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To PulseAudio or Not To PulseAudio .

The last few releases of Ubuntu have left me scratching my head, and not just because of dandruff. The Developers and MOTUs for Ubuntu have seen fit to add PulseAudio to the audio stack.

And I do mean add it to the stack. It sits on top of Alsa and attempts to manage the way people use their audio. And yes, it sits on top of Alsa, not replaces it. Alsa is still there and functioning properly.

But then, PulseAudio comes in and makes further decisions about what’s available and what you can do with it.

This might not be too bad, except that PulseAudio STILL hasn’t reached 1.0.0 state. It has been functionally broken since it was first put into Ubuntu and activated by default, and it remains so, today. Originally, one could find PulseAudio in the Sessions Boot Start-Up, and turn it off. Likewise on could remove it from the services that are run.

Now, however, it’s rather well hidden. Somewhat in the manner of a Microsoft activity that someone is ashamed of.

My disgust with the fact that PulseAudio was arbitrarily relegating my audio to monaural, despite the abilities of my sound card, caused me to file the following bug report on March 30.

Bug #352164
PROBLEM: PulseAudio is unable to determine basic information about my sound system, despite the fact that the information is readily available.
System is a Dell Inspiron 530N
Processor - Intel Core2, 1.60GHz
Memory - 1 Gig
Video Card - NVidia GeForce 7300LE
Sound Card - Intel 82801I (ICH 9 family) HD Audio Controller
Operating System: Ubuntu 9.04 Beta (Jaunty Jackalope)
Linux Kernel - 2.6.28-11-generic
This system is up-to-date with package updates as of March 30, 2009, 10:54 PM Mountain Standard Time (UTC -7), or April 1, 2009, 05:54 UTC

This card is capable of AT LEAST 44100 Hz sampling and AT LEAST 5.1 Surround Sound. Yet what I get from PulseAudio (via the system log) is:
Mar 30 16:18:51 tyche-jaunty pulseaudio[3270]: alsa-util.c: Device hw:1 doesn’t support 44100 Hz, changed to 22050 Hz.
Mar 30 16:18:51 tyche-jaunty pulseaudio[3270]: alsa-util.c: Device hw:1 doesn’t support 2 channels, changed to 1.

This is an unacceptable situation, made worse by the fact that it takes extraordinary measures to turn off PulseAudio so that Alsa (which IS installed) can do it’s job. Monaural sound, to someone listening to serious, Classical music is unacceptable. Installing PulseAudio and initializing it by default is a regression of ability. Installing it and initializing it by default then hiding any ability to kill it is Microsoft style thinking. We are supposed to be better than that.

SOLUTION: Stop initializing PulseAudio by default. If people want to install it and use it, it should be a choice.

My purpose in publicly voicing my contempt for PulseAudio as a “sound manager” is to draw attention to the fact that, in all this time, it STILL is functionally broken to the point that use of it constitutes a regression in the ability of my system to produce reasonable and pleasing sound. And no, this is NOT the first time that I’ve filed a bug report or question with Launchpad on this subject. I grow rather tired of being ignored when I suggest that it not be activated by default. With something like this that lacks the functionality that people need and want, it should be up to the individual to make the choice of whether or not to use it. Activating it by default is unconscionable. Activating it by default and hiding it, to make turning it off an extremely difficult procedure for the uninitiate goes beyond that into the sort of thinking that have moved people away from Microsoft operating systems.

So, I ask once again - and publicly. Turn it off. Provide a means of allowing the individual to turn it on IF THEY WISH. But please don’t foist broken applications on an unsuspecting public and uninitiate new users simply because it’s the “new thing”.

Oh, and for those of you that are stuck with it running, and can’t find a way of turning it off, enter “killall -9 pulseaudio” into the Sessions and reboot.

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About Hugo Repetto

Ubuntu is a Linux distribution that offers an operating system predominantly focused on desktop computers but also provides support for servers. Based on Debian GNU / Linux, Ubuntu focuses on ease of use, freedom in usage restriction, regular releases (every 6 months) and ease of installation.
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