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Wayland For The Ubuntu Unity Desktop Redux

Wayland

Published on 10 March 2011 05:50 PM EST
Written by Michael Larabel in Wayland
14 Comments

While there have been some battles waged recently between Canonical and GNOME developers over collaboration with regard to the Unity desktop shell and revenue sharing for purchases made within their online music store (even this morning with another post by Mark Shuttleworth), on a more positive and productive note: how's the Wayland plans coming along?

It was announced in early November that the Ubuntu Unity desktop will eventually use Wayland as its display server rather than an X.Org Server. In Mark Shuttleworth's post announcing Unity on Wayland he mentioned, "Timeframes are difficult. I'm sure we could deliver *something* in six months, but I think a year is more realistic for the first images that will be widely useful in our community. I’d love to be proven conservative on that :-) but I suspect it's more likely to err the other way. It might take four or more years to really move the ecosystem."

Since that November announcement there's been more Wayland activity with a much more lively Wayland mailing list, new patches coming about (e.g. to run Wayland off a Linux frame-buffer and a nested compositor back-end), GTK3 supporting Wayland, a Wayland back-end for Clutter, support for Mesa's EGL implementation, plans for good multi-monitor support, and various other milestones achieved. But are Canonical's adoption plans for Wayland still on track?

Wayland packages are available in Ubuntu 11.04, but as of right now they are still a ways out of date and they are certainly not part of the default stack. Fortunately, the latest Wayland code can run off of the mainline Linux kernel and Mesa for Intel and the open-source ATI / NVIDIA drivers. More people can now run Wayland, but there's still no support within the proprietary NVIDIA and ATI/AMD Linux drivers due to a lack of kernel mode-setting and GEM/TTM support. NVIDIA has no public plans to support Wayland right now, but it's only a matter of time.

In a private email exchange with Mark on Wednesday, I asked him if he's had any new comments, ideas, or expectations for where Wayland may be by Ubuntu 11.10 or Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. Mark quickly said that progress has been made, but in that time-frame, only "very specialist cases" will see Wayland.

Mark hasn't commented on what these specialist cases may be. Back in September when drinking beers with Kristian in Toulouse for the pre-Oktoberfest XDS 2010, it was learned that Intel may first deploy Wayland with MeeGo Touch. However, there's been nothing new on that topic as of late and Mark hasn't yet responded whether it would be mobile installations as the special cases where the Wayland-loaded Ubuntu may be first attempted.

Mark though has been pleased with the uptick in Wayland activity. Kristian Høgsberg (the founder of the Wayland project) has also been fond of the Wayland endorsement for Ubuntu.

My personal feeling though is that we won't really see any wide-scale adoption of Wayland in the Canonical world until Ubuntu 12.10. It's after the next Long-Term Support release and by then more tool-kits and applications should be compatible with this display server. We may also see AMD and NVIDIA support Wayland within their binary drivers by that point. Even then there would still be fall-back support for supporting an X Server with legacy applications and obscure hardware/software configurations where Wayland is incompatible.

Hopefully more thorough Wayland and X discussions will take place at the next Ubuntu Developer Summit in May taking place in Hungary.

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