Linux

Installing and testing Ubuntu's Mir server

It was recently announced that Mir would be the default display server for Ubuntu 13.10. Jack Wallen decided it was time to see how Mir was coming along. He was quite surprised at the results.

This past week my curiosity was piqued and I gave Ubuntu's new X Server a spin. I assumed, given the infancy of the software, that it would be a train-wreck of an experience. Believe it or not, I was happily surprised at the maturity and stability of the software.

ubuntu_mir.jpg

Does that mean it's ready for public consumption? Oh no. And it came to a rather huge surprise that Canonical announced Ubuntu 13.10 would default to this X Server. The original plan was to continue to leave Xorg as the default and allowing Mir as an experimental option. Mir would then ship as the default in 14.04. With the change of heart, I decided it was time to give Mir a try to see if there was a clear reason why Canonical made the change (because the uniformity of code and all).

One thing that is very important in this is knowing what you're getting into. This software is fresh out of the oven. And although it's probably had an enormous amount of coding time of late, it's still new. Mir is also a crucial layer of software -- as without it, you will have no user interface. Because this software is so new, it's not exactly fair to run bench testing as some have done. Xorg has had years to develop and settle into its role. Mir? Well, it's just a babe.

NOTE: As of now, your best bet is to install Mir on a machine with Intel-based video, as both NVidia and ATI chipsets don't play well with Mir. If, however, you do want to try it with either your NVidia or ATI cards, you need to issue one of these commands:

  • For ATI: sudo apt-get remove --purge fglrx*
  • For NVidia: sudo apt-get remove --purge nvidia*

Installation

It's actually quite simple to get Mir up and running. To do so, you first must install a daily build of Ubuntu 13.10. To do this, either download an ISO of the Ubuntu 13.10 daily build or upgrade your current distribution. I recommend doing a fresh install, but for those who want to live on the edge, here are the steps to upgrade:

Open a terminal window

  1. issue the command: sudo do-release-upgrade -d
  2. Issue the command: sudo apt-get update
  3. Issue the command sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

The upgrade will take some time -- so step away from the machine and come back later. When you do return, you will need to reboot the machine. Do so and then prepare for the installation of Mir. Here are the steps:

  1. Issue the command: sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mir-team/system-compositor-testing
  2. Update apt-get with the command: sudo apt-get update
  3. Create a new file called /etc/apt/preferences.d/50-pin-mir.pref with the following contents:

Package: *

Pin: origin "private-ppa.launchpad.net"

Pin-Priority: 1001

Package: *

Pin: release o=LP-PPA-mir-team-system-compositor-testing

Pin-Priority: 1002

Finally, you need to run the command to install Mir and it's dependencies. Do so with the command: sudo apt-get dist-upgrade. Once this is done, reboot the machine and log into your new Mir-charged desktop. You will notice a second, over-sized cursor in the upper left corner -- that's intentional. That extra cursor is there to indicate that Mir is running. There is a plan to use a watermark instead (while Mir is in the early stages).

Removing Mir

If you're not a fan, and want to keep using Saucy Salamander (13.10), you can remove Mir either temporarily or permanently. The temporary method requires you to open up the /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/10-unity-system-compositor.conf file and comment out the line:

type=unity

So it will now look like:

#type=unity Save that, log out, and log back in. No more Mir. To permanently remove Mir, follow these steps:

  1. Issue the command: sudo apt-get install ppa-purge
  2. Issue the command: sudo ppa-purge ppa:mir-team/system-compositor-testing
  3. Issue the command: sudo apt-get update
  4. Issue the command: sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
  5. Restart the machine and log in

You should now have a Mir-free machine.

My Impressions

The first thing I noticed (outside of the extra cursor) is that, for a major piece of software in its early stages, Mir is incredibly smooth. Everything looks fantastic and runs amazingly well. Yes, there are glitches -- but that should be expected in beta software. But all in all, there's little (if anything) to complain about. Add to that, some of the enhancements 13.10 is seeing and the experience was quite positive. Granted I didn't push the software to its limits...all I did was use it as any normal user would (web browsing, email, productivity, etc). Most users would be able to hop onto 13.10 and not notice any change (other than the desktop effects looking a bit cleaner and smoother).

I realize there are a lot of dark clouds hanging over Mir; but I have to tip my hats to the developers of this piece of software. In such a short time they have managed to put together something solid and very usable. This could only bode well for up-coming Ubuntu releases.

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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