RebeccaBlackOS with Wayland instead of X11

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Lev Kropotov, 123RF

Lev Kropotov, 123RF

Radical Reconstruction

The replacement of the X11 windowing system by Wayland is imminent. It is easy to see how far development has progressed by looking at the Debian-based RebeccaBlackOS.

The Wayland network protocol can already look back on a number of years of development. Its multi-year mission: to boldly replace the now 30-year-old X11 display server. Wayland is said not only to be more efficient to maintain than the legacy X Window system because of its simplified structure, but also to rigorously throw obsolete technologies overboard, thus doing justice to the capabilities of modern a graphics stack.

If everything works out well for its main developer Kristian Høgsberg, Wayland will deliver a much improved picture quality compared to the X11 system for the user. Innovative rendering mechanisms and modified graphics memory allocation will help avoid screen flicker or screen tearing when moving image content.

Wayland is currently in active development and is not genuinely suitable for production use. Nonetheless, there are various tweaks that let you use Wayland with various desktop environments. That said, RebeccaBlackOS, a Debian-derivative [1] based on the testing branch, gives users detailed insights into the development of Wayland.

This distribution is also interesting for developers, because it launches several desktop environments from a selection dialog and thus allows a comparison between the stages of development of the various desktop projects.

Getting Started

The approximately 1.4GB ISO image for 32- and 64-bit machines is available from the project website [2]. Switch to a terminal to install the live system on a USB memory stick after downloading. When you get there, enter the following command at the prompt

dd if=/<path>/<to>/<ISO> of=/dev/sd<x> bs=4M

taking care to specify the correct source and destination paths after the if and of parameters. Of course, you can just as easily burn the ISO image to an optical disk. Alternatively, you will find the bootable OS on the DVD with this issue.

The Debian derivative welcomes you when first launched with a somewhat confusing home screen because of the many options it lists (Figure 1). The wide range of boot options is due to the still incomplete hardware support for Wayland: For example, just in case Wayland does not boot with the default settings, the system offers you various options for software rendering and fixed framebuffer settings. Because of the lack of driver support, RebeccaBlackOS also cannot be used on a VirtualBox virtual machine.

Figure 1: The boot manager of RebeccaBlackOS lists numerous options for different hardware.


Once the operating system has booted and started Wayland, the routine offers a selection list with different desktop environments, which already work with the Wayland Protocol. Compared to the X11 system, the developers had to implement a number of modifications to window managers such as KWin, Mutter, or Enlightenment, because the Wayland display server also acts as a compositor.

In addition to the typical Linux desktops KDE, Gnome, and Enlightenment E20, the selection window also lists more exotic environments, such as Hawaii or Weston. The Hawaii desktop is the standard desktop for Maui Linux [3] and uses Wayland as its protocol. The second new candidate, named Weston, was explicitly written for the Wayland compositor and does not run with other display servers.

Depending on the boot option, the desktop environment selection list in the boot manager will change: For example, fixed framebuffer modes usually offer a choice of far fewer desktop environments than the standard settings – again, due to the lack of hardware support. Because the operating system is still at the experimental stage, it is advisable to choose one of the major desktop environments or Weston as a work environment; the more exotic environments might not display on your screen.

For example, the Hawaii desktop and the Orbment and Sway environments failed to launch on RebeccaBlackOS on our lab machines systems with Intel graphics. Additionally, the Papyros environment was buggy. These environments are still at a very early stage of development and are not yet usable on many hardware components.

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