February 6, 2006 9:00 PM PST

Novell seeks to boost Linux graphics

(continued from previous page)

Xgl is a framework that lets people build plug-in effects modules that alter the user interface behavior. For example, Novell programmers recreated a "wobbly windows" idea--which makes windows jiggle like gelatin--from the company's chief rival, Red Hat.

Xgl uses the graphics instructions of OpenGL, a 3D drawing standard widely supported by graphics cards. However, one complication of Xgl is that it works best with good 3D graphics driver software, and that typically means proprietary software from companies such as Nvidia or ATI. Some open-source programmers object to proprietary drivers, and many versions of Linux, such as Red Hat's Fedora, shun them.

The technology also works in conjunction with the X server, an older element of the X window system that is overseen by X.org. Without Xgl, a program that uses graphics--the Firefox Web browser, say--tells the X server what to display, and the X server then communicates with the graphics hardware.

Xgl steps in to handle much of the X server's work--to draw a line or fill a rectangle with white, for instance. The use of OpenGL commands lets the graphics hardware manage many operations that otherwise would require constant coordination between the X server and its applications, Friedman said.

"We're offloading a lot of the work to the hardware," Friedman said. "The result is things look and feel a lot smoother."

For example, the video hardware can store whatever information is contained in windows that have been hidden by other windows. That means the contents of the hidden panes can be redrawn quickly when an upper window is moved and the window underneath is revealed. In contrast, with regular X servers, the text underneath must be retrieved by numerous requests by the X server.

Foundation for the future
There's another potential benefit for the Linux user interface from Xgl. It enables developers to shift away from bitmaps--which store graphics as a grid of pixels--toward vectors, which use mathematical abstractions independent of the pixel grid. For example, vectors are used today to allow a single typeface to be seen as text of varying size; bitmaps require separate versions for 10-point, 12-point and 14-point type sizes.

GNOME and the Mozilla browser project both have adopted a vector graphics engine called Cairo. It can be used to display buttons or other graphical elements and to arrange Web page elements using flexible descriptions rather than hard-coding positions by counting pixels.

Vector graphics help solve one problem that Microsoft is addressing in Vista: the difference in pixel sizes on different computers. For example, the pixels on a laptop with a 15-inch, 1600-by-1200 screen are much smaller than those on a 19-inch, 1024-by-768 monitor. That means objects such as menus, buttons and icons are much harder to see and click on using a mouse.

Cherry agreed work needs to be done there. "On some monitors and graphics cards, the controls become almost impossible to work with," he said.

Xgl accelerates Cairo, so its future use will benefit from hardware acceleration, Friedman said.

"If you're using Cairo, all your Cairo operations are accelerated--fonts, windows, special effects," Friedman said. "In terms of vectorizing the desktop, this moves us way ahead."

The vector feature, like other aspects of Xgl, has Friedman excited about the prospects for the technology and the boost it could give Linux. "This puts us up at the frontier with anybody using accelerated video hardware," he said.

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20 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Productivity
Michael Cherry's comments are amusing, in that the productivity
gains are already clearly there.

Regularly switching between Mac and Windows, I find myself
missing the Expose feature from the Mac more than anything
else - it's one of those incredibly small but significant
productivity boosts - certainly more so than the features they
push like the Dock and Widgets. It just doesn't seem so
interesting in demo.

I'd similarly love to see XGL's desktop switching on Mac and
Windows - it's something common on most flavours of Linux- I
can have a 'coding' desktop, an 'office' desktop, a 'leisure'
desktop, even a desktop for specific projects that would show
the applications and documents I'm working with for that project
- this reflects the different modes in which we use computers,
and replacing the need to create folders to hold applications and
documents by category - and returns some use to the original
desktop metaphor.

I don't use Linux myself, but I can see it's a powerful innovation.
(It can be achieved on Windows and OS/X, but only by third party
software).

The key point is that neither of these aren't graphical
technologies - they are desktop UI technologies - but they rely
on a graphical core to make them viable.

I'm just surprised a technology analyst can't see the productivity
benefits in them.
Posted by JulesLt (110 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Virtual desktops unrelated to Xgl
FWIW - Virtual dekstops (having more than one desktop and small "pager" window with the contents of each desktop in miniature) in UNIX have been around since tvwm (1980s) as have things like Apple's expose.

