On September 4, 2013, Canonical developer Christopher Halse Rogers submitted a commit to Intel's xf86-video-intel driver. Three days later, on September 7, 2013, that commit was reverted with a blurb in the NEWS file for Snapshot 2.99.902. The blurb said:
“We do not condone or support Canonical in the course of action they have chosen, and will not carry XMir patches upstream – The Management.”
My first reaction was a bit on the selfish side — what does this mean for my machines (all of which use Intel graphics chips)? Canonical is set to enable XMir in the upcoming release. Does this mean I'll have to revert to suffering through with getting an NVIDIA or ATI card? Yes, I know there are open source drivers, but when you're doing video work, those drivers simply don't cut it.
The removal of XMir support from Intel drivers could be seen as a major step backwards, but all this means for anyone involved is that Canonical will have to include Intel support on their own through patches. That doesn't mean the end user should have to bother with anything — it should continue to be smooth sailing for Intel graphics chips.
"Should" is the operative word here.
Here's the thing — no matter how much you enjoy the Ubuntu platform (and I am a fan), this news creates a bit of a concern. Of course, it isn't all on Canonical. Intel has a vested interest in Wayland (the platform Canonical dropped in favor of their own in-house brand), with several employees working full time on Wayland as the “next generation” display server for Linux. So, what Intel is doing is nothing short of tripping Canonical in the race to the desktop. Although this seems like a spitting contest between two children on a playground, the issue concerns me.
Linux is so close — closer than they've ever been — to succeeding on the desktop. Instead of everyone banding together and bolstering the success of their fellows, they're turning childish tricks to keep one another from succeeding. Isn't that what Microsoft has done for decades? And isn't that the same thing the whole of the Linux community complained about from the beginning? Now, it seems the Linux community itself is tossing around FUD in an attempt to take down one another.
I understand there are so many cogs to this machine and, for the most part, none of us really knows what has been going on, save for those behind the closed-door meetings. So, much of what is bandied about is speculation. However, in this case, it seems pretty clear: Canonical made a mistake, in the eyes of the Linux community, by dropping Wayland. Intel then reacted to Canonical by taking a bully's stance and taking their toys and going home. It's too late for Canonical to change their position, because Ubuntu is already too entrenched in XMir to revert to Wayland. But maybe there's a way to make some sort of amends. Maybe Canonical needs to offer some sort of support for Wayland — or maybe even make a version of the Ubuntu desktop using Wayland instead of XMir. At least by trying to mend that burned bridge, Canonical and Intel could, once again, play well together.
Canonical has to know how this could wind up affecting end users. There are a LOT of Intel graphic chips out there. One more bad decision, and all those chips could be rendered useless, and a horde of users would wind up having to replace graphics chips. Not a smooth move.
I've been calling out for some time that Linux is on a very serious precipice, and how they fall could be the difference between major success and returning to the basements and niches. It's time for the community to get along. Canonical has some serious glad-handing to do, and they need to get on it right away. Also, Intel needs to take the higher road and not stomp their feet like children.
Although many might see this as little more than a bump in the road, I think it could escalate into a much larger issue that could revoke all the amazing progress Linux has made on the desktop front. It would be a shame to revert back to the obscurity of the nineties. If a few major players do the right thing, this could all be avoided.
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 jackwallen.com.