fsck on boot is major usability issue

Jonathan Musther jmusther at gmail.com
Thu Dec 20 20:16:45 UTC 2007

  I'm new to this list, I joined it because I saw in the archive that
recently you were discussing the problem with running fsck on boot as a
'just in case' filesystem check.  I joined the list because I'm the author
of AutoFsck, the script you discussed which effectively moves fsck to
shutdown, and asks the user before it is run.

I've been trying (see blueprint below) to get the functionality of AutoFsck
included in Ubuntu for a long time, with no success.  I have requested
support and guidance from the ubuntu-desktop team in launchpad, with no
response, I've gone through the idea pool and forums (with great support
from users), and had no luck.  So I'm hoping that by restarting discussion
on this list, that we might be able to get somewhere.  Here is the
blueprint, and the rest of this (admittedly rather long) email deals with
the rationale for something like AutoFsck, and what we can do next:

I think it's well established now that this is a major problem in terms of
usability - whenever AutoFsck is discussed there are some people who talk
about leaving their computer on for months, there being no need to reboot,
windows users coming to linux and complaining about perfectly sane checks,
putting data at risk by running checks on shutdown rather than boot etc.  I
think it's fair to discount these simply by calling them short sighted.  The
Ubuntu distribution aims to be easy for the new user, or simply the user who
just wants to get on with browsing the web, writing documents and looking at
photos without having the OS make life difficult for them.  This ease of use
doesn't mean we have to compromise on quality, or even on advanced features
for advanced users, but this isn't an issue of a feature which is too
complex for novice users - it's an issue of bad system design from a
usability standpoint.

So, on the one hand the check is a useful safeguard against some types of
filesystem damage, and on the other it can be very annoying to the user.
The first thing to note is that this check doesn't have to be done every 30
boots, or every 20, or every 40.  Those numbers are arbitrary, the more
often you do the check, the safer you're likely to be, it's simple
arithmetic, but it would also be absurd to suggest doing it every boot
cycle.  So it doesn't matter when the check is run, boot or shutdown, or
even during the session (forgetting for the moment the technical issues with
that) - so long as it is run periodically.

As a consequence, when I wrote AutoFsck I didn't have to worry about running
checks on a strict deadline, I thoughts simply about usability.  When is the
most convenient time to run a disk check?  The obvious answer is when the
user no longer wants to use the computer, on shutdown.  But what if they are
packing away a laptop and need it to turn of right now?  Well, have a
dialogue asking if it's a good time to do the check, if they say no, shut
down and prompt them again next time.

And there we have AutoFsck, that's all it does.  There are a few other
features, an audio prompt to get the users attention, a timeout in case they
don't see the dialogue (the computer will shut down without running the
check after 2 minutes) - but essentially that's it.

Of course there are issues with AutoFsck, I'm not suggesting it should go
into the Ubuntu distribution in its current form (although it is fully
functional).  Some people worry that users will get into the habit of saying
no (when prompted to run fsck) so they don't ever run the check.  Well to be
honest that is the users right, but I see no evidence from the users of
AutoFsck - most users are more in the habit of clicking yes, it's not often
that they need to say no.

What to do now?  I'm not entirely sure, but I'm open to any suggestions,
help with AutoFsck, discussion of how we could get this functionality into
the Ubuntu distribution, discussion of the technicalities of AutoFsck, how
it works etc.

On some AutoFsck users suggestion I've created a sort of petition for this
functionality, at the bottom of:
The idea pool thread which relates to this is:


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