Been a while


Yeesh, it really has been a while, hasn’t it.

Last time we spoke, I was working on X11, and my blog was being served off a FreeBSD 4.3 machine (obviously named ‘amnesiac’), from the datacentre of an ISP who had long since forgotten which ex-employee’s Pentium II was sitting in that rack. Unfortunately I didn’t back it up, and no longer even have a copy of the RSS feed to import. Looking over the Wayback Machine copy though, I don’t think we’re missing much by losing that one. So here we are with WordPress, having blatantly ripped off Lucas’s theme.

Shortly after that machine died — early in 2012 — I finished up my last proper X11 project for a customer, went back to Australia for and a holiday, and came back to start working on Wayland’s input subsystem (including xkbcommon, on which more in a future post). Working on Wayland has been really refreshing; not only did it feel like time for a change after nine years of working on X11, but diminishing returns meant that we were increasingly spending enormous amounts of time on X11 to achieve very marginal results.

The last major thing I did there was work with Chase Douglas (ex-Canonical) and Peter Hutterer (Red Hat) — though sadly due to timing, we almost entirely worked in relay, rather than together — on the XI2.3 multitouch protocol and implementation. I was quite proud to see it eventually make its way upstream, but having subsequently both tried to explain to others how it all hangs together, and watched Peter continue to fix corner-case after corner-case in its interactions with other parts of X11 input, it really solidified my view that X11 is a dead end for any new development.

stop whining and get on with it

A couple of months ago, in Canberra for 2013, I gave a presentation about that very realisation. Originally I thought of giving a kind of dispassionate comparison and explanation of the two, but it ended up becoming a fairly linear narrative of where X began, where it is now, and how Wayland organically developed from this. It’s a fairly well-worn line that Wayland is in many ways the culmination of the last ten years of X.Org development, but it really is true.

Part of that has not just been shedding the X11 cruft and getting the opportunity to start over ­­— though, given the state of the X11 protocol and its 28 common extensions, plus its codebase, that’s really no bad thing — but some radically different design decisions, down to the real fundamentals of the interfaces. Giving compositors a lot more context opens up a huge amount of possibilities for us (beginning with actually being able to activate a screensaver while a pop-up menu’s active …), and I’m really excited about the kinds of things we can do.

It’s been really interesting to see Wayland grow and develop into a fully-fledged window system. At Collabora, we’ve had Pekka, Louis-Francis, Fred and others working on Wayland support across the board: compositors, client toolkits/apps, and hardware enablement too. After the groundwork we’ve been doing, a lot of it is really starting to come to fruition and hopefully we’ll have some more shiny demos soon. Along the way, I managed to fulfill one of my goals I set a while ago, which was to get out of the bubble of only ever working on the server (since X clients were so uniformly unpleasant), and work throughout the stack. Over the past few months, I’ve been able to work on GStreamer, WebKit, Clutter, COGL, Mesa, and other EGL/GLES stacks, which has been really interesting.

where next?

With GTK+, Qt and Clutter all shipping Wayland support in their stable releases, the next big thing for me personally is watching the GNOME port progress. We’ve got a stable and solid core protocol and library now, but there are definitely some gaps to be filled in by having a real desktop environment ported, and certainly around input we’ve got a lot of things to support (e.g. touchpad support on par with xf86-input-synaptics, better mouse acceleration, support for synchronising keyboard repeat rates between clients, tablets, etc). But it’s quite exciting to see what people will be able to make of our work so far.