It Was Five Years Ago Since Ubuntu Thought They Would Switch To Wayland

Written by Michael Larabel in Wayland on 6 November 2015 at 02:07 PM EST. 28 Comments
This week marks five years since Mark Shuttleworth shared with us Ubuntu intended to eventually switch to a Wayland-based environment for their Unity desktop rather than an X.Org Server... Most Phoronix readers know how that turned out.

Five years ago their plan was to transition their Unity desktop environment from running on X11 to then running on Wayland. Mark wrote back then, "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...We considered and spoke with several proprietary options, on the basis that they might be persuaded to open source their work for a new push, and we evaluated the cost of building a new display manager, informed by the lessons learned in Wayland. We came to the conclusion that any such effort would only create a hard split in the world which wasn’t worth the cost of having done it. There are issues with Wayland, but they seem to be solvable, we’d rather be part of solving them than chasing a better alternative. So Wayland it is."

While Wayland shipped as an experimental package in the Ubuntu archive, it never made it as the default. It was in March of 2013 that Canonical made the surprise announcement they would be developing their own display server, Mir.

Their reported reasons for developing Mir was that the Wayland protocol did not meet their requirements and they weren't happy with the input handling on Wayland around mobile use-cases. When they went public with Mir, their thinking was that it should be ready for phones by October of that year (2013) and would come to other form factors and desktops in 2014.

Now at the end of 2015, Ubuntu Phones are using Mir while the Unity 8 + Mir desktop remains unready and just an experimental option that one can choose to install the relevant packages. Ubuntu 16.04 LTS in April also is still going to default to Unity 7 and X11 on the desktop while for Ubuntu 16.10, next October, is when it's believed that Unity 8 and Mir will be the default across the board. Outside of the Unity desktop on Ubuntu, there's been little interest in Mir.

Mir continues seeing many improvements upstream as shown by the recent Mir 0.17 release. While they expressed disappointment in Wayland's input abilities as one of their reasons for developing Mir, the latest upstream work has included a focus on supporting libinput -- the shared input library that effectively was developed out of Wayland/Weston.

Wayland meanwhile is being deployed on mobile devices too thanks to Tizen and Jolla's Sailfish OS. On the desktop, the GNOME 3.18 Wayland experience on Fedora 23 is considered to be day-to-day usable and should become the default with Fedora 24 early next year. With the December release of KDE Plasma 5.5, their Wayland support should be ready for early adopters. Enlightenment has made much Wayland progress as have the smaller desktop environments too.

The open-source graphics drivers continue supporting both Wayland and Mir. When it comes to proprietary driver support, NVIDIA is just about there with their necessary changes to support the DRM mode-setting interface, full OpenGL over EGL, and various extensions for handling Wayland/Mir. The AMD Catalyst support is expected to come once they end up rolling out their new driver model where Catalyst is isolated to user-space and relying upon the AMDGPU kernel DRM driver. However, the AMD approach will do no good except for the very latest Fiji/Tonga/Carrizo/future GPUs that use the AMDGPU DRM.

The tool-kit support for both Wayland and Mir is going equally well with support found in GTK3, SDL2 for games, etc.

Last month on Phoronix was also the article Years After Wayland 1.0, Will 2016 Be The Year Of The Wayland Desktop? 2016 should be an interesting year for the Linux graphics stack.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter, LinkedIn, or contacted via

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