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I Never Had a Machine With More Than 2GB of RAM. But Phoronix Portrays GNU/Linux as Sucking on Memory Management.

The main problem is bloated software, not Linux

LAST night I saw a somewhat ‘trollish’ bunch of reports. I saw Slashdot [1], linking to Phoronix [2] with a grammatical mistake in the headline (“Yes, Linux Does Bad In Low RAM / Memory Pressure Situations On The Desktop”).

Let me first clarify that I’m no kernel guru. Far from it. I’m a programmer, but not an OS programmer or kernel developer.

“Is this accurate?”

That’s what I asked people who may know better. They know kernel developers (and development) better than me.

“Is it true or is Phoronix taking the piss?”

I saw comments on it (almost 100 in Phoronix and 400 in Slashdot), but they’re short and vague. How is Linux doing compared to other OSes?

“ZSWAP makes a huge difference (RAM compression),” one person told me. “GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="zswap.enabled=1 zswap.compressor=lz4 zswap.zpool=z3fold"

“Windows 10 & MacOS & Ubuntu have RAM compression on by default,” he added.

“I’m not sure exactly what they have,” he continued, “but I remember reading about it before. RAM compression isn’t new at all. But it is relatively new (few years) to be on by default.”

Linux kernel space is typically ahead of the curve (compared to the competition); Con Kolivas comes to mind when it comes to claims that it’s optimised for servers but not for desktops (the scheduler, not RAM/swap management).

To check compression status on one’s system:

grep -R . /sys/module/zswap/parameters;sudo dmesg|grep zswap; sudo grep -R . /sys/kernel/debug/zswap;f;sudo sh -c 'cd /sys/kernel/debug/zswap;perl -E "say $(cat stored_pages) * 4096 / $(cat pool_total_size)"' # to check if loaded ; used ; ZswapCompressionRatio

How can one argue that GNU/Linux does worse than counterparts? Slashdot promoted this story with about 400 comments and Phoronix even has a grammatical mistake in its headline (Slashdot corrected it, Michael of Phoronix has not.) It’s an eyesore in a sense; both the message and the English. The headline also states that as fact even though it’s to be attributed to just one developer, Artem S Tashkinov. To an outsider (to kernel development) it may smack of clickbait. It’s stigmatising “Linux” as not successful on “desktop” because of “technical” “issues” (not OEM bribes, ISVs etc.), but if it’s based on purely factual bits, then let it be, I’m fine with it.

My gut feeling was, there’s likely more to the story; can Apple and Microsoft handle compression of RAM for instance? If so, how well? I don’t know people running Apple-branded systems and PCs with Windows on just 2 gigabytes of RAM (which is the most I ever had on any of my systems; same with my wife, who is a GNU/Linux user).

Another person, who is proficient at kernel matters, told me: “I have caused Linux to stall in swap hell many times and there are long list of particular causes of it. facebook made oomd to attempt to deal with it in userspace.”

The first person weighed in again: “they should compare to other distros, and to MacOS/Windows. But the complaint is valid, IMO: that Linux (defaults) *should* be ‘smarter’ when OOM; check what is your vm.vfs_cache_pressure. $ cat /proc/sys/vm/vfs_cache_pressure [...] I have mine set to 50, because this article makes sense to. (but I’m not sure what default is nowadays?)”

A third person wrote: “my Orange Pi with 2 GB of RAM running everything mainline is my main desktop, which runs generally fine with a swapfile of also 2 GB…”

That was in the #techrights IRC channel this morning.

The person added, “the bigger question for me is why applications these days are so heavy and slow…”

That last point is what I too have raised many times before. GNU/Linux is handling reasonably well a complete system with 2GB of RAM (or less). Super-bloated applications is where things start getting trickier.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Linux Performs Poorly In Low RAM / Memory Pressure Situations On The Desktop

    It’s been a gripe for many running Linux on low RAM systems especially is that when the Linux desktop is under memory pressure the performance can be quite brutal with the system barely being responsive. The discussion over that behavior has been reignited this week.

  2. Yes, Linux Does Bad In Low RAM / Memory Pressure Situations On The Desktop

    It’s been a gripe for many running Linux on low RAM systems especially is that when the Linux desktop is under memory pressure the performance can be quite brutal with the system barely being responsive. The discussion over that behavior has been reignited this week.

    Developer Artem S Tashkinov took to the kernel mailing list over the weekend to express his frustration with the kernel’s inability to handle low memory pressure in a graceful manner. If booting a system with just 4GB of RAM available, disabling SWAP to accelerate the impact/behavior, and launching a web browser and opening new web pages / tabs can in a matter of minutes bring the system down to its knees.

Linux.com is Nowadays Too Much Microsoft Propaganda and Openwashing

This is what the site looks like this morning

Linux.com

Welcome to Linux.com!

Microsoft… is “OPEN SOURCE”!

Sadly, this has become far too common in that site under its new (and sole) editor. Whose interests are served now? Linux Foundation sponsors.

The Linux Foundation Killed Linux.com After Two Decades of News Service

Linux.com

Remember NewsForge? Or Geeknet? Yes, once upon a time Linux.com was a site for geeks; under the Linux Foundation’s ownership it gradually became a site for large corporations, where they could buy puff pieces and interviews (agreed upon in advance, as covered in Techrights). But among those puff pieces and ads one could at least find some journalism.

I’m sad to see, 2 months down the line, that Linux.com is practically dead. Nothing new is being added to it. It’s now a fossil. Eternally? The Foundation has said not a single word about it. So much for openness and transparency, eh?

