Asahi Linux developer warns the one true way is Wayland
Got an Apple Silicon Mac? Want to run Linux? Then you'll need a Wayland-based desktop
Hector Martin, one of the lead developers of Asahi Linux, is warning that Wayland is the future of graphical desktops on Apple Silicon Macs.
In a lengthy post on Mastodon, one of the lead developers of the Asahi Linux project to port Linux to Apple Silicon-powered Mac computers has asked users not to use X.org, saying: "we absolutely do not have the bandwidth to spend time on it."
Martin warns that the future of graphical desktops on Apple Silicon is Wayland and nothing but Wayland. Xwayland will be supported, so that X.org apps will run under Wayland based desktops, but the developers hope that people will use only Wayland-based environments on Asahi Linux and related distros.
Up to a point, this is not such a shock for the nascent Linux ecosystem on Arm-ISA-based Macs. These machines have a single family of GPUs, which is closely integrated with the main processor, so there are no questions about which GPU vendor to choose, or what drivers a machine is running – because you have no choice. Additionally, the laptop models' displays, as well as Apple's own external screens, are all hi-DPI devices, or as Apple calls them "retina displays". These effectively mandate the use of fractional scaling – something that X.org does not support well. The Apple Silicon market is a closed one, without the free choice of mix-and-match GPUs and displays found in commodity PCs.
As we've written before, support for features such as high-DPI displays, fractional scaling, and worst of all, a mixture of heterogeneous monitors with different DPIs, are all critical weaknesses of X.org, and given how little development is happening in the world of legacy X11, this is not very likely to change.
If you are a rampaging neophiliac and you actively enjoy using modern desktop environments such as GNOME 40+ and KDE Plasma 5, or one of the handful of tiling environments for Wayland, this won't seem like a big ask. For some Linux desktops that currently don't work with the new display server, adding support might be relatively easy.
For example, Cinnamon is based on GNOME technology – the next version seems to be based on GNOME 43 – and while current versions of Cinnamon don't support anything except X.org, as a fork of GNOME, it shouldn't be that hard for the Cinnamon developers to enable Wayland support.
KDE Plasma already runs quite well on Wayland, and if you need fractional scaling under KDE today, this actually works better with Wayland than it does with X.org.
The problem is that the majority of the profusion of Linux desktops out there don't support Wayland yet… And some likely never will. Regular readers may have gathered that two of the particular favorites of The Reg FOSS Desk are Ubuntu's Unity environment and Xfce. Fortunately, the Xfce developers are working hard on their Wayland support – indeed a recent announcement said that Wayland compositor support has now been merged into the main XFWM4 binary. The next stable version of XFCE should be version 4.20, and with any luck that will work natively under Wayland. However, the chances of this happening for Unity seem very slim. Unity fans may more or less be forced to adopt the new Lomiri environment, but for now this does not support a global menu bar, one of the appealing features of the Mac-like Unity desktop. And, of course, Lomiri requires Canonical's Mir display server.
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The current version of the MATE desktop, version 1.26.1, still does not support running under Wayland although some of its component apps do. The latest version of LXQT, 1.30, also has preliminary support for Wayland, but the older LXDE environment is now moribund and probably never will.
The PC industry is wildly varied and the lower end of the market features budget-priced kit which may mean that standard definition displays stick around for years to come. As such, the Apple Silicon Mac range may prove to be a harbinger of a future mass extinction event that's heading in the direction of the Linux market right now. Not only may a lot of the older Linux environments never make the transition to the brave new Wayland world, but this new Wayland-only Linux (and possibly FreeBSD) market may have significantly less backwards compatibility with older and non-open source UNIX OSes, simply due to no longer supporting X11. ®