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The XFree86 Fork() Saga Continues 580

Mortimer.CA writes "An article up on OSNews about the XFree story mentioned earlier. Included is: replacing fontconfig with Sun's stsf; XFree86 co-founder David Wexelblat saying that XFree is today obsolete and should be changed; Keith Packard replying, and more."
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The XFree86 Fork() Saga Continues

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  • Correct URL (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:26PM (#5570976) Journal
    The correct URL for the article is: [].

    Not []

  • Article... (Score:3, Informative)

    by jhunsake ( 81920 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:26PM (#5570982) Journal
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:27PM (#5570987)
    Attack of the Spoons
  • by Luke ( 7869 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:28PM (#5570995) Homepage
    Time for Fresco? []
    • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:52PM (#5571151) Journal
      No. Not time for Fresco. Time for Fresco is when Fresco is completed (or almost completed). Time for X now. Time for Fresco later. You'll never get anywhere if you release buggy incomplete software before it's ready for use. (Insert cheap shot at MS here).
    • It looks somewhat interesting - I personally think X11 sucks ass, so any alternative looks interesting - but something about the project really bothers me. I can't find their interface guidelines anywhere.

      Now see, the thing that annoys me the most with X11 is the disparate behaviors of common widgets and dialogs. Every toolkit and software author seems to have it's personal take on the matter, and it can become pretty confusing at times. And when I read that Fresco intends to be highly configurable, I hope

      • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:06PM (#5571228) Homepage
        Mechanism, not policy. Interface guidelines are the domain of toolkits and environments ala KDE, GNOME, not the domain of the low-level graphics subsystem like X or Fresco.
        • by bonch ( 38532 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @04:39AM (#5573191)
          I would like a low-level graphics subsystem that IS the toolkit/environment. I want things integrated, though customizable (i.e., skin it if you want, whatever).

          I'm just tired of all the layers, libraries, conflicting interfaces, and general slowness because of all the cruft that is supported for those few power users who always chime in on /. articles like this about how incredibly friggin' useful network transparency is to them. Fine, stick with X, but the standard desktop users, who comprise a MUCH MUCH LARGER majority, need something different.
      • by SN74S181 ( 581549 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @02:48AM (#5572905)
        One of the problems with X11 is nobody is working on X12. Hell, nobody is working on anything better than X11R6 as far as I can tell. I remember an article in a UNIX magazine about five years ago talking about multimedia extensions, but that was right before the X consortium sorta went *boom* or whatever it is that made them completely invisible (do they still exist?) now.

        And Multimedia extensions would be nice. It'd be cool if there was a network transparent sound protocol that ran in parallel with X to deliver the sound portion of apps.

        Maybe I just haven't been following it much, but it seems like it just disappeared.
  • by madmarcel ( 610409 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:31PM (#5571014)
    I can't help myself...

    "The saga continues..."

    "Use the fork() David"

    (BTW, expect to bring about introduction of new post-rating: +5 Lame! ;^)
  • You know what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by inode_buddha ( 576844 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:31PM (#5571016) Journal
    I have a bad feling that this is goint to be one of those situations where *every* party involved is both right and wrong on some level. Even uglier is the possibility that this could occur on the *same* level. The fact that situations like this could arise in the first place tells me that maybe the architecture of XFree86 (the ideas underlying the code itself) is overly complex for today's needs.

    Or another possibility: maybe the way XFree86 is currently implemented by the major *nix vendors is overly complex by default.

    Either way, both the situation and the implementation are starting to look really messy.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:25PM (#5571321)
      Congratulations! You've just described every human undertaking ever!.
    • Re:You know what? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Master Bait ( 115103 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:47PM (#5571499) Homepage Journal
      I just think the architecture of the project is what's a mess. I compiled the new 4.3 on a Mac yesterday, and I find the project is stuck in an Imake Spin Cycle. Oh sure, somewhere in all that mess is a document that tells you how to compile 'just the servers' or maybe tells you how to build it without the fonts, or maybe even how to build it without those pathetic utilities, fonts and never-updated docs.

      If I was King of XFree86, I'd first open it up to more people, then I'd tear out the utilities and put them separate, put the fonts separate, throw away the /xc/config monstrousity and replace that with configure --prefix= etc. etc. Separate pswrap, mkshadow, xau, xnest, xext, all the gl's, xt, xv, xi, pex, speedo. The list is wildly bloated. Sure, maybe all that junk can be separate projects on the same Sourceforge page, but as it stands now, it is a whale.

      I've also downloaded and compiled Packard's stuff, and I think his is pretty messy, too.

  • fork() power (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blitzoid ( 618964 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:35PM (#5571046) Homepage
    If this leaves the XFree86 project as a more flexable, open, and more modular project, then so be it. I'm all for anything that can improve performance for *NIX GUIs.

    From everything I see, it's too late in the game to make a new graphical interface - unless it has a compatability layer to work with X apps. But even then, we'd need to develop it FAST to make sure *NIX doesn't fall behind in the OS game.
  • by jmt9581 ( 554192 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:37PM (#5571063) Homepage
    I looked at some of the screenshots for stsf [] and I think that it's pretty sweet. The standard Motif font menu labels are hilarious though, the selectable fonts look awesome and the old motif fonts in the menus look terrible.

    Here's some links to the screenshots of stsf running on Solaris 9:

    xclock -digital -fg yellow -bgpixmap -fga 0.5 []

    LANG=zh_CN.UTF-8 xclock -digital -bgpixmap []
    • by be-fan ( 61476 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:04PM (#5571215)
      My question: does stsf use it's own font renderer? I highly doubt they came up with something nicer than freetype without anybody really making a buzz about it.
    • by Lu Xun ( 615093 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:41PM (#5571451)
      Yes those are some damn fine clocks. Why bother with xfree at all?
    • by pamri ( 251945 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @02:32AM (#5572844) Homepage
      While the politics that is happening in the XFree86 team is somewhat disgusting, I am extremely happy that STST is integrated into the XFree86 core.

