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Ubuntu’s Great Graphical Gambit: X Won’t Mark the Spot

For many here in the FOSS community, Canonical‘s decision to make Unity the next desktop Ubuntu‘s default interface was shocking enough. There are some, in fact, who still need to lie down in a dark room with a cold compress at the very thought of it.

So, ever since Mark Shuttleworth made known the new, equally shocking plan to switch away from X.org and onto Wayland as the distro’s new graphics system, let’s just say it’s been a good time to invest in anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals.

“We’d like to embrace Wayland early, as much of the work we’re doing on uTouch and other input systems will be relevant for Wayland and it’s an area we can make a useful contribution to the project,” Shuttleworth explained in a blog post a week or so ago.

“Progress on Wayland itself is sufficient for me to be confident that no other initiative could outrun it, especially if we deliver things like Unity and uTouch with it,” Shuttleworth added.

‘I Wonder if They Realize the Magnitude’

The virtual ink had barely dried on Shuttleworth’s post before the Linux masses galloped onto the scene to have their say.

“Another good and gutsy move. I 100% support it,” wrote Zac in the comments on CIO Australia, for instance.

Indeed, “I remember a discussion a year or two ago here on Slashdot how X was badly in need of replacing,” wrote somersault on Slashdot. “Sounds to me like Canonical have the right idea, and the impetus to make it happen.”

Then again: “I find it somewhat odd that we take a very powerful OS platform and begin to remove its power in order to reduce its utility enough to make it more palatable for the single user desktop use case,” countered Bill_the_Engineer.

And again: “Ubuntu has shown they can deliver in the past, and perhaps they can do it now, but I can’t help but wonder if they realize the magnitude of what they’re undertaking here,” opined starseeker.

‘A Great Plan if It Works’

The angst was palpable throughout the Linux blogosphere, so Linux Girl did the only sensible thing, and headed for her favorite barstool at the Punchy Penguin.

‘It’s a great plan if it works,” she overheard fellow barmate and Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza saying. “As far as I know, this is the only serious attempt to replace X that has ever had a real chance to succeed.

“So long as they manage some sort of backwards compatibility — Shuttleworth’s confidence aside, I’d like to see something working before I commit — then there’s no reason why a fully OpenGL-based desktop shouldn’t more smoothly provide the features that users are looking for in Compiz,” Espinoza added.

‘X11 Is Not Made for Home Users’

Indeed, “I for one am ALL for it,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet agreed. “X11 is honestly a mess and is NOT made for home users.

“How many home users actually network their desktop? And try having a dozen windows or more and launching a video player like VLC,” hairyfeet pointed out.

“Let us not forget that Ubuntu is ‘Linux for humans’ and NOT ‘Linux for CS grads’,” hairyfeet concluded. “Want more complex than Wayland? Well there is a bazillion choices out there that use X11.

“Personally, I am hoping that Canonical will just go ahead and fork the kernel away from Linus and thus finally give us a true ‘third way’ for home users,” he added. “By adding a stable hardware ABI, drivers could be written that ‘install once, run for years’ like Windows and OSX, and with Wayland, it could finally make a desktop that is as easy to use thanks to Unity as Windows 7 and OSX Snow Leopard.”

‘They May Have Gone Too Far’

Not everyone was quite so sure, however.

“I really think they may have gone too far with this change,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger opined. “There are still plenty of ways to get better speed out of the existing system without a wholesale change like this.”

Similarly, “I can see that faster/fancier graphics may be useful for gamers, less-serious users of PCs and graphics artists, but the value of X as a networked display system far exceeds those niches,” blogger Robert Pogson opined. “About 80 percent of users could benefit from using a networked display on thin clients, saving huge outlays of capital for equipment, power and maintenance. A thin client also is smaller, quieter and lasts longer.”

‘I Cannot See Doing Away With X’

In fact, “X gives up very little to Wayland for 2D displays that work for the majority of us,” Pogson added. “How many of us normally use Compiz, anyway? I played with it once and decided it offered nothing for me. I work when I use a PC; eye-candy does nothing for me.”

Using X on top of Wayland, meanwhile, “seems to me very wasteful as new drivers will have to be written for every video card out there,” he noted. “Don’t we have enough problems getting one set of video drivers to work?”

