Ubuntu will adopt Wayland Graphics System

The desktop OS will also switch to a display management system that’s more compatible.

Hard on the heels of Canonical's controversial decision to use the 3D-enabled Unity interface in its desktop Ubuntu operating system came word late last week that it will also adopt a new graphics system.

Rather than the venerable X Server and X Window system, open source Ubuntu Linux will include instead Wayland, a lean, OpenGL-based display management system, Mark Shuttleworth said in a Thursday post on his blog.

"We don't believe X is set up to deliver the user experience we want, with super-smooth graphics and effects," Shuttleworth explained. "I understand that it's *possible* to get amazing results with X, but it's extremely hard, and isn't going to get easier."

Progress on the two-year-old Wayland project, meanwhile, "is sufficient for me to be confident that no other initiative could outrun it, especially if we deliver things like Unity and uTouch with it," he added. The change will probably show up in about a year, though it could take as long as four or more years "to really move the ecosystem," Shuttleworth predicted.

Ubuntu 11.04, or Natty Narwhal, is due in April, with a first alpha release now scheduled to arrive early next month, according to recent changes on the project's wiki.

Built-In Compositing

The X Window System--also known as X or X11, dates back to 1984 and is considered by many to be slow and bloated, as noted in an early suggestion in 2008 that it could be replaced by Wayland, which at the time was brand-new.

The X.org implementation of the X Window System is included in pretty much all mainstream desktop Linux distributions, where it's responsible for displaying on-screen graphics as well as mediating user input.

Because the base X11 technology dates back so far, portions of it are no longer needed, while newer capabilities must typically be added on as extensions. Wayland, on the other hand, offers the advantages of being built around recent graphics technologies such as kernel mode-setting and the Graphics Execution Manager. It also has its own built-in compositing manager. Among the X11 capabilities not included in Wayland is network transparency.

Making the transition to Wayland won't be an easy task for the Ubuntu project, since drivers, third-party software, and all of the other layers of the stack will need to be adapted accordingly.

For users, however, the change shouldn't be too disruptive, Shuttleworth said: "We're confident we'll be able to retain the ability to run X applications in a compatibility mode, so this is not a transition that needs to reset the world of desktop free software."

Consumer-Focused Confidence

Still, on top of the news about Unity, many in the Ubuntu community are concerned.

"Desktop users want to know the Ubuntu they've always loved and propelled to the top, and do not doubt it was the loyal masses who did this for Ubuntu, will always be available and workable on their hardware," wrote Susan Linton in an OStatic blog, for example. "Unity and Wayland can not guarantee this and, in all likelihood, won't ever."

I see it differently. In my view, the move is one more sign that Ubuntu has achieved enough success on the desktop to boldly strike out on its own to get what it needs for even broader success in an increasingly graphical world. As a longtime Ubuntu fan, I confess it's all making me a bit nervous.

At the same time, though, I'm excited to see such consumer-focused confidence from the top Linux distribution. No longer an "also-ran" alongside Mac and Windows, Ubuntu is gunning to take the lead.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags unixLinuxCanoncanonicalsoftwareshuttlenon-Windowsoperating systems

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?