Less eye candy please

Forgot to mention that a few weeks ago Jono and I got Xgl working – or what I should say is that Jono spent two days failing to get it working on his Radeon based laptop, and I learnt from hist mistakes and got it working on a Intel based machine in a couple of hours.

I have to say that the visual effects were at the same time cool and a bit underwhelming. Part of it was probably to do with the slowness since it was on a mere Intel 915 graphics chip (although bear in mind that the Intel 8xx/9xx family are the most widely deployed graphics chips) and of course this was just released stuff that didn’t have much / any optimisation yet (of at least I hope that optimisation is to come). Of all the stuff I’d probably use the expose-like function the most.

Of course a few days later RedHat / Fedora release aiglx (warning fedora wiki is slow today – FC5 was released). So it would seem that Novell and RedHat are now competing to see who has the best / most eye-candy.

All of this is great and I don’t want to discourage anyone from hacking on Xgl/AIGLX or whatever offsping becomes of those two, however I would like to point out to the Novell, RedHat, Ubuntu and the Xorg project that I still can’t easily do simple things like plug in a projector and mirror the display, or plug in an external monitor and expand my desktop, or rotate my LCD and then rotate X to match.

Most of this is possible, which is the first problem – we need all of it to be possible – but the second problem is that it requires knowledge and hackery of xorg.conf and then a RESTART OF X! The closest I’ve seen to a user facing tool for any of this was on Fedora Core 2 (and still there presumably – I’ll check when I’ve finished downloading FC5). This tool allowed you to configure desktop mirroring or dual head configurations – but then you had to log out (so that X could, you guessed it, restart).

This is madness. We already know that laptops have overtaken desktops in sales, pluging in a laptop to a projector to give a presentation or training course (or even just watch a DVD) is becoming at least an every week occurance for many people (and think of the influence of people for whom this is an every day thing), and more and more developers I know are using their laptop in a dual head configuration when it’s on their desk.

Given Jono’s success in invoking the lazyweb to buld an audio editor to meet his needs, I’m calling out to anyone involved with X to help sort this out. I’m not good at hardware driver coding but I’ll help with testing, documentation, encouragement, whatever I can. If you ever visit Birmingham or I meet you at a conference then I will buy you beer (or other beverage of your preference). But only if rotation, mirroring, and dual head setup are easy for nornal users and don’t require an X restart.

Aside Xinerama as a name has such great marketing potential, but no one uses it because it’s so damn hard to setup. Just think: YourFaveDistro, brought to you by Xinerama dual head display.

When people talk about Linux desktop adoption, what that really means from now on (in fact from about 2004 on) is Linux laptop adoption – and laptops are all about, hardware wise, plugging and unplugging external devices, whether that’s usb keys, external hard discs, dvd burners, mp3 players, digital cameras, scanners, printers, pcmcia cards, keyboards, mice, docking stations, and monitors / projectors. Nearly all that stuff behaves really well and ‘Just Works’ when it’s dynamically plugged and unplugged from the machine, all except for external monitors and projectors. That stuff requires wizardry.

I don’t know if 2006 will be the year of the Linux laptop (or desktop) or the year of Linux desktop eye-candy but I would love it 2006 was the year of Just Works rotation, dual head, and mirroring.

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