Xgl's only contribution thus far is to make it practical to, in real-time, update the window appearance in the pager. This was possible before, but it required too much CPU to be desirable.

Xgl will provide considerable other eye-candy too, but principally stuff you already get from the X composition manager extension (Xcompmgr) which bears more similarity to Apple's engine.

The best feature of Xgl is its adoption by Cairo. GUIs are still principally 2D in nature, but video card manufacturers really abandoned 2D for 3D long ago. By making use of the newer rendering model, they go a long way to accelerating the GUI and keeping GUI work off the main CPU. I hope that Qt also takes advantage of Cairo soon for the same reason (and because I personally find KDE more feature-rich).
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
It's about time...
... someone invests on this! :)
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's about time...
... someone invests on this! :)
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
please incorporate GLX!!
remote displays rock. I would like to see some unification amongst the various technologies.... like VNC and GDM.. and GLX...
Posted by freq (121 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's All Moot Probably
I've been a Unix developer for over 10 years.
Nothing but Linux for the last four. So, I'm
no Windows fanboy. But, having looked at Windows
Vista, I think that the nail in the coffin has
been driven for the Linux desktop. I think
Microsoft has probably managed to put a minimum
of five years between itself and Linux (in as
far as the desktop).

Of course this doesn't mean that this is the
end of using Unix for intensive graphics
applications. But there is a difference
between development of graphics applications
and development of a user desktop. One has
very little to do with the other.
Posted by X99 (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Vista = Theif!!
I would have to dispute the 5 year gap. Alot of what MS hypes as "new" has been done in the Linux DE's for quite sometime. Take for instance the use of SVG icons so that you can scale them to a HUGE size. One just needs to spend some TLC time with a DE to learn all the niffty features it has under its belly.

Using KDE for reference, 3.5 though not a "major" release provides a great deal of updates to the DE and makes it run wicked fast. Also KDE 4 concepts and alpha work have looked, for lack of a better word, awesome.

HAL, DBUS...xorg progress...add all these to the mix and figure in the time before vista is released and I really don't think vista will be 5 years ahead like speculated.
Posted by Atari05 (45 comments )
Link Flag
Not neccesarily true.
I am currently using XGL and Compiz on Ubuntu 6.04 FLT 4 and it is very stable and usable right now. If anything, Linux has beaten MSFT to the punch by releasing these features and abilities 9 months before Vista is expected to ship. MSFT is behind both Linux and MAC in this area and 9 months is a long time to sit on something in the software industry. XGL and Compiz are beyond just the development factor and are now available for those with the hardware to install and use. By the time Vista ships there will be new updates and releases that possibly could make Vista out of date even before the first copy ships.
Posted by mstlyevil (39 comments )
Link Flag
It's All Moot Probably
I've been a Unix developer for over 10 years.
Nothing but Linux for the last four. So, I'm
no Windows fanboy. But, having looked at Windows
Vista, I think that the nail in the coffin has
been driven for the Linux desktop. I think
Microsoft has probably managed to put a minimum
of five years between itself and Linux (in as
far as the desktop).

Of course this doesn't mean that this is the
end of using Unix for intensive graphics
applications. But there is a difference
between development of graphics applications
and development of a user desktop. One has
very little to do with the other.
Posted by X99 (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Vista = Theif!!
I would have to dispute the 5 year gap. Alot of what MS hypes as "new" has been done in the Linux DE's for quite sometime. Take for instance the use of SVG icons so that you can scale them to a HUGE size. One just needs to spend some TLC time with a DE to learn all the niffty features it has under its belly.

Using KDE for reference, 3.5 though not a "major" release provides a great deal of updates to the DE and makes it run wicked fast. Also KDE 4 concepts and alpha work have looked, for lack of a better word, awesome.