      Here's why:
      STSF has OpenType Font Support, which is accepted as a standard for rendering indic and other complex asian texts(arabic, urdu, etc) by the developer community. By having OTF support at the X-server level instead of the toolkit level(like pango for gtk), almost all GUI's if internationalized would render in all Asian Languages. This is a great step forward for spreading linux into asian countries, but it's unfortunate this politics has to happen. BTW, some of the STSF development was done here in Sun's Bangalore centre.

      Anyway, some related links:

      More about Opentype fonts: ead_id=1856380&forum_id=12019

      Building OTF ro.htm

      Unicode FAQ about Indic:

      Links about fonts, otf,xserver,etc:

      The indic_computing mailing list - expect to see a lot of heat generated because of this announcement: um_id=2967

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:46PM (#5571115) Journal
    Quoth David Wexelblat:

    The concept of the community voting for membership in the leadership of the project is an almost, if not totally, non-existant concept in the Open Source world (feel free to show me examples). I'm not talking about advocacy groups, like Linux International. I'm talking about development projects. XFree86 has no interest in this, as far as I can tell.

    I can think of one right now. So can he, since he mentions it a few paraghraphs later. The FreeBSD Core team is elected []. To be core on FreeBSD you have to be an active developer, and have not pissed too many other developers off recently (or at least pissed them off less than most other people). Sounds like a good idea to me...

    Oh. Wait. Sorry, I forgot. FreeBSD is dead. I really should stop using it sometimes soon. Can't be using a dead OS on my desktop...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Hmmm. Someone should clue in the Debian project that they're somehow doing a nonexistent thing by holding regular elections for their leaders.
  • Choice? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fedhax ( 513562 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:47PM (#5571125)

    Whatever happened to choice in this debate?

    We can choose between various [] window [] managers [], various [] linux [] flavors [], and even office [] suites []. Why don't we have a choice with our window system?

    Why would it be any different for a fork of X for a choice between client/server and direct rendering, if backwards compatability was kept?
    Would that not help the the people who only use Linux on their desktop, while allowing people with networks to use the tool, as it is now, that works for them?

    • Re:Choice? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Elentar ( 168685 ) <slashdot&ultraviolet,us> on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:31PM (#5571381)
      At some point, creating choice for it's own sake becomes ludicrous. For example, you have a choice in the auto dealer you purchase from, the make of car you buy, what kind of fuel it uses, and so on. But you don't usually see two highways that follow the same route - you don't need a choice there, just one that can handle the traffic. Let the smaller roads get people where they want to be.

      A windowing subsystem needs to provide enough framework to make application development easy and enough flexibility to allow developers to do what they want to do. Windows software is not mainstream today because the developers had a choice of subsystems - it is mainstream because they wrote for the one that was biggest and trusted Microsoft to provide compatibility in future versions. Brilliant move, that.

      Unix has long been plagued with vendor-specific code that hinders broad development efforts. The **only** reason Linux is so popular today is because of the single windowing system. Average users don't care about how fast it can fork() or whether it's virtual memory management is superior - they want lots of apps, they want them to be pretty and they want them to all run on top of each other.

      Forking X is a terrible idea. Perhaps if they go for it, they'll choose an appropriate name... Y?

      • Re:Choice? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @12:30AM (#5572358)
        "The **only** reason Linux is so popular today is because of the single windowing system."

        Actually that's way wrong, and if you notice Linux is so NOT popular today on the desktop. (it is popular on the server where graphics largely don't matter, or at *least* were not a convincing feature)
    • Er, you do. (Score:3, Informative)

      Just as Linux, BSD, SCO and a few others all provide implementations of (more or less) the "UNIX" specification on i386 hardware, there are multiple implementations of the X11R6 standard on i386-based unixes.

      If you don't like XFree86, the folks at XiG [] would be happy to sell you a copy of AccelX. MetroLink systems still offers Metro-X [] (which was the bomb back in the RedHat 4 days...dunno about now), and if you don't have any money to spend, you can still download, compile and use the honest-to-god MIT/XCon
  • by Devil's Avocado ( 73913 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:52PM (#5571150)
    I recently saw somebody try to contribute a new driver to XFree86. He was told that he was welcome to contribute the driver, but that he wouldn't be allowed write access to it once he had handed it over. What a ridiculous policy!

    The thing is, drivers can be released independently of X itself. For ATI Radeons, for example, there are at least 3 different drivers they can use. It would be nice if somebody set up a website with a page for each video card (or family of cards) that had links to all of the available video drivers for that card. Even better would be if such a website could act as a catalyst for uniting these independent driver developers so that, for example, the GATOS radeon driver developers and the DRI radeon driver developers could combine the best aspects of their drivers. This could possibly help route around the blockage that the XFree86 project too often represents.

    Actually, I think that such "hardware-centric clearing houses" would be useful for all kinds of hardware, not just video cards. Look at to see how well it can work.

    • by Metrol ( 147060 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:27PM (#5571334) Homepage
      wouldn't be allowed write access to it once he had handed it over. What a ridiculous policy!

      Well, yes and no. For example, I occasionally work up a new port for FreeBSD, which then gets submitted via a problem report. Someone who has commit rights may, or may not, commit this to the official tree. I've not submitted nearly enough of a body of work into that tree to have anyone trust me to write directly to it. This means that if I need to edit what I've done, I once again have to submit another problem report.

      There's nothing at all wrong with this model. It insures that every aspect of what is being committed to the tree has had at least some review by those folks who have taken on the responsibility of the entire project. If that driver in question really is stable, and the author has more to contribute in the way of code to it, then eventually commit access very well may be granted. One lump of code does not automatically default into full trust.

