I've set it to 300 so that I can launch my programs and start working before the disk starts crunching. I've booted about three times since finding this setting and completely forgotten trackerd was even there until I saw your blog post.

Hopefully this will become the default setting... I seem to remember trying google desktop on Windows about two years ago or so and it gave me some options about how to do the first index... basically letting me choose when to do it.