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Let's talk about Wayland ...

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In the past few weeks, I read several articles on Wayland. And I thought, what the Internet needs is more debate, not less! So I figured I should add my own opinion into the ether and foster the productive, respectful and totally not emotional discussion around Wayland, the new desktop thingie what shows images on your screen. If you're a techie, you are already flipping, but if you're not, you may be wondering, what? Indeed, for non-techies, Wayland doesn't mean anything. Neither does Xorg.

But the two are display engines, which results ultimately in stuff being painted on your monitor. Xorg is the old technology, a display server, and Wayland is the new display server protocol, and it is meant to replace the former. Except ... this has been going on for more a decade, without end in sight. It boils down to a boss fight of Xorg vs Wayland, and why one is better than the other, and so forth ad infinitum. Now, the real problem is, because this debate is heralded by techies, it boils down to technical details, which is WRONG. The reality is far simpler, far more abstract. Follow me.


Thirdly, logging keystrokes can be done in many many different ways. Why limit the discussion to this being possible with Xorg? Do you know how you prevent such a scenario? Don't have a rogue application or process on your host! Very simple. But then, why not go for malware that is sophisticated enough to install its own driver, or install its own device? Why not something that does all sorts of wonders when installed?

If you have malware on your system, then you have a much bigger problem than the fact once it gets past your perimeter security, it could potentially do bad things. The solution is to make sure that your system does not get exposed or infected, and then, the discussion around Xorg is no longer relevant. Moreover, if someone gets onto your system, it's game over. Not in the movie drama sense, but there's no reason to limit oneself to an arbitrary usecase that serves the narrative. Why not listen to the microphone? Why not delete data? Why not pop a message in your terminal every nine seconds? Lots of options.


We also need to put things into perspective. The Linux desktop - desktop, as in you actually have a graphical interface where the Xorg vs Wayland argument would matter - controls a tiny proportion of the global PC market. To make things worse, the 1% mark has been around for a good decade plus, so it's not like we're going anywhere with any great majesty.

The discussion around Wayland and Xorg affects 1% of users at best - and even then, lots of people don't really care about the technological ingredients in their systems, they just want functionality. The same way you don't care where the flax in your bed linen was sourced, how porcelain in your plates is made, the angle of the spark plug in your car's cylinders, or the composition of the fertilizer at the nearby farm. Those are trivial details behind functionality. They are only of interest to diehard fans.


The discussion around Wayland and Xorg shouldn't be about implementation details - those matter to the experts in the field, of course. But lacking any fundamental user-centric reasons why Xorg should be gone and why something (Wayland) should replace it, the narrative must deteriorate to bickering about tech lingo and buzzwords. At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. Functionality. Usability.

Can Wayland do what Xorg does today? Does it offer users at least what they have today? Can a person, no matter their tech credentials, achieve their basic needs using this thing? And the answer to all of these is, unfortunately, NO. Wayland is just part of the greater equation called Linux. But it is a great example of a technology tool that intrudes into userspace and breaks the user experience, whereas technology should be the opposite. Totally invisible and silent. Hint: for those of you already rushing for your pitchforks, Xorg isn't the ideal solution either. It also breaks the user experience, only much less than Wayland.

But the Linux desktop as a whole does not offer the seamless functionality that people need, because it is designed with software tools as the end goal and not with the user experience supported by software tools as the end goal. Cause and effect, reversed. Because it's not a product. It's a bundle of tech. And until this mindset changes (extremely unlikely), the Linux desktop will never get past its 1% share.

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