Canonical's Ubuntu Linux is looking more and more different from other open source operating systems every day. And it will diverge even further from the rest of the pack when Ubuntu 14.04 debuts in April 2014, bringing with it the widespread availability of a totally new display server called Mir.
Canonical announced the Mir project (which, in case you're wondering, actually has nothing to do with Dell's Sputnik laptop, even though both involve Linux and are named after legacy Soviety spacecraft) last March. The initiative, which was started by Canonical, aims to create a new display server—which essentially means the part of the operating system that draws pictures on the screen—for open source operating systems.
Mir will replace X, the code that has powered displays on most open source operating systems for decades. It is also an alternative to Wayland, another open source effort to build a more modern display server than X that Canonical had expressed interest in integrating into Ubuntu back in 2010, before deciding to launch Mir to develop the server itself.
Now, it appears that Mir is close to being ready for prime time. On Nov. 22, Ollie Ries, the director of the Mir project, announced on the Ubuntu developer listserv that Mir will be optionally available to users of Ubuntu 14.04. X will remain the default display server, and it's unclear from Ries's message whether Mir actually will be preinstalled in the Ubuntu desktop image or simply available as an optional download from the repositories. Either way, though, it won't be hard to acquire for any interested users.
Further, Ries said the Mir team hopes "to see Mir being part of the default display stack" in time for the Ubuntu 14.10 release in October 2014. So X's days on Ubuntu may be numbered.
This news is significant for the open source portion of the channel for two main reasons. First, it creates greater divergence between Ubuntu and other mainstream Linux distributions, such as those from Red Hat (RHT), SUSE and the Fedora Project, all of which have given no indication of plans to adopt Mir anytime soon. As a result, ISVs and other partners potentially will have to make a choice about which Linux distributions they choose to work with, since changes to the display server could require adaptations to third-party software solutions.
Second, Mir represents a major step in Canonical's effort to expand its focus to include smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices in addition to the traditional PCs, laptops and servers, where Ubuntu already enjoys a significant presence. So far, all the talk about "converging" Ubuntu across different hardware profiles has remained mostly just that—talk. But Mir, which will likely prove more friendly to developers of mobile software than X, constitutes a concrete step toward increasing Ubuntu's presence on mobile devices. It may be taking a while, but don't count Canonical out of the mobile game yet.