Gtk 5 might drop X11 support, says GNOME dev

Linux's Wayland-only future takes a tentative step closer


One of the GNOME developers has suggested that the next major release of Gtk could drop support for the X window system.

Emmanuele Bassi opened a discussion last week on the GNOME project's Gitlab instance that asked whether the developers could drop X11 support in the next release of Gtk.

At this point, it is only a suggestion, but if it gets traction, this could significantly accelerate the move to the Wayland display server and the end of X11.

Don't panic: Gtk 5 is not imminent. Gtk is a well-established toolkit, originally designed for the GIMP bitmap editing program back in 1998. Gtk 4 arrived relatively recently, shortly before the release of GNOME 40 in 2021. GNOME 40 has new user-interface guidelines, and as a part of this, Gtk 4 builds GNOME's Adwaita theme into the toolkit by means of the new libadwaita library, which is breaking the appearance of some existing apps.

Also, to be fair, as we recently covered, the X window system is very old now and isn't seeing major changes, although new releases of parts of it do still happen.

This discussion is almost certain to get wildly contentious, and the thread on Gitlab has been closed to further comments for now. If this idea gains traction, one likely outcome might well be a fork of Gtk, just as happened when GNOME 3 came out.

The new desktop alienated so many users that Argentine developer Perberos forked GNOME 2 to create MATE, which was backed early on by Linux Mint.

Although Gtk 3 was released in 2011, several other Gtk-based desktops have only recently moved to it, as we mentioned in our coverage of Mint 20.3. MATE 1.18 in 2017 and Xfce 4.14 in 2020 were their first Gtk 3-only releases. Many flagship desktop Linux apps are programmed around Gtk including Firefox, Google Chrome, and LibreOffice.

Gtk's primary competition is the Qt toolkit, which is used in the KDE Plasma environment as well as by LXQt and Trinity. One of the key differences is that Qt mainly targets C++ programmers, and KDE is built in C++. Many Linux developers are C traditionalists and don't care for C++. This, along with Qt's partly commercial model, was why the GNOME project started.

Although the X window system is nearly 40, it still works, and adoption of Wayland has been very slow. Wayland 1.0.0 was released in 2012, but Fedora didn't move to it until version 25 in 2017, for example. Admirers of X often cite that it has the advantage of working over a network connection, although many of its modern extensions, such as OpenGL acceleration and window compositing, break this.

A lot of the features of the current version, X11, are no longer used or relevant to most users. Even so, X12 is barely even in the planning stages yet. ®


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