November 30, 2023

Wayland Takes Lead on Linux as Red Hat Says Goodbye to X.org

Firefox 121, now in beta testing, will also prefer the Wayland protocol.

Wayland on Red Hat Linux instead

Il blog post by Carlos Soriano Sanchez, head of the GPU team at RHEL, announces important news: the next version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), scheduled for 2025, will abandon X.org and exclusively adopt the Wayland visualization server.

Red-Hat-Wayland-instead-X

Since RHEL only offers GNOME, this means it will use the Mutter composer and nothing else.

When RHEL 8 was released in 2019, Wayland became the default display server, and with the arrival of RHEL 9 three years later, X.org was officially deprecated. Sanchez explains that the transition from the more than 30-year-old X Window System to the new Wayland-based stack has been underway for about 15 years. Interestingly, while the X Window System is approaching 40 years of age, Wayland, which started in 2008, is approaching 17 years of age.

The Reg FOSS desk remains skeptical about Wayland, but critical mass is growing. KDE 6 will be exclusively based on Wayland. Other major projects like Mint and Xfce are also experimenting with Wayland support. On the ARM front, the new desktop in Raspberry Pi OS 5 combines LXDE and Wayfire, working well except with touchscreens. The Asahi team, which works on Linux for Apple Silicon, announced that it is focusing only on Wayland.

Critically important applications are also adopting Wayland. Firefox 121, now in beta, will render directly to Wayland instead of going through the built-in XWayland server. OBS Studio, another problematic software, gained native Wayland support in version 27.

The real meaning of this change is not so much about the experience of the end user, who will still have to face some problems and learn new methods and techniques. Rather, the crucial issue is developer support. Red Hat's large team of developers is a driving force behind many Linux projects. If Red Hat stops development on X.org, it's unclear who might take its place.

Ubuntu Budgie Wayland

One problem with Wayland is that each window manager must implement its own profile in its own code. Wayland is just a protocol, not a display server. There is no direct correspondence between the components of Wayland and those of an X11-based system. In a Wayland system, the closest thing to a "view server" is the composer, which is similar to the window manager in X11.

X11 runs on every UNIX™ operating system and the like, but proprietary UNIX is dead. Operating systems such as AIX, Solaris, and HP-UX are in maintenance mode. The last commercial UNIX still on sale is Apple's macOS, which does not use X11, although you can still download XQuartz if needed.

X.org was created from a fork of XFree86 in 2004. X11 is a very large and complex piece of software, and with the retirement of a major corporate backer from this latest cooperative implementation.

If no one volunteers to take on the considerable work of maintaining X.org, it will die. Getting cooperation from OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and DragonflyBSD to maintain a shared implementation may be even more difficult. Xenocara, based on OpenBSD, runs on Linux, but there is unlikely to be commercial support for such a project.

For those who want the X Window System to live on, it is urgent to start working on what needs to be preserved and revitalize the X12 initiative, eliminating as much legacy as possible. Today, perhaps, it would be better to render directly to OpenVG or Vulkan.

  1. OpenVG: OpenVG is a specification for a 2D Application Programming Interface (API). It is designed for hardware accelerated to provide high quality rendering of vector graphics. OpenVG is primarily used for applications that require precise, high-quality vector drawings, such as graphical user interfaces (GUIs), navigation applications, and for creating visual effects and animations. The API was developed by Khronos Group, the same organization that manages standards like OpenGL and Vulkan. OpenVG can be particularly useful in environments where system resources are limited, such as mobile devices or embedded systems.
  2. Volcano: Vulkan, also developed by Khronos Group, is a modern graphics and compute API that offers direct control over GPU hardware and optimized performance. It is the successor to OpenGL, designed to be more efficient and flexible. Vulkan is used to develop applications that require intensive graphics calculations, such as video games, real-time simulations, and virtual reality applications. Unlike OpenGL, Vulkan requires developers to handle more low-level details of GPU operation, but this also offers greater possibilities for optimization and control.

Keeping the X11 project alive would be an epic task, and without a commercial backer, it seems unlikely that this will happen. Maybe it's really time to let X die. If this seems drastic, you may want to read chapter 7 of “The Unix Hater's Handbook”, a book known for its merciless and humorous criticism of UNIX and its various aspects. Chapter 7, in particular, likely discusses some of the flaws and problems associated with UNIX systems, including those related to X11.

The-X-Windows-Disaster

More independent Unixes could bypass Wayland and switch to Arcan instead.

Arcan is an advanced and versatile software framework for managing graphical systems, especially in UNIX and Linux contexts. The Arcan project was conceived to offer an alternative solution to traditional visualization servers such as X11 and Wayland, proposing a more modern and flexible approach to the management of graphical interfaces.

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