      Another example relating to port submissions: I recently did up a port for an application I submitted via a PR. I felt I did a pretty good job on the various pieces that go into this. Turned out someone else did the same thing, but from a different platform. Apparently there were issues with what I did compiling on an Alpha that I couldn't have possibly known about. Both submissions were taken together to produce one correct version that worked across the board.

      The point of this is that the folks actively involved with the bigger picture of a project are going to be more aware as to how various pieces need to fit and work together. That's why there's a need for a hiearchy and commit control within any project. I would think this to be especially true for one as large and complex as XFree86.
  • by A_Non_Moose ( 413034 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @08:53PM (#5571155) Homepage Journal
    all I could picture was "The Swedish (chef) Programmer" saying:

    Ya booor skay, ska boo ske-deeke-skeee Fork()!Fork()!Fork()!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:00PM (#5571198)
    As David W points out, XFree86 is around 11 years old. I was around when the project was started and was a low-key member (my name was all over the documentation for many years afterwards and may still be, I haven't checked for a long time).

    Anyway, one thing that rarely gets mentioned is how XFree86 itself was a fork. A fork from a recalcitrant developer, namely Thomas Roell. Roell went on to be a principal (probably founding) engineer at Xinside, later renamed Xi Graphics. Roell was the primary author of X386 which was the only freely available X server for x86 systems (typically SVR3 and SVR4 unices from a handful of companies like AT&T and Dell - yes Dell actually had their own Unix distribution and it was pretty kickass too). X386 had limited chipset support (IRC, Tseng Labs ET4000 was the faster chipset it supported) and little if any support for hardware acceleration.

    Anyway, the story gets a little murky here, because I wasn't in on all the background machinations, but a couple of developers who are now in the core group (DavidW for one, and I'm thinking David Dawes and Tsilias, but don't quote me) got together and forked their version of X386 to add support for more chipsets and more OSes, kinda leaving Roell (unhappily) in the dust. It didn't help that Roell's got an ego (which he *mostly* deserves) and that DavidW had a kind of angry-young-man online persona at the time either.

    It appears that Roell eventually got over it, but never enough to join in the fun. Instead he went on to do commercial X server development, ultimately at XiG.

    But, the moral of the story here is that XFree86 itself (even before it had a name, I remember the vote on the mailing list, I didn't vote for it, thought it was kinda dorky, but I guess my own suggestion was even dorkier since it didn't win) is a fork of code that was floundering and not being developed fast enough for the tastes of some people. People who were willing to put their code where their mouthes were and to improve the situation, and who didn't really care too much who they pissed off in the process as long as the end result was a big improvement - and that it definitely was.

    I've been out of the loop on XFree86 for many years, but from the outside looking in, this current spat has the ring of history repeating itself to me. It is just more public since the userbase is a couple of orders of magntitude larger than it was the first time around, and there was no slashdot back then either...
  • by fjpereira ( 657762 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:00PM (#5571199)
    I've been a user of the X Window System since the earlier X10 days.

    I still remember the transition from X10 to X11.
    However, version 11 is almost 15 years old and we
    never saw any version 12 (not that I beleive version numbering is any important).

    Although I saw some nice extensions being added to the X protocol, there are many parts of the X window system that are now obsolete.

    For instance the standard X11 font rendering system looks like it has been kept in the stone age (only recently the Xft extension solved part of the problem).

    I really like the network transparency of X and the client-server model, because of all it's advantages and, if you look at it in detail, you will be surprised that it doesn't impose any performance penalty: because of the way the X protocol is implemented, commands are queued by the client and are sent to the server in batches, in order to minimize client/server context switching.

    However, in the last 12 years we have seen the graphics hardware improove a lotm but the core X system didn't improove almost anything.

    Now we have hardware capable of displaying full motion video, hardware video decompressing, anti-aliasing, alhpa-blending and transparency, 3D, etc.

    Meanwhile, X got some extensions to support some of these features, but there are no "standard" APIs and the evolution has been very slow.

    X is great, and many of the complaints about X that I regularly read here in /. are completely wrong, but we have to change a lot of things in the way the X window system is being developed and coordinated, in order to adapt to the future.

  • Maintaining XFree86 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AirLace ( 86148 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:04PM (#5571216)
    I spent a brief time working as a contractor for a Linux distributor (now defunct). During that time, I was given the task of maintaining portions of XFree86's XInput and DRI code. What I saw, I didn't like.

    Efforts to extend XFree86 to support modern graphics capabilities (XRender, Xft, R&R) are floundering because the level of skill needed to develop and maintain them is simply too high. The XFree86 codebase reinvents many wheels, is difficult to maintain and really does carry a lot of legacy footwork that makes it difficult to work with.

    That said, XFree86 works amazingly well for what it is. I just don't think XFree86 development is sustainable. The same effects can be achieved with a thin layer like DirectFB [] without the overhead. You get the same functionality, usually better performant and with far less code necessary in the implementation. Network transparency can easily be provided by modern component object models like GNOME's Bonobo and KDE's Kparts, with the added bonus that clients are thin and so still usable over a high-latency network.

    I wouldn't go so far as to call XFree86 obsolete, but the technologies upon which it's based certainly are.
    • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @10:19PM (#5571720)
      Network transparency can easily be provided by modern component object models like GNOME's Bonobo and KDE's Kparts, with the added bonus that clients are thin and so still usable over a high-latency network.

      Before anyone gets confused, lets be clear and point out that this is the IT equivalent of a theory. Basically, we are told the client should be just smart enough to render controls and pass input events back to the server. This is theory because there are no implementations of this in widespread use.

      The quote suggests that Bonobo or Kparts would implement the client side controls. These controls are then driven from the server via RPC or some other mechanism.

      Some argue that web browsers could do this. Perhaps. The inherent statelessness of web clients preclude large classes of GUI applications and makes others very difficult. Can you imagine a browser based implementation of, say, Paint? (activex/java doesn't count.) Lots of applications have grids with re-sizable columns, yet common browsers have never provided this without add-ons or substantial hackery.

