Three signs that Wayland is becoming the favored way to get a GUI on Linux
May be about to join systemd as the new tech for graybeards to scorn... but adopt anyway
It has taken about 15 years to get there, but there is mounting evidence that the Wayland display server may soon topple X11 as the most common way to get a GUI on Linux.
We've reported on growing endorsement for Wayland recently. The team developing Linux for Apple Silicon Macs said they didn't have the manpower to work on X.org support. A year ago, the developers of the Gtk toolkit used by many Linux apps and desktops said that the next version may drop support for X11. But this sort of thing feels to us like it's trying to push users towards Wayland, rather than actually attracting anyone.
One of the developers of the Budgie desktop, Campbell Jones, recently published a blog post with a wildly controversial title that made The Reg FOSS desk smile: "Wayland is pretty good, actually." He lays out various benefits that Wayland brings to developers, and concludes:
Primarily, what I've learned is that Wayland is actually really well-designed. The writing is on the wall for X, and Wayland really is the future.
Partly as a result of this, it looks likely that the next version of the Budgie desktop, Budgie 11, will only support Wayland, completely dropping support for X11. The team point out that this is not such a radical proposition: there was a proposal to make KDE 6 sessions default to Wayland as long ago as last October.
The Budgie desktop originated from the Solus distribution, which also just put out version 4.4. Under the heading "Planned deprecation of the MATE Edition," it has a sobering assessment of the prospects for this popular desktop:
After evaluating MATE, we have concluded that it does not have a credible and active Wayland strategy, with the project itself effectively being on life support.
Solus is not a very fast-moving project. Its last release was almost exactly two years ago. MATE 1.26, the current stable version, appeared the following month. (To be fair, since then, there have been two development releases in the 1.27 series.)
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With a relatively slow release cycle like this, the Solus project must look further ahead than some. It may be that its assessment is too harsh, but MATE is a volunteer fork of version 2 of the the GNOME codebase – which means that all its original developers have moved on.
Budgie is a fairly niche desktop, it's true, but it's widely supported these days, with an Ubuntu flavor, a Fedora spin, as well as being included in Debian, openSUSE etc. The GNOME spin of Fedora has defaulted to Wayland since version 25 in 2017, and the GNOME flavor of Ubuntu since 21.04.
The last of the three signs that this tool is getting taken seriously is that there's now an experimental effort to get Wayland working on OpenBSD. The effort happened at the recent OpenBSD hackathon in Tallinn, Estonia, and the developer's comments are encouraging:
This is still far from a complete running system as there are many issues on the road, but it's a good start and it shows that it's definitely not impossible to get Wayland running on OpenBSD.
It's already available as part of FreeBSD.
One of the problems with trying to assess Wayland is that the people writing and talking about it are developers. It's a piece of software that, if it does its job correctly, the user sitting in front of a computer might never know they were using it.
For this vulture, the first sign that the Linux world in general was going to stop complaining and just accept systemd was an excellent talk [PDF] at linuxcon.au 2014 titled "The Six Stages of systemd." When people start talking, even reluctantly, about why they like something, rather than why it ought to be good, that's when the tide has turned. We just hope that Xfce works on it before we're forced to switch. ®