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Joel Leclerc: My thoughts on Mir

Published Apr 17 2013 via RSS

If you aren’t aware, Canonical is planning on writing a new display server, competing to both X11 and Wayland, named Mir.

I’ll state my opinion right now: I really do NOT like this move. The rest of the post is the “why” of my opinion. I have not written all of the “why”, because some of the reasons I thought of lacked enough proof to back what I said (such as Canonical becoming another M$ or Apple, trying to take over the linux world ;) ).

First, the segregation. Let’s assume that Mir is, as was planned “A … that is extremely well-defined, well-tested and portable.” (this is very hard to do, in fact, there are only a very few amount of software and libraries that are this good). Now this would cause a horrible issue of segregation, because now application developers that write applications for Mir will exclude people who do not have Mir (kind of an obvious issue though). Most application developers will use a toolkit, such as Qt or GTK+, which provides an abstraction layer that will allow the applications to run on any display server (though, of course, this requires patching them to support the display servers, but canonical, IIRC, has promised to do this, at least for Qt), so this is less of an issue. The bigger issue would be with the 3rd party graphics drivers. Both major GPU manufacturers (Nvidia and ATI) are already having issues with giving X11 support to their drivers (though Nvidia has considerably less issues than ATI). Now comes along Wayland, an alternative to X11. Back in 2010, Nvidia clearly stated that they do not have any plans to support wayland (they seemed to have changed their mind though, or at least, considered it), and ATI does not plan on supporting wayland anytime soon. This is reasonable for the companies and for linux. As long as X11 will still be supported until both companies officially support wayland, everything should be somewhat okay. But then comes along Mir, a company-lead alternative to both Wayland and X11, for their operating system. 3 different display servers for linux, and both major GPU manufacturers are already having issues with one. This is just ridiculous. And anyways, just think of the users and distros, trying to find which one they should use.

As I said before, I was assuming Mir was exactly what it was planned (i.e. perfect-world scenario). I already stated that it was extremely hard to actually meet the requirements they wanted, let alone that Canonical is not exactly known for their amazing abilities at efficient coding. Just look at unity. Even GNOME 3 and KDE are faster than that! And GNOME 3 uses Javascript extensively (a language that I think we can all agree on its slowness). Unity is written in C, C++, and Vala, 3 languages that are quite fast (though using many languages together can slow down an application). Please tell me: Why is it that Unity is so much slower that GNOME or KDE, which have at least the same complexity, if not much more? (EDIT: Some people have said part of the cause of the slowness is because of Compiz and Nux. Nux, IIRC, is developed by Canonical too) Now look at the Ubuntu software center, and at Ubiquity, two other applications written by canonical. The USC took ~10 seconds to load, compared to most other applications loading nearly instantly. Of course, they are written in python, which, after programming in it for a rather long time (and having a lot of experience with other languages), I think I can say that it is not only a slow language, but also a rather badly designed one. Canonical did not, of course, make python, but I just used that to show you an example of their poor decisions. Enough hitting on Canonical, let’s assume that they are great coders now. How long do you think it would take to write a complete display server that is “extremely well-defined, well-tested, and portable”? Canonical is a rather small company, how do you think they will write an application (or library) that is “well-tested”? Or maybe we should ask, what defines “extremely well-defined” and “well-tested” (and “portable”)?

Lastly, let’s say that they were able to accomplish their goal. Why do they need a new display server in the first place? Why can’t they just use Wayland? There is a section on the wiki about this, which I tried to read, but it was quite vague. All that I could understand is that they wanted support for 3D input devices. So why don’t they just talk to the Wayland developers about this and maybe help them implement it if progress is not going fast enough? Or if they don’t want to have it in wayland, just fork it, don’t start writing your own. “In summary, we have not chosen Wayland/Weston as our basis for delivering a next-generation user experience as it does not fulfill our requirements completely”. Oh, come on. Wayland is open-source, you can change it if you need to, you know. Or if they don’t want the changes, you can just fork it. I know I’m repeating my last sentence, but this is just ridiculous.

So to summarize, I’m not that crazy about Mir :P

I know I said things rather bluntly, and I’m expecting that most of the reactions to this will be rather harsh, but I feel that it was important to write this. It’s not because I hate ubuntu that I write this, I really like the initiative, just not the execution (which is why I write these kinds of posts… maybe if enough people show their disapproval towards their methods, they might change their minds ^_^). Also, if you think that any of the claims I made were false, let me know, I’m not that closed-minded about it ;)

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