      There have been and are real attempts to make this theory work, however. An excellent example is XWT []. Check it out. There are others, but they're even more obscure and even less likely to ever actually matter.

      Why is this? Lots of people have this notion of half-smart clients that provide 99% of "direct" GUI fidelity by rendering controls on behalf of some server somewhere. There is nothing new under the sun. Yet it doesn't happen.

      Here is my contribution: Z Windows (I think there is a Y Windows out there,) an evolution of X Windows:

      - Separate the frame buffer from the window system. Graphics drivers would be "mini" drivers that abstract the hardware just enough and no more.

      - It's obvious audio must be integral. Integrate it.

      - TrueType won. Get over it. Integrate it. Anti-alias it out of the box. Provide a simple means to cope with font substitution just like Microsoft does. End of font problems.

      - Create a standard window manager. All others accept the consequences of being weird. Life is short.

      - Base the programmatic interface of the whole thing (API) on something worthwhile. Trolltech's QT would be a good place to start. Sharp did it and it works fine. Plus there is an entire suite of application software already written to it. Gnome would be fine too, I don't care.

      Now you have a clean, straightforward system that has a good API, sound, good fonts and drivers that are easy(er) to implement. Applications arrive shortly thereafter because your using a worthwhile API.

      What about network transparency? Well, in case you haven't noticed, the most widespread use of network transparent GUI is Citrix. It works well, thank you very much. It would work even better if it had been incorporated from the start by the underlying GUI. Citrix is nothing more than a highly optimized screen scraper, much like VNC. It turns out, despite the best thinking on the matter, that this is sufficient for 99.9999% of all remote GUI purposes, and the remaining 0.0001% (high performance graphics work) you want local anyhow.

      Congratulations. You now have a worthy GUI system for the next 15 years. Now wake up.
      • by rsidd ( 6328 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @11:03PM (#5571931)
        - Separate the frame buffer from the window system. Graphics drivers would be "mini" drivers that abstract the hardware just enough and no more.

        With the modularization of hardware drivers in XFree86 4.x, this is much less of an issue. You can drop in your own hardware driver into a stock XFree86 (in fact, a binary hardware driver written for linux will often work on FreeBSD, it's that good). What more are you looking for?

        - It's obvious audio must be integral. Integrate it.

        Why is that obvious? I, for one, don't see it at all. XFree86 sends stuff to your video card and your monitor, the audio drivers send stuff to your sound card and your speakers.

        - TrueType won. Get over it. Integrate it. Anti-alias it out of the box. Provide a simple means to cope with font substitution just like Microsoft does. End of font problems.

        Wake up. TrueType is supported; it's easy to anti-alias (not everyone wants antialiasing, even windows doesn't do it out of the box); and XFree86 actually ships with some TTF fonts (luxi mono/sans/serif, which look lousy in my opinion, but that's not their fault -- they're not font developers, they take what people donate them).

        - Create a standard window manager. All others accept the consequences of being weird. Life is short.

        XFree86 does ship with a WM -- twm. Like it? I didn't think so. So they should replace it with something like, sawfish? Metacity? KWin? WindowMaker? You have all those options already, why ask XFree86 to add another useless option? What we possibly need is a standard specification that allows one to replace one compliant window manager by another.

        - Base the programmatic interface of the whole thing (API) on something worthwhile. Trolltech's QT would be a good place to start. Sharp did it and it works fine. Plus there is an entire suite of application software already written to it. Gnome would be fine too, I don't care.

        Again, if you like Qt, use Qt. If you like Gnome, use Gnome. What's the point of XFree86 making those decisions for you? It's all about choice -- in fact it's good that Qt and GTK+ are abstracted (especially Qt), since they can be ported readily to other platforms like MacOS and Windows, which means your applications can be ported quickly too.

        • - It's obvious audio must be integral. Integrate it.

          Why is that obvious? I, for one, don't see it at all. XFree86 sends stuff to your video card and your monitor, the audio drivers send stuff to your sound card and your speakers.

          X is network transparency. It should not just be about graphics, it should be about providing a standard means by which the end-user experience can be piped to any display anywhere easily.

          This is not to say that X should give up speed for flexibility. Rather, I believe that
        • by bgarcia ( 33222 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @07:08AM (#5573427) Homepage Journal
          - It's obvious audio must be integral. Integrate it.
          Why is that obvious? I, for one, don't see it at all. XFree86 sends stuff to your video card and your monitor, the audio drivers send stuff to your sound card and your speakers.
          No, X accepts input from your terminal (keyboard, mouse, etc.), and produces output to your terminal (video, and yes, audio *should* be included too). Why should audio be treated any differently? It's another common output mechanism for modern terminals. The fact that audio is not controlled just means that the current X server is really showing its age.
  • The Killer App (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Metrol ( 147060 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:13PM (#5571258) Homepage
    The really scary part, and a notable omission when discussing *nix in general, is that XFree86 very well may be THE killer application. Every other desktop paradigm out there is designed around the notion of one machine, one desktop. Just the one simple notion that X brings to the table of one machine, many desktops is a selling point we just don't hear enough about out there.

    Between the Linux LTSP [] project and FreeBSD's diskless booting [] routines, we "should" be seeing a complete overhaul in how people think of deploying desktops to end users. This is as true at home as at the office.

    Most likely the main reason we haven't seen a huge trend away from the "fat client" architecture is due to the complexity involved with configuring a "thin client" setup. It's definitely not due to the technology being there. XFree86 is the infrastructure that makes this a reality today for those brave enough to dive into the man pages.

    I dearly hope that whatever internal difficulties this project has it can get through. It's just too darn important to all of us to see it splinter off into multiple directions.
    • Re:The Killer App (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mdxi ( 3387 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @10:16PM (#5571702) Homepage
      I completely agree with this.

