Wayland

This is obviously my personal opinion. Also, I don’t work for an open source / free software company.

The conscious split

On Nov 4 2010, Mark Shuttleworth announced:

The next major transition for Unity will be to deliver it on Wayland, the OpenGL-based display management system.

To me such an announcement implies a commitment of resources.

They also considered writing their own solution, but thought it was a bad idea:

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.

About 6 to 9 months ago, Canonical moved from their idea that Unity at one point magically would run Wayland, to their own solution. Doing your own thing is perfectly fine by me. What I heavily dislike is keeping that complete change of direction a secret. There is no law against it, but hiding such things for a very long time makes me assume that I’ll never hear anything timely at all. I still have not seen that this decision was taken on technical reasons and it just removes the trust I had in Canonical.

Now, there an amusing call for GNOME and KDE to join Mir. Doing that to me would mean:

  • To give away your copyright, something which the GNOME project is against
  • To know that you not be consulted in decisions and big decisions will be made known 6-9 months after the fact
  • To write and maintain yet another abstraction layer to make Wayland, X and Mir work
  • To (seemingly) rely on LightDM (no GDM!)
  • To likely switch switch distributions, as code upstreaming is not a strong suite of Canonical. Maybe Mir will work, but I expect loads of patches to Qt/Gtk+ for a Mir backend, as well as other components (accessibility, etc). I think this due to the amount of patches Unity required and the sudden code dumps that GNOME sometimes got.
  • You’re working with someone consciously is ok with creating a ‘hard split in the world’

Mir seems totally out of the option. After the really public announcement of Canonical, I was expecting them to have invested resources into making happen what they publicly promised. Instead, that is not to happen, so that slack has to be picked up.

Development speed of Wayland

Some people (not me!) spend a few days investigating the current status of Wayland and what is still left to do. This as we only 6-9 months after the fact we know we had to do this ourselves.

Unfortunately, the various blogposts about the 6-9 months of hidden Mir work, plus the incorrect assumptions and statements made about Wayland have resulted in a various incorrect impressions that I see often repeated. To correct a few:

  • There was already a lot of work done for Wayland
  • Speed was not slow, there was just no timeline on when to complete the rest
    Seems quite logical to at least wait for a 1.0 release and some adoption from distribution, but oh well
  • Supporting X, Mir and Wayland implies way more than just a “gdk backend” patch to Gtk+ and something similar for Qt
  • Wayland does not do everything that X does, but Mir is lacking that and way more
    Yet another abstraction layer is not really the preferred way of working in GNOME. Adds to the things that has to be maintained, plus you can only use something as much as your abstraction layer allows
  • Competition on this level is not good
    See: yet another abstraction layer

Finally some progress

Anyone still thinking: finally some progress has really ignored that various GNOME applications already work on Wayland. Furthermore, we already had a port of Mutter. This all before we finally are allowed to know for sure to not expect any resources from Canonical towards Wayland.

Of course, it still is nice to be quicker to release something quicker than the other person. But let’s focus instead on providing something which works as nicely as the old thing. Including things as XSettings, XRANDR, keeping track of idle time, colour management, accessibility, etc. Competing with Mir is stupid anyway. If we make applications work under Wayland, it will benefit Mir as well. We could release something and call it stable, but easier if we release it when we think it is good enough. That will still be too early for some, but oh well :P

If we’d known 6-9 months ago that we couldn’t have relied upon Canonical, we could’ve taken that into account. In my opinion, keeping that decision secret slowed things down.

Communication and GNOME

Now, I am pretty harsh towards Canonical regarding their communication. I think GNOME can hugely improve as well, though I don’t think that is really relevant. The “but you do the same” is just a bad excuse. I had big issues (especially after the work done for Ubuntu GNOME remix) that we still did not have anyone from Canonical/Ubuntu in the release team. If we had someone on the release team, we could still be bad at communicating, but at least there would be one person who should be knowing what was going on on both sides. I still think it would be nice (though do not think it is that big of an issue after all the heavily delayed statements from Canonical) to have someone from Canonical, but not sure if the person would ever be allowed to share anything, thus the benefit seems much lower.
PS: The release team bit is not new. I’ve said this initially privately, but also publicly many months ago, see release-team archives. GNOME does almost everything in the open.