In short, “I can see using Wayland for some of the fancier video cards for serious graphics and leaving X alone,” Pogson concluded. “I cannot see doing away with X. A lot of thin clients use RDP, but I would avoid that as it may well be patent-encumbered — we do not need to give M$ any more leverage.”

‘It Will Be Confined to Net-Tops’

Unity also targets lower-resolution displays, noted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site. “It doesn’t make sense for larger screens, so it will be pretty much confined to net-tops,” she explained.

Given that Shuttleworth expects Wayland to take three to four years to be ready, “let’s fast-forward to the holiday shopping season of 2014,” Hudson suggested.

“Laptop sales have continued to dominate the market, to the point where pretty much everyone has one as their main (or only) computer, and smart phone sales continue to ramp up,” she predicted. “As a result, net-top sales are dismal, into the single digits for the second year in a row.”

‘Chasing a Dwindling Market’

Laptops, meanwhile, “weigh no more than today’s net-tops, but with 2 terabytes or more of storage, high-resolution displays, most of them are (at least) quad-core, with 8 to 16 gigs of ram, they come with Windows 8, and the cheapest ones from last year are going for $299.00,” she added. “The few net-tops are being ignored by both the customers and the sales staff.”

In short, “Ubuntu is chasing a dwindling market,” Hudson asserted.

“Net-tops were a compromise for when people wanted mobile computing and their main computer was a desktop,” she explained. “But in a few years, when every laptop will resemble an Apple Air in terms of size and weight, and everyone already has one or more, net-tops are going to be seen as crippleware.

“Consumers won’t buy them if they can’t run the same applications their ‘real’ computer runs,” Hudson concluded.

10 Comments

    • the problem with that crappy hardware was the wifi.

      Didnt worked so people returned it.

      They seemed to rolled out a fix later on, but most didnt wait.

      still it uses those old Arm 800mhz that are very slow, the new ones are so much better

      • Look at the reviews…out of EIGHT you are looking at FIVE returns. That is nearly an 80% return rate! it has NOTHING to do with "worshiping at MSFT’s feet" it has to do with not drinking the koolaid and facing reality.

        Business 101..NO company can afford 80% return rates for long, because ALL of those devices will have to be refurbed and sold as such. which means Kmart is LOSING money on EVERY one of those devices when you figure in returns!

        You make a product that doesn’t have return rates higher than 20%, and I’ll be happy to stock it. You want to know what my Windows return rate is? 3%, that’s it. It has NOTHING to do with liking one company or another, it has to do with staying in business. How many Linux machines have YOU sold at retail? Because I have tried selling Linux and can back up the 80%+ return rate. Linux is good for geeks, for home users? It is a giant can of fail.

        And finally let us get something clear once and for all. Consumers? NOTHING LIKE YOU…nothing at all. You might as well be an alien compared to them. They will NOT learn Bash, they will NOT learn CLI, they will NOT trawl forums looking for fixes, and they will NOT deal with "update foo broke my driver!" every 6 months. Why do you think iOS is a hit? Because it does NONE of the above. It is ALL GUI, ALL handholding, ALL "clicky clicky" easy. If you try Windows 7 you’ll find while not that easy it is pretty damned close, with nice little wizards and handholding everywhere. Give the people what they want, NOT what you think they deserve, and you’ll sell. Don’t? enjoy your absolute last place in the market.

  • For one, I installed a version of Linux on all my PCs and Laptops as well as recommend Linux to all my family and friends. And they love it! I do not agree with this change. If anything, whats wrong with merging parts of the two, make something great for everyone.

    • Kmart sells them:

      http://www.kmart.com/shc/s/p_10151_10104_020W026051760001P?prdNo=1&blockNo=1&blockType=G1

      "Get it Today for store pickup at Kmart 5665 N Rosemead Blvd: 91780"

      OEMs pay an average of about $52 according to the latest SEC filing. Of course the consumer pays more because the OEMs and retailers mark it up a lot.

      Fortunately the world does not worship at Bill’s feet as hairyfeet does. There are many millions of netbooks being shipped with GNU/Linux and more than that on other systems. Ask Dell and HP how many GNU/Linux systems they sell in Asia. It’s a growth area for them. Then there’s Brazil and Russia… The world moves on. Deal with it.

