Linux tweaked for better graphics, video performance

Novell Tuesday released improvements to the way Linux handles graphics and video -- a move aimed at making the operating system more attractive to mainstream desktop users.

The improvements to the XGL graphics subsystem that underlies Linux will help it render images faster and improve 3-D graphics and video for users on existing hardware, said Charlie Mancusi-Ungaro, director of marketing for Linux and open-source at Novell. "This puts Linux at the forefront of where graphical desktop interfaces are going," he said.

XGL, which stands for X over OpenGL, is a version of the two-decade-old X Window System popular on Unix operating systems. It does not actually provide the desktop interface itself, instead supporting Linux desktop environments such as KDE or GNOME.

At Novell's Web site, users can see videos previewing some of the enhancements provided by XGL. They include transparent application or browser windows so that icons underneath are still visible, windows that can quickly shrink to thumbnail-size while videos continue to play, and -- for power users running many applications -- the ability to open up to four desktops on a 3-D cube interface that users can rotate for program access.

The improvements will be available to Linux users running PCs with 3-D graphics cards and relatively up-to-date hardware, meaning computers that have been bought in the last 18 months or so, said Mancusi-Ungaro.

Jakob Nielsen, a usability expert with Nielsen Norman Group, applauded the transparency and extra desktop features. But he was less impressed with the ability for application windows to be dragged halfway between desktops and viewed in 3-D. He called it "a great way to show off graphical horsepower but basically useless."

Nielsen said Linux's reputation for having a user interface that's less attractive and harder to use than those in Apple's Mac OS X or Microsoft's Windows is well-earned, and a natural result of its technical heritage.

"Linux has always been able to attract great programming talent, but not as many talented usability people," Nielsen said. He noted that it's often difficult in the free-wheeling open-source culture to veto new features that add marginal utility at the cost of increased complexity. "To have a simple unified experience that is good for the average user requires someone to say no," he said.

The features enabled by XGL throw out a preemptive challenge to the upcoming Windows Vista, which Microsoft is promising will have similar new features and more in its Aero graphical user interface.

While Microsoft has long suffered from a tendency to overstuff features at the cost of ease of use, said Nielsen, it is "taking a new approach" with Vista.

Development of XGL is led by David Reveman, a Swedish software developer with notoriously eccentric work habits even by programmers' standards. Reveman works in the top floor of a barn in rural Sweden, according to Wikipedia, with co-workers from Novell flying to the country every two to three months to collect code and post it online.

The XGL source code is available for download by open-source programmers at The improvements will be available as an option for users installing Version 10 of Novell Linux Desktop, which is due out by the summer, Mancusi-Ungaro said. But because the code is being made available as open-source, he expects XGL to be adopted by other flavors of Linux such as Red Hat or Ubuntu.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Eric Lai

Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?