Ubuntu 10, Guest Accounts, and Persistence

So Ian, after hearing Dad talk incessantly about the virtues and sheer coolness of Linux over the years, had me install a dual-boot of Ubuntu with his XP. However, he judged that it was a PITA to switch between the two, and he decided to go Windows-free. He first installed Ubuntu into his XP installation, but it was awkward. After some thought, he backed up all his files and did a from-scratch reformat-the-disk install of Ubuntu 10. After one hiccup that caused him to re-install Ubuntu (something crashed and really hosed up the machine), he was running happily along.

Yesterday, Erin needed to type up a book report, and she decided to give Ians Ubuntu a try. It has LibreOffice, which is essentially Open Office, and she is fully checked out on that.

She started the machine up, selected the Guest account, and after she got the desktop fired up LibreOffice Writer, and started writing. She wrote for a couple hours on the book report. At some point, she did a save, giving the file a name like “Erins Book Report for February”. LibreOffice changed the title bar from Untitled to the name she had given it.

Then she took a break and logged off. When she logged back on, the book report had disappeared. Ian and I were in Muskogee cleaning out a storage locker, so a tech support call ensued. We told the home crew places to look and such, but the report was not visible.

When Ian and I got home, we ran a series of disk checks looking for the file. I also ran a check showing all files changed, then created for the past 24 hours. Nothing.

I also ran a controlled test, at Ians suggestion. I fired up LibreOffice, created and saved a file, verified the file was there in File Manager, and then logged off. After logging back on, the saved file was consistently not persistent. Hmmm, thought I, that’s too big an issue to be an accident.

I did a quick Google search of something like “Ubuntu 10 guest account files lost”, and got a number of hits back. One posted by a Canonical Ubuntu support guru, told the sad tale: When a guest user logs in, a virtual file system is created in /tmp, and when the guest logs off, the virtual file system is wiped. No chance to recover the files.

So Erins three hours of work was lost. If she had saved the files to a thumb drive, she would have been OK. I didn’t look to see if she could have saved them to the master filesystem.

I would have liked it if there was a login notice to the effect of “Before you log off, Guest, save your date to something external ’cause we are wiping it otherwise!!!!”. A logout notice with an option to retreat would have been a bonus.

Ian is going to create an account on his Ubuntu for Erin. But it would have been nice for her to not have lost that three hours.

This is definitely a Ubuntu “Fail”.

4 Responses to “Ubuntu 10, Guest Accounts, and Persistence”

  1. Tom Says:


    Unfortunately, that’s the way every UNIX-like system I’ve been on in the last 30+ years works (at least if no one disables the guest account, as most do). About the only way around is to force saves onto a thumb drive.

    Erin has my sympathy!

  2. Tom Says:

    I should have added that I agree with you. There should be a notification that saves to internal drives were non-persistent. As UNIX clones spread more to non-professional users, this sort of thing will become more common.

  3. srikanth ganta Says:

    Reblogged this on Srikanth's Blog.

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