      • If you check the reviews, it doesn’t get much respect and 5 of 8 have returned it. I know that Android is Linux at its core, but that is not what most people see. Rather they see Google and Android, just like the phones. You couldn’t begin to sell it as "Linux".

  • I hate to sound shallow, but when Ubuntu releases their new effort I’ll give it a spin and see what happens. I think it’s a mistake to condemn something because it’s new. After all, what is Linux as an OS if not new and evolving?
    Whether I keep Ubuntu installed or not will depend upon what I’m trying to get done and how well they help me get to where I’m going. But I won’t think poorly of them for trying something new. Just the opposite. They’re bringing another layer of choice to an OS that’s already famous for providing it.

  • ‘X11 Is Not Made for Home Users’

    i agree with this part too

    it would be nice to see ubuntu fork the kernel and support hardware ABIs.

    am not sure how they will be doing it, or how much work to maintain it, but in sense it must be done.

    However it wont be done for now, so the easiest thing canonical could do is either:

    -launch versions every year, instead of every 6 months.

    -Make ubuntu a rolling release (similar to what mint has done with mint debian)

    one of those 2 is probably the easiest route for now.

    And about wayland, AM all up for it. But once it matures they need to add some networking for tin clients.

  • Netbooks and other small cheap computers are not going to go away. They will be smaller and cheaper than anything with that other OS and the resources to run it. Small cheap computers will almost always have GNU/Linux or some variation because the cost of software licences is larger than the profit to be made producing the device. Further there is a growing market for such devices in large parts of the world where more conventional computers are still unaffordable. Forget $300. Think $100. There are already thin clients costing less than $50 on the market. They sell.

    Take a notebook that sells for $300 and rip out that other OS to save $100, hard drive to save $50 and use ARM instead of Atom, only half the ram and no battery (for stationary use). You are around $100 even today. China is full of small factories producing such devices using ARM and GNU/Linux. They have a huge domestic market and networking to sell to the world. Who cares what runs on the client if it is networked to a powerful server? A small cheap computer can get fantastic performance from only $20 worth of server because of better storage and memory. Imagine the cost of a desktop that gives the same performance as Google’s search engine or e-mail. Thin client computing is the way to go.

    • First of all, lets just make this clear…Redmond is NOT MORDOR, no matter how many times you watch your mashed up LOTR with Bill Gates head replacing the eye of Sauron, okay? So leave the "they shall not be named" crazy talk at home. Say it with me Pogsopn, I know you can do this…Microsoft. See how easy that was? or even easier just use MSFT. But with the "they shall not be named" you are making every FOSS user look like a loonie.

      As for the rest? BWA HA HA HA HA! Wow, you know jack squat about market reality do you? Do you HONESTLY think OEMs pay ANYTHING close to retail? Got news for you…XP Home? $10. XP Pro? $20. Win 7 Starter? $25 and Win 7 HP is $40 last I checked. Now hate to burst your bubble, but folks buy what they know. NOBODY CARES if you can get it online, I can get fake viagra online too, so what? what matters is what the B&Ms like Best Buy carry, because THAT is what Joe and Sally average will be buying.

      See any Linux netbooks there? Nope, because the return rate is too high. Notice how Dell puts "WARNING" all over their Linux offerings? That is to keep the average folks AWAY from your OS, because the returns are so high. I’d be happy to provide links on returns if you’d like, it ain’t pretty.

      Look up your local Craigslist if you are an American, look under computers. See how many of those ARM netbooks are being dumped. Looking at my own area I can pick up more than a dozen for under $50, brand new. Why is that? I called a few the other day. Their answer…IT DON’T RUN WINDOWS.

      So while I agree that there will still be tons of netbooks, they will be Atom and Fusion based and be running Windows 7 Starter, which last I heard is being dropped to the XP Home OEM price now that XP is EOL.

      So I as an OEM can deal with the returns, the "update foo broke my drivers" BS, the headaches, and the "my software don’t run!", or I can pay $15 which I can pass off onto the consumer. Do you REALLY think this is a tough choice? The ONLY gains you will see for "Linux" will be on Android iPad knockoffs, and guess what? Android is an all GUI, all hold your hand, no CLI by default OS…which is of course what I’ve been saying for years Linux will have to be to have ANY shot at all. I guess the feet is right again huh? Oh and Pogson? MICROSOFT! BOO! Man the "they shall not be named" always cracks me up!

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