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Smolt

There's recently been some discussion and heated exchanges on the Fedora Devel List about a new package called “smolt”. Read on to learn what it is, how it works and why there shouldn't be any controversy on it.

Smolt is a pretty simple piece of software, written in python. What it does is use existing tools and files to gather information about your computers hardware. From the description:

“The Fedora hardware profiler is a server-client system that does a hardware scan against a machine and sends the results to a public Fedora Project turbogears server. The sends are anonymous and should not contain any private information other than the physical hardware information and basic OS info.”

When you install the package it generates a random UUID string for your computer and stores it in a local /etc/sysconfig/hw-uuid file. This uuid is the only thing that ties your particular computer to the data that you send out.

Once you have installed the package you can run “/usr/bin/smoltSendProfile”. This will poll your computer for hardware information and then send it to the smolt.fedoraproject.org server. If you run this command multiple times it will just update your profile (based on the UUID you had above). You can also run it with a -p to just print the information and not send it.

So, how is this information useful? Well, imagine the following scenarios:

  • The Fedora project sees that 100,000 of their users have a particular video card. They can approach the manufacturer with numbers and ask for better support.
  • It can be noticed that many users have machines from a particular vendor, which can drive more Linux users to look at that vendor for their next machine
  • It can be seen that some particular arch is gaining users, and should be added as one where packages are built and added support
  • It can be seen that there are very few users using some hardware that no longer needs the same level of support
  • It can be noticed that some large number of users have a new piece of hardware that should get more support
  • A user reporting problems could tell someone their UUID and that person could then see a list of hardware. This could be useful in particular for tracking down kernel bugs.

So, why was there any controversy? Well, smolt is gathering information and transmitting it over the net to a third party server. This makes some people uneasy. In my opinion, there is no reason to worry here: It's totally Opt-in. You have to install it yourself and run it. It doesn't collect anything to tie your machine to the database entry except the UUID, which you can simply delete, It gathers no personal information at all.

I would like to see smolt gather a bit more information, like what packages are installed and what binaries have been used recently (like the debian popcon package). It would be nice to see what packages are popular and used.

There is a page available with current smolt stats at: http://smolt.fedoraproject.org/stats

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