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The Neverending Systemd Saga

Here in the Linux blogosphere, controversies come and go like the wind, leaving a trail of broken chalk and empty whiskey bottles in their wake. Most pass quietly into the annals of time of their own accord, however, so when a luminary such as Eric Steven Raymond, or ESR, weighs in with an opinion, it’s a safe bet there’s something big going on.

That is what happened back in March on Slashdot on the topic of Systemd, and the conversation recently surfaced again.

“I find myself faced with a dilemma,” wrote systemDead in an Ask Slashdot post entitled, “Practical Alternatives To Systemd?”

“Should I just let systemd take over my entire system,” the blogger wrote, “or should I retreat to my old terminal-based computing in the hope that the horde of the systemDead don’t take over the Linux kernel itself?”

‘You Have to Accept It’

Many in the Slashdot crowd weren’t shy about expressing their opinions.

“Whether you love, hate, or are ambivalent about systemd, I think you have to accept it at this point,” wrote Slashdot blogger Bryan Ischo, for example.

“If there are things you don’t like about it, trying to use an alternate init mechanism is only going to cause you personal grief that will likely only increase in severity over time as it gets harder and harder to retrofit software packages to use other init systems as systemd further embeds itself into the Linux software world,” Ischo added.

On the other hand, “Wow…. someone asks what they can do about having a software package shoved down [their] throat and your response is just open wide and swallow?” countered armanox. “I thought this was supposed to be about freedom.”

Few would deny the controversial nature of Systemd’s history. Down at the Linux blogosphere’s Broken Windows Lounge, patrons had plenty of their own thoughts to share.

‘Not Ready for Prime Time’

“I agree with Eric Raymond,” offered Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol, for example. “I think it’s a technology that’s still young and presents more problems at the moment than benefits.

“If it changes in the future, perhaps it will become a standard,” Ebersol added. “Right now, it’s not ready for prime time.”

Similarly, “I’m not an expert, but I’ve read and heard that systemd has a lot of things ‘included’ — or should we say, ‘tied up’ — in it, creating dependencies that won’t allow distros to have different options painlessly,” Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. told Linux Girl.

Another commonly held belief is that “it is more than just a technological issue but a political one, in the sense that one group — led by Red Hat — took the front position by having this init system chosen as default by other distros, such as Debian and family, eliminating the others eventually,” Gonzalo Velasco C. added.

At issue is “not only the speed of system initialization — claimed to be faster with systemd — but also security and freedom of choice, he added.

‘Strange Definition of Freedom’

Indeed, “my only question would be… what happened to the so-called ‘freedom of choice?'” asked SoylentNews blogger hairyfeet. “It looks like, just like ALSA suddenly getting tossed for Pulse when it wasn’t even alpha quality, the powers that be have decided you WILL take systemd, like it or not.

“Sure, you can jury-rig a replacement — that won’t be supported and which will automatically mean you won’t be getting any help, as the users will blame THAT no matter what — but how is this any different than jamming a third-party, unsupported program into Windows?

“Just like Pulse, the community will get systemd… like it or not,” hairyfeet concluded. “Freedom to take what you are given — strange definition of freedom.”

‘A Real Problem’

“I think there can be a real problem here, but I don’t know if we have enough evidence yet,” Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien told Linux Girl.

“The Unix philosophy has generally been to have small, targeted tools and string them together as needed,” O’Brien explained. “But in Linux you arguably have forces pushing the other way, particularly with the monolithic kernel.

“My own bias is towards the small targeted tools, because if something goes wrong, it does not take down everything,” he added. “But there may be reasons I am not aware of why systemd needs to do all of these things, even if I can’t think of them.”

‘What Could Go Wrong?’

Blogger Robert Pogson was noncommittal as well.

“I don’t know what to do about systemd,” Pogson told Linux Girl. “I have it running on my system and I hardly notice anything different in how the system behaves besides a few lines in the syslog.

“I would prefer to keep things simple, but as long as the boys and girls at Debian sort the mess out for me, I guess I am going along for the ride,” he added. “If anything really bad happens, I can always regress and use another distro or hack away at Debian to make it work for me.”

Pogson thought SysVinit was “just fine,” he said. “As long as systemd stays out of my way, I don’t care much what it does. APT is working well, as are all my applications and my custom kernel. What could go wrong?”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

7 Comments

  • It is a load of crap.

    Now that logging is part of the crap, you can’t even read your logs after a crash… they are now binary files that get corrupted, making debugging problems even harder.

    And it still happens that services don’t get started properly, and the system can hang on either boot or shutdown because of simple problems of synchronization between processes with undocumented dependencies… which just might be a side effect of general configuration.

    Even mounting partitions doesn’t always work…

    • Did I say there was no choice?

      Yes, with Debain going Systemd, followed by Ubuntu (who will be abandoning it’s alternative, Upstart) it does seem that all distros are switching. But this is not the case, Slackware, Gentoo, and plenty others exist, not to mention BSD (if one were THAT desperate).

