XFree86 dust-up questions X11 model

Client-server paradigm needs up-ending


The furious row over the vital open source software project XFree86 has raised questions over what future direction the group should take. One of the project's founders, David Wexelblat (actually the fourth guy - see this good history), has suggested that the X model is anachronistic and needs a fundamental garbage-can shaped overhaul.

The row stems from accusations levelled at developer Keith Packard, which saw Packard expelled. That's less interesting than what happens to XFree86, but tempers are running high, so let's pause a moment.

Packard says that the project is under-resourced and that stems from a poor governance model. His expulsion follows accusations that he had been working against the interests of the project by touting a closed source spin-off.

"What Keith has done is among the most low-class, unprofessional and tactless things I have ever experienced in my professional career," wrote Wexelblat.

Linux users wait too long to see new 3D graphics hardware - which arrives at a dizzying rate these days - supported by the windowing system, according to Packard. He cites a year-long wait for a version that officially supports Radeon, for example.

The project has only 250 contributors, compared to over 800 for the fetchmail project. We're not sure how much to deduce from that, because quite often the most important work comes from only a small number of regular developers.

But don't blame the developers, blame the model, says Wexelblat.

"X is obsolescent," he wrote in a mailing list posting.

"I've been working in the Windows world for years now, and client-server display systems are utterly irrelevant to the majority of real-world computer users. X needs to be replaced by a direct-rendered model, on which a backwards-compatible X server can be reasonably trivially implemented".

X11 offers the flexibility of running your application over the network, but that power comes at the cost of speed and flexibility for most users, who don't need that capability.

"The idea of being able to remote individual windows isn't relevent to the vast majority of desktop users," explained Wexelblat. "So the paradigm really needs to be inverted - direct-rendered desktop, with remotability."

Key Linux kernel developer Alan Cox agreed that the project needed a wake-up call, but didn't think a splinter project by Packard could cause too much harm:

"X has to evolve, X has to do cool stuff, X has to let people break stuff, X has to delegate trust to driver maintainers far more," he wrote. "To me it doesn't matter if Keith and friends spin off an "Xperimental" or XFree itself changes, but that change is vital to the future of X11."

So when the dust has settled over the Packard issue, what will the future X look like? ®

Bootnote The historical link cited above explains why the "86" remains part of the project's name, when it has long since evolved past being x86-specific. It's partly a pun, but partly in answer to the question "why not XFree?". In the interview, Dawes answers: "Take a look at xfree.com, you might see one reason why we're reluctant." Obvious, when you think about it.


Other stories you might like

  • Robotics and 5G to spur growth of SoC industry – report
    Big OEMs hogging production and COVID causing supply issues

    The system-on-chip (SoC) side of the semiconductor industry is poised for growth between now and 2026, when it's predicted to be worth $6.85 billion, according to an analyst's report. 

    Chances are good that there's an SoC-powered device within arm's reach of you: the tiny integrated circuits contain everything needed for a basic computer, leading to their proliferation in mobile, IoT and smart devices. 

    The report predicting the growth comes from advisory biz Technavio, which looked at a long list of companies in the SoC market. Vendors it analyzed include Apple, Broadcom, Intel, Nvidia, TSMC, Toshiba, and more. The company predicts that much of the growth between now and 2026 will stem primarily from robotics and 5G. 

    Continue reading
  • Deepfake attacks can easily trick live facial recognition systems online
    Plus: Next PyTorch release will support Apple GPUs so devs can train neural networks on their own laptops

    In brief Miscreants can easily steal someone else's identity by tricking live facial recognition software using deepfakes, according to a new report.

    Sensity AI, a startup focused on tackling identity fraud, carried out a series of pretend attacks. Engineers scanned the image of someone from an ID card, and mapped their likeness onto another person's face. Sensity then tested whether they could breach live facial recognition systems by tricking them into believing the pretend attacker is a real user.

    So-called "liveness tests" try to authenticate identities in real-time, relying on images or video streams from cameras like face recognition used to unlock mobile phones, for example. Nine out of ten vendors failed Sensity's live deepfake attacks.

    Continue reading
  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022