Monday, November 22, 2010
The Linux world has been very talkative for the last few weeks with the news that Ubuntu plans on switching from the classic X server to Wayland for it's graphics environment. For those who are still unclear as to what exactly Wayland is, here is a quote from their homepage:
"Wayland is 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."
For those still unclear as to what Wayland is supposed to be doing after reading the above quote - essentially Wayland helps a compositor, such as Compiz or KWin, work with applications running on a computer. It can run on top of an existing display server, such as X, or act as the display server itself (and run X inside of itself similar to how OSX does).
My first and foremost question to the change to Wayland is why? Well according to Mark the "why" is the following:
"we don’t believe X is setup to deliver the user experience we want, with super-smooth graphics and effects
To each their own. The wonderful thing about FOSS is choice - my question this: If desktops such as Enlightenment can achieve an elegant, fluid desktop while using X, why can't Unity? My next concern about using the Wayland project is if it is ever going to actually fully get rid of X. Mark states that they plan to keep backwards compatibility with all X applications. While backwards compatibility of this sort is something that is very necessary, I some how doubt this going to be accomplished with out keeping parts (if not all) of X around. If this is the case - what is the point of adding Wayland into your graphics layer in the first place?
The last part of Wayland that is a large cause for concern is lack of closed source video driver support. As a free software advocate I know FOSS drivers are ideal (and they are advancing rapidly) but as of yet they do not offer anywhere near the performance of their closed source counter parts. In fact as of today the only open source graphics drivers that support any form of decent 3D acceleration are for Intel chip sets. While I recommend taking anything you read on Phoronix with a grain of salt - their claim that nVidia has no plans to support Wayland in their closed source driver sounds about accurate. As for ATI? Their Linux driver support has historically been worse than nVidia - so I wouldn't hold my breath here either.
As with most things only time will tell if Ubuntu's (and Fedora's) transition to Wayland will be a success (or a death sentence) for the respective distros. In the mean time want to give Wayland a try? Well, currently it is barely functional and only works on a limited amount of hardware. That means, in addition to all the concerns above, a good deal of time, funding, and man power is going to have to be invested in Wayland just to make the project functional for a desktop operating system such as Ubuntu.
Personally, I think this announcement is premature and we won't have a functional "Wayland only" display server on a main stream distro for several years at least. What is your take in the situation? Do you think the change was necessary and how soon will it come?