      As for pulseaudio. There was never any issue there at all. I can flip back and forth between Alsa and pulse at will on Arch, and never see any issues that were not countered by the benefits of running it. I used plain Alsa for a while before installing pulse to use airplay and network sound output from one device to another and kept it on.

      Most ‘User-easy’ distos ship with pulse, but many don’t. So YOUR choice.

      There are no high muckety mucks that the GNU/Linux community will not work around or ignore should something be REALLY not wanted, i.e the EOL of Gnome2.
      Less than disliking Gnome 3, what some people really wanted was Gnome2 kept on. Hey presto, Mate, Cinnamon.

      • "its been around for at least 4 years now and has evolved into much more than just an init systemn"

        I think this is what concerns some people that systemd is being extended beyond, its roots creeping into the other software layers and binding what was a modular system into a tangled mess, making it increasingingly dificult to swap to out for another component.

        Sorry, got carried away –
        $ systemctl stop creative_writing.service

        As an Arch user myself, I’ve gotten used to systemd, and even made some use of it’s added functionality.

  • Is this momentum toward Systemd new (and worrying), or is this just business as usual, and only highlighted by moaners criticising something they’ve not tried yet and freaked by changes coming to Debian?

    Perhaps it’s as Linux Users, we’ve been able to make choices about how our sytems operate at a deeper level than Mac or Windows users, and gotten used to that control, and the thought of any narrowing of those choices (even if it is only perceived and not actaul) raises our hackles.

    Apart from the GNU Hurd or BSD, there is no real choice of Kernel, until recently (and until both Wayland and Mir are usable) there was not much choice in the Windowing System, there are probably more examples, but I can’t recall them just now.

    There are still distros which use other init systems, and no end of choice in distros, and soon choice of windowing systems. At no time in the past have we had so many choices. So much freedom to choose, some have even caled into question the recent recent forking rampage that followed the Gnome move to 3, where two new Desktops sprung up to cater to those who did not like the new Gnome. We even have a choice of Wireless tools, Network Manager, Wicd and Connman.

    While I find Systemd both stable and a powerful and useful tool, I do have some concerns over both its increasing pervasiveness and lack of alternatives. Now that Debian is gowing to Systemd, with Ubuntu following for convience, and dropping its Upstart alternative, there is no modern alternative.

    There has been a shift from the old Unix pattern of small tools linked loosely together toward more monolithic tightly integrated systems, but perhaps too this is just a phase toward something else. A necessary step to an overall framework which is both modular and unified. As a user of mostly small Window Managers, I have found it increasingly dificult to pulll in the small programs from the larger desktop projects to augment functionality as these tools are increasingly closely integrated with their Desktops. Alternatives do exist, but since I often have the desktops installed anyway, it would be more convenient (in terms of installation complexity and familiarity) to be able to reuse rather than install something that duplicates the functionality, but this is a minor gripe.

    In the meantime, I look forward to seeing what develops with Canonical and Unity 8, and with KDE 5 Framework.

    • So in other words you’ll take what you are given like it or not…..again this is different from windows how EXACTLY? After all you can use different shells, hack together all sorts of "third party unsupported by anybody but fellow users" kind of deals with Windows…no different than if you go with "Bob’s distro" because all the mainstream has gone with systemd…again if you like it or not.

      It seems from where I sit there is some high muckety mucks that are saying "Take this or get lost" and just like how Pulse got shoved down our throats when to this day frankly it isn’t as stable as what came before you WILL take systemd which WILL get jacked into more and more stuff, making it harder to find which thing is the problem…again this is different than Windows how exactly?

  • Regarding systemd (or any other package/product) I find it annoying when people make statements about things for which they provide no proof or any kind of backup – "somebody said its crap". They don’t do any research or even bother to visit the package’s web site to find out what has been happening with the item and also what is planned. I believe some clown made a remark that it is an alpha package, but I believe its been around for at least 4 years now and has evolved into much more than just an init systemn – visit the web site to see what else it does for the OS!

    I used to be a Ubuntu user until they introduced Unity for the desktop. Initially I switched to Xubuntu, but didn’t like doing version upgrades.

    I’ve since migrated all my workstations, laptops, and servers to Arch Linux over a year ago. Arch uses a rolling release model and at that time had fully implemented systemd – which just works. I’ve found a few extra packages to help organize and maintain it and these also just work – no crashes or hassles. It took some getting used to at first, but it is well documented in both the Arch wiki and the systemd website. I know its a good thing. Saves me a lot of time with no wierdness.

    Just my 2 cents …

  • Don’t like systemd ? you do haz choice, ( like debian had a choice ) slackware, gentoo & BSD are all fine alternatives to systemd init based systems. Granted none of above are click click boom installations, but if systemd irks you so much then spending an afternoon installing one of above could be an option.
    Ive kinda gotten used to it and it works really well.
    gtg my tea is gettin cold, and i think im late for teh party 🙂

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