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Plans for Mir

Canonical has come under fire several times over the past couple of years for ditching well-established, community-driven, open source technologies and going their own way. Desktop developers were (and still are) riled up by Ubuntu's switch from Gnome to Unity, and the latest source of strife started when Canonical announced that future versions of Ubuntu would not be using the new Wayland display server, but a homegrown server called Mir.

A display server is a software layer one step down from a desktop, with its windows and graphical applications. If you imagine the technologies that allow you to show graphical applications on your screen as a stack, on the bottom level you have your hardware (i.e., the graphics card); next up is the display server, and on top of that, you have the desktop proper (Gnome, KDE, etc.), which is what the user sees. In Unix-like systems, the display server has traditionally been the X Window System, which has been around in one form or another since the early 1990s. The X Window System has not aged very well, and the Linux community intends to phase it out and substitute it with Wayland. Initially, Canonical said it would go with Wayland, but in March, the company backtracked and revealed they would be developing their own display server (Mir) that would be the back end for Unity. The first version of Ubuntu to use the new display server will be Ubuntu 13.10, "Saucy Salamander." It will come with XMir, which contains a translation layer for legacy applications, and with a fallback Xorg server in case the hardware is not supported by Mir.

According to email sent by Oliver Ries to the developer forum, 14.04 will also ship with XMir, but the fallback X system will be removed. Finally, 14.10 will come with a pure Mir display server.

Many developers, mainly from the two most popular desktops (Gnome and KDE) have accused Canonical of reinventing the wheel and diverting efforts from the Wayland project. Canonical has also failed to guarantee that applications developed for Wayland will work on Mir. Creators of Ubuntu derivatives, such as Jonathan Riddell from Kubuntu, have stated they will not be implementing Mir in their distros but will be going with Wayland instead.

Apart from the technical kerfuffle, Matthew Garrett of UEFI Secure Boot fame has cast doubts over Canonical's real intentions regarding the licensing of Mir, arguing that, by distributing Mir under the GPLv3, Canonical will impede the development of proprietary derivatives that many handset manufacturers want to ship with their phones.

New Ubuntu Laptops

System 76, providers of high-quality servers, desktops, and laptops, have unveiled their new Galago range, a high-end line of Ultra-Laptops that combines stylish design with a very slim form factor with high-powered hardware.

The Galago UltraPro, for example, which is only 0.75 inches high, comes with a 14.1-inch 1920x1080-pixel display and runs on a fourth-generation quadcore Intel i7-4750HQ Processor at 2.0GHz. It can take up to 16GB of RAM and ships with Ubuntu 13.04 preinstalled.

At US$ 995, it is not exactly a cheap machine, but the price seems more or less in sync with similar offerings, like Dell's XPS 13, which also comes with Ubuntu and retails at US$ 1549.

Dell, by the way, also sells their X51 Alienware desktop rig with Ubuntu preinstalled. The machine costs US$ 599 (the same machine with Windows 7 will set you back a hundred bucks more). Alienware is squarely aimed at gamers, and the recent arrival of the Valve Steam gaming platform could be a reason for Dell's newfound interest in game-grade Linux systems.

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