Mark Shuttleworth: 'Mir has delivered what we hoped'

Mark Shuttleworth: 'Mir has delivered what we hoped'

Summary: Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth says early tests are vindicating the decision to move Ubuntu to the Mir display stack.

TOPICS: Linux, Open Source
Mark Shuttlework
Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth: Mir has delivered what we hoped. Photo: Ben Woods / ZDNet

The decision to change the foundations of the graphical user interface in the Ubuntu OS is already paying off in terms of performance, according to Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu.

Canonical announced the decision to use Mir as the display server for Ubuntu's GUI earlier this year.

The move to Mir from the X Window System caused ructions in the wider Ubuntu ecosystem, with Ubuntu derivatives Kubuntu and Lubuntu both announcing they would not follow Ubuntu in adopting the Mir stack when Ubuntu 13.10 "Saucy" launches later this year.

Shuttleworth wrote on his blog: "Building a graphics stack is not a decision made lightly – it's not an afternoon’s hacking. The decision was taken based on a careful consideration of technical factors. We need a graphics stack that works reliably across a very wide range of hardware, that performs predictably, that provides a consistent quality of user experience on many different desktop environments."

He said that Mir is delivering better performance than X on the Unity 7 desktop running on his Intel/Dell XPS laptop: "Both Xorg and Compiz are using less memory and fewer CPU cycles under Mir than they were with X handling the hardware directly," he wrote.

"Talking with the Mir team, they say others have seen the same thing, and they attribute it to more efficient buffering of requests on the way to the hardware. The overall impression I have is that Mir has delivered what we hoped.

"Perhaps it had the advantage of being able to study what went before – SurfaceFlinger, Wayland, X – and perhaps also the advantage of looking at things through the perspective of a mobile lens, where performance and efficiency are a primary concern, but regardless, it's lean, efficient, high quality and brings benefits even when running a legacy X stack."

The right decision

Even though the decision to switch to Mir runs the risk of isolating the main Ubuntu distribution from its derivative OS, Shuttleworth argued it is the right decision.

"We take a lot of flack for every decision we make in Ubuntu, because so many people are affected. But I remind the team – failure to act when action is needed is as much a failure as taking the wrong kind of action might be. We have a responsibility to our users to explore difficult territory. Many difficult choices in the past are the bedrock of our usefulness to a very wide audience today," he wrote.

Sticking with the status quo would have made it more difficult to make improvements to the performance of the GUI, Shuttleworth said.

"I believe Mir will be able to evolve faster than the competition, in part because of the key differences and choices made now," he wrote.

"For example, rather than a rigid protocol that can only be extended, Mir provides an API. The implementation of that API can evolve over time for better performance, while it’s difficult to do the same if you are speaking a fixed protocol.

"We saw with X how awkward life becomes when you have a fixed legacy protocol and negotiate over extensions which themselves might be versioned."

Shuttleworth's comments about Mir's performance tally with the experience of Jack Wallen at TechRepublic who described the experience of using Mir under the Ubuntu desktop as "incredibly smooth".

"We also know that we can deliver a high-performance X stack on Mir, which means any application that talks X, or any desktop environment that talks X, will perform just as well with Mir, and have smoother transitions in and out thanks to the system compositor capabilities that Mir provides," Shuttleworth said.

"On Ubuntu, we’re committed that every desktop environment perform well with Mir, either under X or directly."

When it is released in October this year, Ubuntu 13.10 will use XMir, a stack where X and Unity 7 run on top of the Mir system compositor by default, with a fallback option of running X without any Mir driver support. This edition will be supported for nine months.

By Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, a long-term release that will be supported for five years, the fallback X option will be removed. This release is intended to have full Mir driver support.

Topics: Linux, Open Source


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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  • Kudos Ubuntu

    "Both Xorg and Compiz are using less memory and fewer CPU cycles under Mir than they were with X handling the hardware directly,"

    Using less memory and fewer CPU cycles are good things ;)
    • Sorry, you don't have a clue

      Sorry, you don't have a clue of what you are talking about...just an observation :-)
      • Huh?

