Ubuntu – Desktop Search

Microsoft has really shown the power of desktop search in Vista and Windows 7; their newest Desktop Search Engine works, and works well… so in my quest to migrate over to Linux I wanted to have the ability to have both a server style as well as a desktop style search.

So the quest begun… and it was as short a quest as marching on the top of a butte.

I started by reviewing what I could find on the major contenders (just do an Internet search, and you’ll only find about half a dozen reasonable articles comparing the various desktop search solutions for Linux)… which were few enough it didn’t take very long (alphabetical):

My metrics to evaluate a desktop search solutions would focus on the following point:

  • ease of installation, configuration, maintenance
  • search speed
  • search accuracy
  • ease of access to search (applet, web, participation in Windows search)
  • resource utilization (cpu and memory on indexing and searching)

I immediately passed on Google Desktop Search; I have no desire for Google to have more access to information about me; and I’ve tried it before in virtual machines and didn’t think very much of it.

Begal

I first tried Beagle; it sounded like the most promising of all the search engines, and Novel was one of the developers behind it so I figured it would be a stable baseline.

It was easy to install and configure (the package manager did most of the work); and I could use the the search application or the web search, I had to enable it using beagle-config:

beagle-config Networking WebInterface true

And then I could just goto port 4000 (either locally or remotely).

I immediately did a test search; nothing came back.  Wow, how disappointing — several hundred documents in my home folder should have matched.  I waited and tried again — still nothing.

While I liked what I saw, a search engine that couldn’t return reasonable results to a simple query (at all) was just not going to work for me… and since Begal isn’t actively developed any longer, I’m not going to hold out for them to fix a “minor” issue like this.

Tracker

My next choice to experiment with was Tracker; you couldn’t ask for an easier desktop search to experiment with on Ubuntu — it seems to be the “default”.

One thing that’s important to mention — you’ll have to enable the indexer (per-user), it’s disabled by default.  Just use the configuration tool (you might need to install an additional package):

tracker-preferences

Same test, but instantly I got about a dozen documents returned, and additional documents started to appear every few seconds.  I could live with this; after all I figured it would take a little while to totally index my home directory (I had rsync’d a copy of all my documents, emails, pictures, etc from my Windows 2008 server to test with, so there was a great deal of information for the indexer to handle).

The big problem with Tracker was there was no web interface that I could find (yes, I’m sure I could write my own web interface; but then again, I could just write my own search engine).

Strigi

On to Strigi — straight forward to install, and easy to use… but it didn’t seem to give me the results I’d gotten quickly with Tracker (though better than Beagle), and it seemed to be limited to only ten results (WTF?).

I honestly didn’t even look for a web interface for Strigi — it was way too much a disappointment (in fact, I think I’d rather have put more time into Beagle to figure out why I wasn’t getting search results that work with Strigi).

Recoll

My last test was with Recoll; and while it looked promising from all that I read, but everyone seemed to indicate it was difficult to install and that you needed to build it from source.

Well, there’s an Ubuntu package for Recoll — so it’s just as easy to install; it just was a waste of effort to install.

I launched the recoll application, and typed a query in — no results came back, but numerous errors were printed in my terminal window.  I checked the preferences, and made a couple minor changes — ran the search query again — got a segmentation fault, and called it a done deal.

It looked to me from the size of the database files that Recoll had indexed quite a bit of my folder; why it wouldn’t give me any search results (and seg faulted) was beyond me — but it certainly was something I’d seen before with Linux based desktop search.

Conclusions

My biggest conclusion was that Desktop Search on Linux just isn’t really something that’s ready for prime time.  It’s a joke — a horrible joke.

Of the search engines I tried, only Tracker worked reasonably well, and it has no web interface, nor does it participate in a Windows search query (SMB2 feature which directs the server to perform the search when querying against a remote file share).

I’ve been vocal in my past that Linux fails as a Desktop because of the lack of a cohesive experience; but it appears that Desktop Search (or search in general) is a failing of Linux as both a Desktop and a Server — and clearly a reason why choosing Windows Server 2008 is the only reasonable choice for businesses.

The only upside to this evaluation was that it took less time to do than to read about or write up!

Originally posted 2010-07-06 02:00:58.