Ubuntu Linux and Wayland Display Server: Status Update

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

September 20, 2011

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth announced Wayland graphical server for Ubuntu, the Linux distribution, in fall 2010. Wayland for Ubuntu news made headlines. But almost a year later, Wayland for Ubuntu remains in development and the venerable X server won’t be going anywhere soon — which is not surprising, since replacing a display system that has dominated the open source world for decades is hard work. But when can we expect Wayland for Ubuntu to hit the mainstream? Read on for some updates.

Canonical isn’t alone in turning its gaze to Wayland. MeeGo, the Linux-based operating system for mobile devices, has also moved toward the new display system. Other desktop Linux distributions, including Fedora, have also indicated they’ll likely adopt it when it matures. Ubuntu, however, is the only major platform that has already made an unqualified commitment to Wayland.

Wherefore Art Thou, Wayland?

Since the Ubuntu-Wayland buzz last fall, the project has been steadily progressing, and its slow integration into the Ubuntu world has begun. Packages for it exist in Ubuntu 11.04 and 11.10, and a Launchpad PPA (which is currently not public) has been created.

So far, though, Wayland currently can’t do much more than this:

Nonetheless, these proof-of-concept demonstrations show Wayland works, and Canonical seems to remain firmly committed to its adoption when it’s mature. It’s uncertain when that may be, but it’s clear at this point it will not happen in time for the next long-term support (LTS) version of Ubuntu, 12.04.

When Wayland finally does arrive, though, it will mean important changes for both users and developers. On the surface, Ubuntu running Wayland won’t look very different, as the changes are all on the back end. But the system should feel different — and, hopefully, faster — since Wayland’s minimalist design promises much greater efficiency than megalithic X, which was not written with the needs of modern desktop computers and mobile devices.

At the same time, Wayland should simplify the lives of open source developers by shaving away a huge deal of complexity surrounding the graphical server. That may be just what Ubuntu needs at a moment when computing is increasingly shifting to small and portable devices, which are the last thing the original X developers had in mind. Taking advantage of 3D functionality, which in X depends on clumsy extensions rather than functionality built into the core of the display server, will also become easier.

For now, though, Wayland’s official landing in Ubuntu remains way off. We’ll look forward to its progression toward maturity.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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