Open Source

Canonical axing X Windows: What will it mean for the next version of Ubuntu?

Mark Shuttleworth makes yet another bold announcement for his popular Linux distribution. Find out about the move away from X Windows and Jack Wallen's reaction to the news.

In yet another recent announcement that had the Linux community looking like the proverbial "deer in headlights," Canonical has announced that in an iteration of Ubuntu it might very well drop X Windows in favor of Wayland. This comes on the heels of Mark Shuttleworth's recent announcement that 11.04 would see Ubuntu leave behind the GNOME Shell in favor of Ubuntu Unity. That was a tiny drop in the bucket compared to this latest consideration.

Think about it - X Windows. How long has X Windows driven the desktop for Linux? Maybe since Linux had a desktop? This is HUGE! The very thought of a Linux without X Windows is staggering considering that nearly every application will have to be rewritten. Is the next announcement to be that Canonical is no longer going to ship with current Linux applications, but is instead going to develop applications on their own?

  • Ubuntu Web browser.
  • Ubuntu Email client.
  • Ubuntu Graphics editor.
  • Ubuntu Office suite.
  • Ubuntu Shell.

The list goes on and on and on.

I could understand Shuttleworth's previous announcement. He's obviously making a grab for an interface that will be more in line with the future of the desktops - specifically multi-touch and tablet PCs. That's all good. I respect that. But Wayland in favor of X Windows?

"What is Wayland?" you ask?

Wayland is a display server for Linux desktops that was created by one of Intel's open source technologists. Wayland's stated goal is "every frame is perfect, by which I mean that applications will be able to control the rendering enough that we'll never see tearing, lag, redrawing or flicker". But if you dig further, you find that Wayland is actually "a protocol for a compositor to talk to its clients as well as a C library implementation of that protocol. The compositor can be a standalone display server running on Linux kernel modesetting and evdev input devices, an X application, or a Wayland client itself. The clients can be traditional applications, X servers (rootless or fullscreen) or other display servers."

The key in the above text (taken from the Wayland web site) is compositor. If the Unity/Ubuntu marriage is going to be as much of a success as Shuttleworth needs it to be, it is going to need a strong compositor built in to the system. The last thing this marriage needs is to require a third party compositor. That would blow the lid off Shuttleworth's plan for ease of support for manufacturers. With a compositor built into the X Server, things ease up quite a bit on the technical support front.

Remember, one of the reasons Shuttleworth made the move to Unity was so that PC manufacturers like Dell would have an easier time supporting Linux. With a similar desktop interface across the board, companies wouldn't have to worry about GNOME, KDE, Enlightenment, etc. Instead there would be Unity and that's it.

I suspect that Shuttleworth has some grand plans with Wayland that will unfold for the average eye in the months leading up to the release of 11.04.

My initial reaction from this announcement was quite the eye-opening shock. After all, X Windows has been the driving force behind the Linux desktop since Linux had a desktop. But it has been my opinion that Mark Shuttleworth has had the Midas Touch with Linux and you can't shun his ideas until they are proven wrong (if ever they are).

Canonical has made some seriously bold steps in recent weeks. These bold steps will hopefully take Linux (at least Ubuntu Linux) to heights it has never seen before. I applaud Shuttleworth for these actions. Whether you like them or not, they speak volumes for the dedication that Canonical has for the Linux operating system.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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