      Here at home I have one high-powered machine. Some of the time I access it directly. Some of the time I access it from the kitchen or the living room via JavaStations ( :-) and my wife accesses it via a ThinkPad 770 which is configured to be an X Terminal. How? Because X is NETWORK TRANSPORT designed to make EFFICIENT USE of POWERFUL MACHINES for MULTIPLE USERS.

      At work we have a pair of high-powered servers. One is a production box; the other is development. 9 people work on it all day, ever day. Some just ssh in and use screen; some ssh in and then run X apps remotely; some run full-on KDE sessions. All are using cheap, throwaway PCs from other departments. How? Because X is NETWORK TRANSPORT designed to make EFFICIENT USE of POWERFUL MACHINES for MULTIPLE USERS.

      The quote goes: "Those who do not understand UNIX are doomed to reimplement it, badly." I propose a corollary: "Those who do not understand X are doomed to bitch about it unto Eternity."
  • Go Keith! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by g4dget ( 579145 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:31PM (#5571371)
    A number of people has questioned the relevence of X in general. To be perfectly honest, I'm one of them. I've even pissed off Keith and many others on the Core Team by pointing out that X is obsolescent. I've been working in the Windows world for years now, and client-server display systems are utterly irrelvent to the majority of real-world computer users.

    Linux is utterly irrelevant to the majority of "real-world computer users", people running MS Windows and MS Office. But client-server displays are highly relevant to the core areas where Linux and UNIX is being used: scientific and engineering apps, large multi-user servers, compute clusters, large business apps, public computer terminals, and server applications.

    X needs to be replaced by a direct-rendered model, on which a backwards-compatible X server can be reasonably trivially implemented.

    Does Wexelblat even have a clue what he is talking about? What is more "direct rendered" about the graphics subsystems of other desktop operating systems? All display subsystems these days run in separate address spaces, all of them involve context switches for rendering, and all of them (including X11) can use shared memory and direct hardware accesses when it makes sense. Microsoft and Apple are finally beginning to catch up with X11, except that their systems are burdened with much more junk that is necessary for them to be able to pretend to being a 1970's style frame buffer library. Furthermore, in terms of the graphics subsystem, those supposedly "direct" systems can easily be remoted--the reason why they aren't is because they lack all the other conventions and infrastructure that X11 has for multiple displays and client communication.

    And these kinds of replacements have been tried numerous times before. People have always chosen X11, even if it meant uninstalling vendor-supplied GUIs and installing MIT X11 from sources (which is no mean feat). X11 has survived against all odds, because it satisfies the needs of its users well.

    That is not to say that X11 is perfect--far from it. Its protocol has warts and it has its own share of historical baggage. But those problems have nothing to do with "direct rendering".

    I had no opinion about whether Keith's leaving XFree86 made sense or whether it was justified before reading Wexelblat's posting, but Wexelblat has removed all doubt: with idiots like Wexelblat on the XFree86 team, XFree86 has no future. All I can say: Go Keith!

    • Re:Go Keith! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by g4dget ( 579145 )
      All display subsystems these days run in separate address spaces,

      Before some nit-picking sets in, I'm referring to display subsystems of major desktop operating systems. And, yes, I am aware that NT runs display code in the kernel, but you are smart and can figure out yourself in what sense that is a "separate address space".

      Incidentally, XFree86 could be moved into the Linux kernel, giving Linux a windowing architecture very similar to that of NT and probably a modest performance boost, but I frankly

      • Re:Go Keith! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by infiniti99 ( 219973 ) <> on Saturday March 22, 2003 @12:23AM (#5572331) Homepage
        What I want to see is for DirectFB to take off so that XFree86 can use it as a backend.

        There is no sense for XFree to have their own drivers (video, or otherwise, at least on Linux..). By going through the kernel for video, you'd also eliminate the issue of having to be root to run X, and there'd be no more "fighting over the video" (try running svgalib, X, fbcon, etc together and see how long your system lasts).

        Personally I have no problem with X11. I just don't like how XFree86 is so doggone big and includes its own drivers, when modern OS's like Linux have this stuff already. XFree86 is bigger than KDE. I mean, come on now.
  • The key issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:33PM (#5571396) Homepage
    The key issue here, as far as I can tell, is whether the XFree86 guys were correct to kick Keith Packard out.

    On the one hand, David Wexelblat has strong words about Keith Packard's actions:

    What Keith has done is among the most low-class, unprofessional, and tactless things I have ever experienced in my professional career.

    For Keith to blatantly lie to the Core Team about what he was doing is utterly unacceptable.

    But what Keith is doing, at least how he's handled it, is just flat out wrong. It's literally dishonest, and morally repugnant. Doesn't mean that there aren't some valid issues to work, or that there is no need for branching, but (a) it remains to be proven, and (b) I'll be damned if I'll quietly accept it being done by someone who is lying to my face.

    Whew. On the other hand, here's what Keith Packard has to say:

    Some have suggested that this was a secret attempt to undermine the XFree86 project: this was not my intent. I have tried as hard as I can to work within the existing XFree86 structure.

    It's hard to think that this is some kind of misunderstanding. Either Keith has been lying, or else he hasn't. It's impossible for us to really decide for ourselves, since the emails containing the alleged lying are not public.

    David Wexelblat said:

    There is an email thread documenting this. Some members of the BOD wanted to post the email, or quotes therefrom, with the announcement. I and some of the others were utterly uncomfortable doing that. I don't think anyone on the BOD or Core Team would have any issues with an independent audit of this email thread, if there are concerns about the veracity of what I say, but airing that in public isn't appropriate, IMHO.

    I'd like to see someone I trust given the job of auditing those emails, and judging whether Keith Packard has in fact been lying.

    P.S. A fork might be a good thing, in the end. Keith Packard says he believes his fork can attract more developers and improve more quickly than the status quo. If he can pull that off, we will all be better off. But unless he can clear his name, he may have trouble attracting developers.

