Ubuntu Budgie switches its approach to Wayland

Elementary OS going full speed ahead, but Parachutist Parakeet considers a new, post-Enlightenment glide path

Exclusive While Elementary OS commits to Wayland, the development team of the Budgie desktop is changing course and will work with the Xfce developers toward Budgie's Wayland future.

There is general consensus now that the future of graphical desktops on Linux lies in Wayland rather than X11, but the path is still not a smooth and easy one. While in Latvia for the Ubuntu Summit, the Reg FOSS desk met with the developers behind Ubuntu Budgie, who told us that the Budgie project is charting a new course toward the brave new Wayland world.

We have previously reported on the future direction that the Budgie team were planning to take. In January, we covered their plans to switch from using GNOME to Enlightenment, and in that story, we also noted that "Xfce is very mature, quite slow-moving, and the project doesn't put out new releases very often." Then in July we reported on the Budgie team's new enthusiasm for Wayland.

We met project lead David "Fossfreedom" Mohammed and packaging guru Sam Lane from the Ubuntu Budgie team in Rīga, and they passed on news of a rift – and indeed possible divorce – between Budgie and Enlightenment… and it's caused by Wayland.

While Enlightenment does have some Wayland support, in the project's own words this is "still considered experimental and not for regular end users." Mohammed told us:

EFL does have experimental Wayland support. They have had this for quite a while. Progress though towards a full implementation currently doesn't fit into the deemed urgent nature to move to Wayland (Red Hat dropping further X11 development, and questions as to any organisation stepping up, etc.)

So, instead, Budgie is exploring different ways to build a Wayland-only environment. For now, as we mentioned when looking at Ubuntu's 23.10 release, there's a new windowing library, Magpie. Magpie 0.9 is what the project describes as "a soft-fork of GNOME's mutter at version 43" – the term soft fork meaning it's a temporary means to an end, rather than intended to form an on-going independent continuation.

For the future, though, Mohammed told us:

Budgie is being pragmatic - looking to see what can be done in the short-to-medium term, then having a longer-term view.

Thus, the Budgie team has been evaluating options to move forward. XFCE are doing some really great work in this area with libxfce4windowing – a compatibility layer bridging Wayland and X11, allowing the move in a logical direction without needing a big-bang approach. To date, most of the current codebase has already been reworked and is ready for a Wayland-only approach without impacting further development and enhancements.

As it happens, we had already written about Xfce's Wayland efforts way back in February. The work-in-progress code for Magpie 1 is already on Github. We feel it is a little confusing, inasmuch as this means that Magpie 0.x is a totally different project to Magpie 1.x. He agreed:

Budgie has acknowledged that its previous messaging in this area over its approach to toolkits has caused confusion. It makes sense for the more dynamic smaller projects to work together where there are shared aims.

We feel we have to note that this isn't the first time that the Enlightenment has faced criticism. This example on the DailyWTF is nearly legendary. Perhaps the most prominent Enlightenment-based distro is Bodhi Linux, which recently put out version 7, but as we noted last year, it took 12 years for Enlightenment to release DR17 and the Bodhi developers have been so impressed with subsequent releases that they forked DR17 to create the Moksha desktop.

On the other hand, it's famously not easy to work with the GNOME Project, either. Ubuntu's Unity desktop happened in part because, as Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth put it, Canonical "took a divergent view on some key design issues", but the GNOME folks didn't agree and made choices that Canonical "found it difficult aligning to." Linux Mint's Clement Lefebvre was less diplomatic, saying that some of "the GNOME… development team… simply does not want to have users from other desktops than GNOME." Even GNOME's strong-arm approach to restricting user themes caused drama, and GNOME developers' responses to criticism can be robust.

Even so, some projects do manage to work effectively, downstream of GNOME. The Reg has long been quite impressed with Elementary OS, which as we noted when checking out the latest version 7.1 does use some GNOME tech and tools. The latest blog post from the Elementary team says that the next release will switch display servers:

One the largest and most ambitious goals we have for OS 8 is to use the Wayland display server protocol by default. This is a transition that we have been planning and working towards for several years and we're finally in the home stretch.

We are intrigued to see what the project makes of it. The latest Raspberry Pi OS, version 5, has a Wayland-based desktop that for our money works better than either of the big-name Wayland environments. We suspect that Elementary OS may be able to go one better… and Budgie too, given the time to pull the pieces together. ®

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