Argos Uses GNU/Linux, Windows Leads Only to Malware

200px-Argos.svg

ARGOS, the British retailer which according to Wikipedia employs over 50,000 people, seems to have moved many of its well-integrated systems (online and in-store) to a new platform not too long ago. We’re frequent customers, so sometimes we see downtimes and issues which reveal details about the back end. There is something we can report today.

Yesterday at Argos there was a malfunction at the terminal (thin client with IBM touchscreens as the only user-facing part) and it uses GNU/Linux, as one can easily tell. Argos seems to be using Fedora (an old version likely) based on the window decorations, probably with GNOME/GTK. For 50,000+ staff plus millions of customers that would be a lot terminals running GNU/Linux.

Argos recently changed the terminal systems/front end (not to my liking, as I liked the old interface better). The crash yesterday resulted in an error message showing Opera (proprietary Web browser), so presumably that is what they are using on top of GNU/Linux. Odd choice of browser, but that’s what they want….

Last year we reported that another British giant, Ryman (smaller than Argos, but still a highstreet chain), had moved to GNU/Linux. They told me that had dumped it due to Windows malware.

Incidentally, a friend who goes by the name iophk (for anonymity), shared this link with me yesterday. “Windows should not be on PoS or anything else mission-critical,” iophk wrote. Well, based on Ryman and Argos turning to GNU/Linux, many large stores gradually learn this. My current employer moved Specsavers (British giant) to Free software in the server room a long time ago, about a decade ago.

How to Block Facebook and Stop the Most Creepy Type of Spying

Facebook is facing a massive class action lawsuit in Europe right now. Facebook is indeed very unique when it comes to mass surveillance because the intrusive spying (data collected) is being shared among private companies. Facebook is a malicious network which spies on everyone, not only people who are registered with Facebook, and then sells this data to various different companies; it does not only share it with government spies. In order to protect oneself from Facebook’s wide-reaching privacy-infringing data-sharing (e.g. sharing of one’s browsing history and ID with advertising giants and even worse vultures) one must block all Facebook domains and IP addresses. In Debian/Ubuntu systems this can be achieved in the following way:


$ host www.facebook.com
$ whois -h whois.radb.net 31.13.91.2  | awk '$1=="origin:" { print $2 }'
$ whois -h whois.radb.net '!gAS32934' | tr ' ' '\n' > /tmp/fb
$ sort -n -k1,1 -k2,2 -k3,3 -k4,4 /tmp/fb > /tmp/fb2
$ for net in $(grep '^[[:digit:]]' /tmp/fb2); do sudo ufw --dry-run \
  reject out to $net;done

Or modify for direct use of iptables on OpenWRT.

Remove --dry-run to make it work on systems that use UFW. For plain iptables, one needs to use a different line but then need some additional tricks unique to each distro to make the settings persistent across reboots.

“I put up something a while back on HowToForge about this,” said the source of the above script/comamnds, “but it always needs new coverage. I usually do the same for Microsoft networks, too.

“People with decent router hardware but still with stock firmware should be nudged to OpenWRT.”

Currys/PC World (UK) Voids Warranty on Hardware If Buyer Installs GNU/Linux

200px-PC_World

TODAY I learned something somewhat shocking. A policy which I believed was some kind of controversial fringe policy from way back in the days of Vista is still in place, and it’s in place right here in the UK. Currys/PC World is totally overzealous with its GNU/Linux-hostile policy, which is almost definitely dictated by non-technical management, maybe in collusion with Microsoft.

To start this story from the very beginning, an old desktop of mine died on me and I sought a replacement immediately (within the hour). My wife and I quickly grabbed our stuff and rushed to a nearby computer store. There are not many such stores anymore because Currys pretty much devoured the competition, including Dixons.

So over 3 hours later we are back home and there is still no replacement. We were eager to pay as much as it takes for what we needed, but Currys has an unacceptable policy. Not only does it put Windows (Vista 8) on virtually every machine that’s not “Apple”-branded (there are barebone boxes only for desktop and they’re available online only) but it has an outrageous policy regarding warranty.

As it turns out — and this was confirmed to us by multiple people (in multiple PC World stores) after arguing for more than half an hour — once you install GNU/Linux (even if it’s dual boot with Windows) no damage to hardware would be covered by the warranty (keyboard, screen, and so on). One of the sellers, who follows the Linux Action Show, regretted this but also defended this policy because it’s imposed from above. No matter how ridiculous a policy it is, changes to zeroes and ones on the hard-drive (to remove spyware), according to Currys, would void the warranty on what clearly is not connected to software.

After many chats with colourful language and even car analogies or other such arguments about the separability of hardware and software we decided we just couldn’t do business at PC World. The company is inherently GNU/Linux-hostile. Avoid Currys.

Ryman (Large UK Chain) Switches to GNU/Linux on Desktops

Earlier today I went to Ryman, which a well established and widely known stationery shops chain in the UK, in order to get special prints. I was greeted by a young woman standing in front of a machine with Ubuntu GNU/Linux (version 12.04 by the looks of it) and lots of Free software like LibreOffice 3. She explained to me that the company switched to that for security reasons, after an infection had spread through the whole company. Well, given what NSA and GCHQ are known to be doing through USB ports, one would be irresponsible to use Windows to accept files from USB devices of arbitrary customers. Prior to Ryman I used similar services in a prints store (local family business) that uses Mac OS for accepting files over USB.

It should be noted that using Ryman for prints is not wise. They charge £2 (more than $3) for the service of just extracting a single file from a USB key, even if one prints just a single page. Copying the file takes just a few seconds, so they charge far more than a prostitute (pro rata).

Anyway, the good news is that UK businesses — even very large businesses — are adopting GNU/Linux on the desktops. It is rarely — if ever — being announced.

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