    • Re:The key issue (Score:4, Insightful)

      by RedWizzard ( 192002 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @11:04PM (#5571937)
      One thing that struck me was the implication from the core team that they didn't know about the issues that Keith Packard is concerned about and that Keith never said anything. There are piles of people on the list and elsewhere with the same concerns, particularly the difficulty in getting code into the official tree. That leads me to conclude that the core team are hopelessly out of touch with the majority of their community, and the fact that no one has been added to core since 1999 (or perhaps this [] is out of date?) supports that conclusion.It's also interesting that the mailing list that these discussions are now happening on has been in existance since the 19th of March, some 3 days.

      Unfortunately we don't, and probably never will, know the exact circumstances behind this split in developer ranks. It mirrors Matt Dillon's recent dismissal [] from the FreeBSD project.

    • Re:The key issue (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jbolden ( 176878 )
      Well it goes back even further than that. KeithP got his wings clipped for a patch he applied right before a feature fix. He may have choosen to "revolt" based on being insulted about being punished, over issues he'd been discussion for a long time. Like most of these splits there is probably a mixture of:

      -- genuine differences of opinion regarding direction
      -- unclear leadership
      -- poor interpersonal issue resolution

      In any case if you look at his resume [] this guy is the kind of guy who should be on an X
  • X design decisions (Score:4, Insightful)

    by camusatan ( 554328 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @09:38PM (#5571433) Homepage
    In regards to all of the 'X is obsolete' arguing -

    There was a design decision made when creating X that displaying windows on a local workstation should be as easy as displaying windows on a remote workstation. This decision affected several things about X, and made the X API's extremely difficult to learn (pick up an X book, you'll see), but extremely powerful.

    Basically, what some people are saying is that that decision was wrong - that it's not correct to design an entire graphics API around the concept of displaying windows locally and remotely.

    Really, the most objective way to analyze that claim is to look at how many windows users open on their own workstation, versus how many remoted X applications they run. Compare that percentage. Then take a look at how much more complex X was made to handle the eventuality of having to handle remote windows, etc, etc. Is it worth it?

    Me personally, I don't think so. The only real use I've had for remote X applications was in terms of systems administration - but this is stuff I could have done as easily with something like ssh, or, if I needed some kind of graphics, PC Anywhere, or Timbuktu. And for applications to be faster, better behaved, and less bloatey, I'd be willing to install some PC anywhere-style application on the occasional remotely-controlled server. For the most part, people would be able to leave it out.

    That being said, I've never used X in a thin-client environment - it's possible that it could perform quite well - and I've heard that the X protocols are very good at keeping network use down. It still strikes me as not the right distribution of power between server and client, but what the hell do I know?

    • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @10:32PM (#5571777) Homepage
      I manage several smallish lab networks on a volunteer basis that make heavy use of the 'thin-client' capabilities of X to offer a room full of computing services to users from a single SMP server machine. These capabilities have reduced cost by an order of magnitude and greatly simplified the administration that I have to do.

      X is essentially the number one reason to choose Linux/UNIX over Windows in multi-user computing environments, as far as I'm concerned. If X were ever discontinued, it's likely that in the next upgrade cycle I'd move my labs over to Windows, because without the cost-savings and administration features offered by X, there is no compelling reason to deal with the increased learning curve and driver issues in the Linux world.
    • by Arandir ( 19206 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @12:21AM (#5572315) Homepage Journal
      That being said, I've never used X in a thin-client environment

      It doesn't have to be a "thin-client" environment. All you need is a networked environment. At my work we are split about 50/50% UNIX and Windows developers. Windows developers are almost literally tied down to their workstations. That's where their environment is so that's where they have to work. They don't even notice it, because it is so ingrained into their thinking.

      On the other hand, I have a Solaris and FreeBSD machine in my cubicle, and I can use them from *anywhere* in the company. In fact, I can use them anywhere in the *world* if I would ever bother signing up for remote access authorization. My cubicle is not my prison. I do a lot of work in the development lab, and it is extremely nice to be able to treat any random workstation there as my own personal environment. I can edit code in XEmacs, peruse its documentation in FrameMaker, check it in with ClearCase, and then move on to the next bug with ClearQuest, all while browing the web and checking my email with Mozilla. This is because of X11. My Windows coworkers can't do that. They're always running back to their cubicles to do their work.

      Here's another example. A lot of my coworkers use both UNIX and Windows. They all have KVM switches. I hear they're very popular. But since I don't use Windows, I've never seen the need for one. I can run multiple applications from multiple machines on whatever display I happen to be sitting in front of. Without having to beg IT for permission to buy to the software or hardware to do it.

      There are two paradigms at work here. One is the "single user on a single machine running locally." The other is "multiple users on multiple machines running anywhere they want." X11 supports both paradigms. Windows supports only the first. Please don't dumb down X11 to the Windows level.
    • by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @12:46AM (#5572410) Homepage
      I worked for years on dumb X terminals. The environment was

      a) tremendously reliable
      b) very easy to maintain
      c) offered users tons of freedom

      Contrast this with your typical Windows corporate setup. Anything other than total lockdown makes the system entirely unmaintainable. As a result user / desktop support ratios are very high and users and constantly frustrated by how little they can do. Virtually every corporation should be running dumb X terminals. It really would cut costs and empower employees.

      Take a simple example like software installation. On a Unix system I can safely let users install anything. The apps they install can't run with any more privs then they have and they can't hurt the system.

      On windows OTOH letting people use any printer in the building means they have to have permission to install drivers. Letting people install drivers is:

      a) hard because they are forced to understand details of printer models
      b) allows them to completely muck their system up
    • by kmellis ( 442405 ) <> on Saturday March 22, 2003 @01:07AM (#5572496) Homepage
      Really, the most objective way to analyze that claim is to look at how many windows users open on their own workstation, versus how many remoted X applications they run. Compare that percentage. Then take a look at how much more complex X was made to handle the eventuality of having to handle remote windows, etc, etc. Is it worth it? Me personally, I don't think so."
      I think the people that disdain network transparency are being short-sighted. The reason that people don't run applications remotely is because a) they don't think they need to, and b) it takes a lot of effort. That's the average user.