HAL, DBUS...xorg progress...add all these to the mix and figure in the time before vista is released and I really don't think vista will be 5 years ahead like speculated.
Posted by Atari05 (45 comments )
Link Flag
Not neccesarily true.
I am currently using XGL and Compiz on Ubuntu 6.04 FLT 4 and it is very stable and usable right now. If anything, Linux has beaten MSFT to the punch by releasing these features and abilities 9 months before Vista is expected to ship. MSFT is behind both Linux and MAC in this area and 9 months is a long time to sit on something in the software industry. XGL and Compiz are beyond just the development factor and are now available for those with the hardware to install and use. By the time Vista ships there will be new updates and releases that possibly could make Vista out of date even before the first copy ships.
Posted by mstlyevil (39 comments )
Link Flag
Reply to moot
Sure, you're one of those "I know Unix and Linux
intimately, but know that Microsoft is
better/winning/whatever". I call BS. I think
you're Microsoft shill posting fake opinions (as
one can see on any big site nowadays). Your
claim that Vista will put Microsoft 5 years
ahead of Linux is completely unbelievable. Vista
has just been delayed, again, and Linux desktops
can show technologies that Vista only
"promises". So, where's the 5 years, i do not
see it.

What is more, you claim to have "looked at
Vista". What does that mean? Did you read the
press claims by MS, did you see screenshots from
MS blogs, and, did you ignore that everything MS
promises- Linux already has.

Bah, you're just a fake. Or very, very ignorant
of Linux.
Posted by (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Reply to moot
Sure, you're one of those "I know Unix and Linux
intimately, but know that Microsoft is
better/winning/whatever". I call BS. I think
you're Microsoft shill posting fake opinions (as
one can see on any big site nowadays). Your
claim that Vista will put Microsoft 5 years
ahead of Linux is completely unbelievable. Vista
has just been delayed, again, and Linux desktops
can show technologies that Vista only
"promises". So, where's the 5 years, i do not
see it.

What is more, you claim to have "looked at
Vista". What does that mean? Did you read the
press claims by MS, did you see screenshots from
MS blogs, and, did you ignore that everything MS
promises- Linux already has.

Bah, you're just a fake. Or very, very ignorant
of Linux.
Posted by (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Productivity
Michael Cherry's comments are amusing, in that the productivity
gains are already clearly there.

Regularly switching between Mac and Windows, I find myself
missing the Expose feature from the Mac more than anything
else - it's one of those incredibly small but significant
productivity boosts - certainly more so than the features they
push like the Dock and Widgets. It just doesn't seem so
interesting in demo.

I'd similarly love to see XGL's desktop switching on Mac and
Windows - it's something common on most flavours of Linux- I
can have a 'coding' desktop, an 'office' desktop, a 'leisure'
desktop, even a desktop for specific projects that would show
the applications and documents I'm working with for that project
- this reflects the different modes in which we use computers,
and replacing the need to create folders to hold applications and
documents by category - and returns some use to the original
desktop metaphor.

I don't use Linux myself, but I can see it's a powerful innovation.
(It can be achieved on Windows and OS/X, but only by third party
software).

The key point is that neither of these aren't graphical
technologies - they are desktop UI technologies - but they rely
on a graphical core to make them viable.

I'm just surprised a technology analyst can't see the productivity
benefits in them.
Posted by JulesLt (110 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Virtual desktops unrelated to Xgl
FWIW - Virtual dekstops (having more than one desktop and small "pager" window with the contents of each desktop in miniature) in UNIX have been around since tvwm (1980s) as have things like Apple's expose.

Xgl's only contribution thus far is to make it practical to, in real-time, update the window appearance in the pager. This was possible before, but it required too much CPU to be desirable.

Xgl will provide considerable other eye-candy too, but principally stuff you already get from the X composition manager extension (Xcompmgr) which bears more similarity to Apple's engine.

The best feature of Xgl is its adoption by Cairo. GUIs are still principally 2D in nature, but video card manufacturers really abandoned 2D for 3D long ago. By making use of the newer rendering model, they go a long way to accelerating the GUI and keeping GUI work off the main CPU. I hope that Qt also takes advantage of Cairo soon for the same reason (and because I personally find KDE more feature-rich).
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
please incorporate GLX!!
remote displays rock. I would like to see some unification amongst the various technologies.... like VNC and GDM.. and GLX...
Posted by freq (121 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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