Life Beyond X - Ubuntu Drifting Away from X11 Towards Wayland Display Server


X Windows System(commonly known as X or X11) has been part of Linux for so long that everyone seems to have forgotten if there even existed any alternatives at all. Well, Canonical founder Mark Shuttlework recently reminded us all that there are indeed alternatives to X and they are planning to move Ubuntu from X towards one such alternative called Wayland with the future firmly in mind. Ubuntu's most significant change is less significant compared to this.
X Window System and Linux
The X Window System (X11) is basically a display server that is responsible for showing graphics on the screen and mediating user input. X Window System is and integral part of almost all mainstream desktop Linux distributions.

The problem with this incredible piece of software is that it was created in the early 80's and obviously the design requirements in those days were quite different, to put it mildly, from what we want to achieve today with the display server.

Wayland Display Server
Wayland, on the other hand, is the new kid in the block. Wayland display server project was started in 2008 by Red Hat developer Kristian Høgsberg with the stated goal of "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".

Wayland is designed to take advantage of the giant strides made in the Linux graphics technology in recent years. It is a very promising project, but it's still in its very early stages of development. Hardware compatibility is another important issue which needs to be sorted out.

Unity will have Wayland Instead of X Eventually
Canonical took some ground breaking decisions in the past few weeks. First was the adoption of Unity as the default desktop environment instead of GNOME Shell for Ubuntu 11.04 and future Ubuntu releases. Now, Shuttleworth in his latest blog post have announced that, Ubuntu Unity will be moving away from X window system towards Wayland.

Shuttleworth wrote, "The next major transition for Unity will be to deliver it on Wayland, the OpenGL-based display management system. We’d like to embrace Wayland early, as much of the work we’re doing on uTouch and other input systems will be relevant for Wayland and it’s an area we can make a useful contribution to the project."

And here is why he thinks the shift to Wayland is inevitable. "We don’t believe X is setup to deliver the user experience we want, with super-smooth graphics and effects. I understand that it’s *possible* to get amazing results with X, but it’s extremely hard, and isn’t going to get easier. Some of the core goals of X make it harder to achieve these user experiences on X than on native GL, we’re choosing to prioritize the quality of experience over those original values, like network transparency."

The shift of Unity from X11 towards Wayland will take years to complete and don't expect anything ground breaking to happen any time soon. As Shuttleworth himself puts it, six months is an unrealistic time frame for something this big. Ubuntu 11.04 won't be having a different display server in the form of Wayland. But we will start seeing signs of change with Ubuntu 11.10 and Ubuntu 12.04 releases definitely though.

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