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Linux Desktops Get a Graphics Boost

The Linux desktop is about to get a 3-D makeover courtesy of Novell.

Novell is contributing a new graphics subsystem called "Xgl" and the associated "Compiz" compositing manager to the granddaddy of all Linux and UNIX windowing infrastructures, X.org.

The move may well herald in a new era of graphics power for Linux and according to Novell has already garnered the interest of the principal graphics chips vendors, Intel, ATI and Nvidia.

Xgl enables *nix systems to fully take advantage of 3-D acceleration hardware. Xgl according to Novell's description is the X server architecture layered on top of OpenGL.

The new enhancements enable a long list of capabilities for Linux that include improved 3-D capabilities and more fluid "fancy" desktop animations and transitions.

From a technical perspective it is a pluggable modular architecture that is intended to easily allow developers to take advantage of its capabilities.

"Now Linux has a world-class totally modern graphics system that will last us for the next decade," Nat Friedman, vice president of Linux desktop engineering at Novell told internetnews.com.

Friedman is well known in the desktop Linux community, having co-founded the GNOME project and its commercial offshoot Ximian (later acquired by Novell).

The Xgl effort is not however GNOME specific. By working with X.org, Novell is targeting the most fundamental of all *nix graphics components. As opposed to Microsoft Windows, where Windows is the only graphical windowing environment, Linux has many, the two most popular, though, are KDE and GNOME.

"This is the right place to put it technically," Friedman explained. "The X windowing system lies beneath KDE and GNOME. All users, both GNOME and KDE, can take advantage of it."

According to Friedman, the approach is to use the existing X framework and just add 3-D features.

"So all your existing apps work out of the box, even an old 1985 X application will work."

Up until 2004, X.org was somewhat overshadowed by XFree86, but now for the most part is the uncontested standard utilized in almost all Linux and UNIX distributions.

X.org is well known for its stability and long release cycles. Friedman noted however that so far Xgl has been well received by X developers. And think that adoption of Xgl into the mainstream X.org release will happen sooner than most would expect.

Novell will actually ship the Xgl enhancements with its next desktop product, Novell Desktop 10, which is set for a May/June release.

Xgl may also prove to be the solution to a long-standing complaint of many: the lack of full 3-D hardware acceleration drivers for Linux. Friedman explained that Xgl relies on the drivers to already be on the users systems and if the users don't already have the video drivers none of this stuff will work.

"This will help to create an impetus for the vendors to have great driver on Linux," Friedman said. "Intel, ATI and Nvidia, we have engineering co-operation from each of those companies they've each seen XGL and have responded very positively.

"As a result of seeing what we've done they've all stepped up to the table and said we're going to help with the drivers and make the drivers work even better than they do now."