        How does he not know what he's talking about?
        Michael Alan Goff
      • Sorry, but YOU'RE the one who is totally clueless.

        Since when is someone incorrect, wrong, or clueless when they state that the use of less memory and CPU cycles is a good thing.

        Go feed your ego somewhere else, but not here where your ignorance lights up the night sky
        • Sometimes observations are counterintuitive

          Often making gains in one area come at a cost to others.
          Just because it uses less memory and fewer CPU cycles
          does not mean it is necessarily better from a overall system point of view.
          It could be that while it is faster at doing certain types of update to the display,
          that it has a higher graphic hardware requirement and potentially uses more power.
          For example on my current AMD machine if I use the closed source graphic driver which better utilizes the GPU, certain things are quite a bit faster and the CPU cycles are way down during certain graphic intensive operations, however the machine now uses around 30% more power when there are static windows on the display.

          I'm not saying anything about how Mir works or the types of tradeoffs in the design,
          (because I know nothing about it) just that with every design, there are always tradeoffs, and the tradeoffs are not always acceptable to everyone.
    • I have to wonder

      December 31, 2014: what is in the hands of more users?
      1. Surface tablets
      2. Mir powered Linux desktops
      • I am trying to be nice BTW

        I could have compared it to Windows 8 but then I would have had to change the question slightly:

        December 31, 2014: how many orders of magnitude more users use Windows 8 than Mir powered Linux desktops?
        1. 3
        2. 4
        3. 5
        • You don't have enough choices in your quiz...

          You stopped at "5".
          Five orders of magnitude is only 100,000.
          I'd vote for "7" as an answer, if it were there, as seven orders of magnitude = 10,000,000.

          The problem is that only Shuttleworth's products will be running Mir; and in his fits of delusions of adequacy, he just KNOWS that every other Linux distro will be falling all over themselves to use Mir.

          Fat chance, Shuttleworth: no real Linux user trusts you. Linux distros trust you less than that.
      • Stay on topic

        On a separate article you attempted to pull me up by insisting that I stay on topic, so allow me to return the compliment - the Surface has NOTHING to do with this article so why even mention it?
        • So you don't want to participate?

          I don't blame you. I don't think the results will go your way.
          • He doesn't want YOU to participate

            You're already stupid enough as it is.
      • Been asking questions to the old Magic 8 Ball again, ehh....

        Considering that European computer users and governments are leaning more and more toward free software your long range prediction might have a bit of trouble. In fact, just yesterday the French passed a law that gives priority to free software where tax dollars are used.

        But in more direct answer I will say it is certain that more people will sit down to a diner tonight with a Big Mac than with a thick, juicy steak. For me, I am grilling up some 1 1/2 inch New York Strip Steaks tonight...

        You did get that comparison, didn't you?
        • just a jobs creation act to pacify voters

          Everyone knows free software requires more maintenance than commercial offerings. Sure, we paid nothing for the software but pay through the nose to employ all those sysadmins.
          • Everyone know?!!!

            I own a computer business in US and don't agree with you. We have some many linux servers doing more than Windows Servers with much less maintenance and problems.... the issue here is: Are you a Microsoft technician or COMPUTER TECHNICIAN?

            We have solutions implemented with better results that incorporate exchange replacements, sharepoint replacements and many other solutions. You should say: Microsoft technicians are loosing the race and if they don't get serious about becoming computer technicians they will lose their jobs!
      • December 31, 2014: what is in the hands of more users?

        I'm voting for option 2.
  • Good Replied

    as Melvin responded I'm shocked that some people able to get paid ($)8363 in four weeks on the computer. did you look at this web link... can99.ℂ­om
  • If this doesn't rejuvinate the PC market, it is a failure

    I'll be watching PC shipment numbers and if they don't go up after the release of Mir then Mir is a fail.
    • Will you be providing the 1.5 to 1.8 billion dollar

      marketing budget for Mir?
    • You are kidding, right?

      A product of Shuttleworth REJUVENATING the PC business?
      Hey; good one! You almost had me thinking you were serious.
    • Will every manufacturer sell all their PCs with Ubuntu?

      If they don't, so your comment is a fail....