Mar 11, 2013

Why I'm grateful to Canonical for starting Mir


Despite not really having anything special to show for it, I've been messing around with various Gnu/Linux operating systems for many years and have tried, during that time, to say in tune with the latest happenings.

Recently Canonical (the group behind Ubuntu Linux) have announced that for the past 8 months they have been secretly developing a new display server for the Linux desktop, a project which they are calling Mir. The immediate knee jerk reaction which I felt towards this announcement was shock and horror. A display server is an immense project and Ubuntu already has a number of really ambitious projects on the go, can they really afford to take on another massive new project? And what about Wayland? Wayland has been under development for quite some time, couldn't Canonical have tried to improve Wayland, or at the very least just fork it, rather than start an entirely new code base? Isn't it considered one of the core principles of Open Source Software that before starting a new project you check to see if there are any similar existing projects and try to help them if you can?

There are a lot of reasons why starting Mir could seem like a downright terrible idea.

So why am I grateful to Canonical for starting Mir? Because I've learned from experience that redundancy in Open Source is actually a very good thing. DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself) is an important general principle, but sometimes something good can come out of breaking your principles, or at least bending them a little.

For example, where would the Linux community be today if there had only been one Linux distribution, such as Redhat? I started with Redhat, I have nothing against them, but over the years they have made choices which I disagreed with, and because there were numerous alternative distributions I was free to take my toys and go play elsewhere. What if there had only been one Linux desktop environment, perhaps Gnome? Honestly, lately it seems that the people behind Gnome have gone a little insane, but I don't really want to get into that. Needless to say, I'm very happy that there are alternatives there as well, and I'm very grateful to all the hard work going into the KDE and XFCE environments. I don't often hear people say that KDE or XFCE are redundant or unnecessary.

One last example to think about, where would the internet be if there had only been one web browser? In fact just this morning I read an article about someone switching from Chrome back to Firefox.

I think you see where I am going.

I'm grateful to Canonical for starting the Mir project, it is a huge undertaking, and it is going to cost them a mountain of effort to pull it off. I'm grateful for that effort, and I think others should be too.

There is a certain ebb and flow to Open Source. I wish Wayland and Mir both tones of success. I for one am glad to hear that there will be alternatives in the Linux display server market.

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