      It's true that this (application) client/server paradigm is tilted heavily toward the idea of centralized servers accessed by smaller clients. And where this topology exists and is necessary, people use X this way and it matters. For average users, it doesn't.

      But that's the status quo, and it won't last.

      We're going to inevitably move to a distributed computing model, and it only makes sense to do this on a per-application basis as a first step. Almost all the pieces are there. The piece that isn't there is a mechanism that matches slack to need transparently.

      In my (years past, not current) daily use of UNIX workstations, I would manually spread my workload around to different boxes just because it made sense to do so. But it was a pain. Imagine if that were automatic and transparent.

      In my opinion, X's network transparency will once again become incredibly useful. It's utility just needs to be properly leveraged.

  • Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @10:13PM (#5571676)
    Something that David Wexelblat posted bothers me. I'm sort of confused by his stance, because while he admittedly does not use X, he is at the same time airing his criticisms of it, yet refusing to let Keith Packard fork gracefully. Anyway the bit that bothers me:

    "- There is no reason for Core Team matters to be public. This is the
    leadership forum, not a public forum."

    What is the difference between Core Team members keeping their plans secret and not allowing the public to participate, and Keith Packard keeping *his* plans secret and not letting the Core Team know about them, which he is getting lambasted for? Sort of hypocritical. If the X license is an Open Source license, the Core Team doesn't have any special rights with regard to modification and distribution than Joe Hacker who wants to fork it does. X (X11R6) hasn't changed in a hell of a lot of time (relative to most opens source projects), so what is the purpose of shielding XFree from the public? Some panties need to be untied.
  • Dear Keith... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anthony Boyd ( 242971 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @10:14PM (#5571680) Homepage

    ...after reading your long message, and also reading David Wexelblat's message, and reading all the stuff that came before, it's pretty clear to me: the X Core Team doesn't want to talk. They don't want outside input, they've deluded themselves into thinking that other Open Source projects are just as closed as they are, and they really don't see where all these outsiders get the right to have an opinion. They ask why you (Keith) didn't open a discussion with them, but then act hostile to nearly everything that is discussed.

    I don't know how to write a driver for X, but I do know people. And you're banging your head against a wall as long as you try to work within their system. Good luck with whatever you decide.

    • Re:Dear Keith... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by xybe ( 525773 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @11:11PM (#5571965)

      More to the point, the main criticisms against Keith Packard come from David Wexelblat, who while saying that he supports open source, in his own words:

      I personally don't have much interest left in hacking code; I don't code much at work any more, and not at all in my free time. If I ever do, I will do Open Source. Whether it will have anything to do with Linux or X, I don't know; I doubt it. It will probably have something to do with my other hobbies, and be Windows software.


      Some of you may be too young to have any idea who I am. I, along with David Dawes, Jim Tsillas, and Glenn Lai, created XFree86 a little less than 11 years ago. I have been basically inactive with XFree86 for a goodly number of years now, but remain on the Board of Directors, and lurk on the Core Team. I care very much about this project and the people involved, and pop my head up once in a while to kibbitz when necessary. It's necessary now.

      So, on the one hand he is interested but at the same time he does not contribute to the project, he believes X is obsolete and admits to only using Windows OS. It begs the question, if he so much cares about the project, why not resign and let someone por involved take his place?

      I think we should take arguments from this discussion with a grain of salt.

  • Wake up! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Roadkills-R-Us ( 122219 ) on Friday March 21, 2003 @10:24PM (#5571738) Homepage
    I was appalled at how many folks jumped on Keith after the initial /. article. I mean, they were basing their responses on a one-sided tale.

    I knew Keith back in the X Consortium days, before anyone was even attempting a serious port to X86 boxes - because they were just too pathetic. Keith has always had an excellent attitude, and cared deeply about the technology, the developers, and the user community.

    If Keith has problems with the way something is being handled, only a *fool* would refuse to listen. And that doesn't say much for the folks at Xfree86 who kicked him out, with essentially no notice.

    If you've paid any attention at all, XFree86 has been slowing down. Releases get slower and provide less. The driver issue is well documented already.

    The X Consortium did far more with far less than XFree86 has been doing the last couple of years, and (IMO) did it much better.

    I haven't been involved in XFree86 (I haven't even tried to for several years), so I don't know what the underlying problem is. But I would definitely listen to Keith, and to David Wexelblat, as well.

    Maybe, just maybe, we'll get something that works.

    [And for those who want to chuck X, well, go use Windows, or suggest a better alternative. To date, I haven't seen anything close. And if you didn't have to live in the pre-X11 world, you have *no* idea what you're proposing - unles syou have that alternative handy.]
  • X needs a fork (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Error27 ( 100234 ) <error27@gmai l . c om> on Friday March 21, 2003 @11:03PM (#5571932) Homepage Journal
    I was initially skeptical of Keith Packard's fork but after reading his email, I support it. He addressed the issues that I have been complaining about for years.

    KeithP is one of the few people who could make a fork work.

    I have a hard time with David Wexelblat who doesn't work on XFree86 and doesn't even believe in it, insulting one of the key developers.

  • The future of X (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Netmonger ( 3253 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @12:47AM (#5572417) Homepage
    Well - one thing for sure I think after reading the article..

    'Wexelblat shouldnt have anything to do with XFree86 or X anymore..

    He very obviously doesnt believe in it anymore - if he ever really did.

    This isnt the kind of attitude you want having ANY control over XFree86 or X.


    "client-server display systems are utterly irrelvent to the majority of real-world computer users.."

    are you kidding me?!?

    what a dick!

    Perhaps Keith Packard wasnt trying to 'subvert' anything..

    Perhaps he was trying to start a revolution - that looks like it might be needed.

  • DirectFB (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vandan ( 151516 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @02:17AM (#5572791) Homepage
    I'd like to see DirectFB take off.
    It looks pretty cool and is quite fast.
    Don't know how practical it is or what issues are involved, but anyway if the X ship is sinking, I'm voting for DirectFB.
    Of course the X boat is not sinking though.
    All those who are sick of X can just stop using X, and see how you go ... ha! I don't know what most people are whinging about. X is incredibly fast on my computer. I run Enlightenment-0.16.5 and Enlightenment-0.17. And yeah I use network transparency a little. That's cool too. And my games run swift as lightning. Direct Rendering is sure working. Is X really that bad that people need to dump it and start again? I'm not convinced.
  • = ICANN (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dh003i ( 203189 ) < minus physicist> on Saturday March 22, 2003 @03:05AM (#5572970) Homepage Journal
    Quite frankly, the whole stink with XFree86 reminds me very much of ICANN. Technological snobs who won't listen to anyone else, have closed off public participation, aren't transparent, and now are defaming someone who rightly criticizes them. Furthermore, they are blundering. Why should Xfree86 drivers not be modularized? I only have one fucking video card. I don't need to download the drivers for every video-card Xfree86 supports. Xfree86 has also done an atrocious job of integrating the latest drivers from graphics chip corporations, like ATI. Their failure to promptly incorporate these drivers has alienated hardware developers. Why should ATI spend millions of dollars to make drivers for XFree86, if it takes them so long to incorporate them?

    The actions of convince me that they want to restrict user choice in the GNU/Linux world, and prevent anyone else from running any X11-implementations other than XFree86. Their refusal to modularize drivers is one thing convincing me of this.

    I can not think of any major projects which are as poor as XFree86 in regards to including the community and being accountable to the community. Many of the people within that "organization" are in fact figureheads who don't even believe in XFree86, like one of the founders linked to. If you don't use XFree86 at all, and only use Windows, then imo, you have no business being part of an XFree86 team.

    Keith is right to fork off XFree86. He has tried to address his concerns from within the organization, and has been unable to do so. Just like Auerbach. There is only so much one crusader within an organization can do when the rest of the organization is bent on corruption.

    XFree86 is proof that even a project covered under a license approved by the OSI and the FSF can be corrupt and non-transparent.
  • At attempt at reason (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ogerman ( 136333 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @04:21AM (#5573148)
    It seems to me that all parties involved need to cool down and then come back to the table with a reasonable attitude and work out these issues. Keith has some valid points about the sluggish response of XFree86 development in certain areas, although I disagree with his means of protest. A fork would likely only cause chaos and be detrimental to the cause of unified desktop standards and Open Source acceptance. It is my opinion that there are times when standards and compatibility are far more important than performance and eye candy.

    Keith, if you are listening, may I suggest that you formally and thoroughly document your objections to current XFree86 development and provide constructive criticism on how it might be improved? If there are technical complaints, such as relating to performance, perhaps you can write code to prove the need for change.

    XFree86 team, if you are listening, may I suggest that a patch tracking feature be added to the official web site? For example, if a patch is submitted to support a new XRender feature but not yet committed to CVS, show this and offer the patch for download right there. As a user, it greatly frustrates me to not have any idea when new features and support will be added and you must admit, the XFree86 release cycle is rather slow. As a user/developer, it would be greatly beneficial to me if I could see precisely where the work is being done. And if extra help is needed in some area, advertise this openly. Relating specifically to driver patches, may I suggest that driver changes be added with far less caution than changes to core libraries? I personally believe that if someone like responsible like ATI submits a patch to support their latest hardware, there is absolutely no need to sit on that patch. Get it out there and get it tested ASAP.
  • by phkamp ( 524380 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @04:55AM (#5573224) Homepage
    All I can say is that there were a lot of similar reasons why the FreeBSD project went from a self-elected core team to a core team elected by the committers.

    Reading Wexelblats email where he basically tells people that this is none of their business, is like hearing an echo of the argumentation launched against new bylaws in the FreeBSD project.

    If David is not actively contributing to XFree86, he has no business telling anyone how to run the project.

    I think the active developers of XFree86, both committer and non-committers, should grab a copy of the FreeBSD bylaws and elect a new core team.

    The FreeBSD bylaws are far from perfect, but it would be enough to get started and once the dust has settled, a revision to more closely match the needs of the new project can be made.

  • by 10Ghz ( 453478 ) on Saturday March 22, 2003 @06:41AM (#5573389)
    David Wexelblat is in the Xfree BoD. He's also a core-developer. He flamed Keith Packard because of what he has done. What has Keith Packard done for Xfree recently? Among others:

    a) Fontconfig
    b) RENDER-extension
    c) Xft
    d) Work on transparency

    What has Wexelblat done recently? According to his owns words:

    a) He hasn't hacked Xfree in years
    b) He uses Windows these days
    c) If he will code something (unlikely), it will be for Windows
    d) Only thing he does related to Xfree is to lurk in the core-devel mailing-list

    And here we have Wexelblat flaming Packard! Hello!?! Of the two, it seems that Packard cares ALOT more about Xfree than Wexelblat does! He actually works on it and improves Xfree, while Wexelblat plays Myst on Windows! Looking at their recent activities, Wexelblat should just shut the hell up. He hasn't done a thing, who the hell is he criticizing Packard!?

    Wexelblat should be kicked out of the BoD and Core and replaced by someone who wants to work on the project and improve it! It's no wonder Xfree has stagnated if there are core-members like Wexelblat who haven't contributed to the project in years! Ironically, it was he (if I remember correctly, could have been someone else as well) who kept reminding that "Xfree is a meritocracy". If it's a meritocracy, why are there useless deadbeats like Wexelblat in Core? Because of their past accomplishments? Maybe Wexelblat was an uber-hacker 10 years ago, but TODAY, he contributes nothing to the project.

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