If Canonical succeeds in making Ubuntu Linux widespread on phones and tablets, it will revolutionize the role of open source software in mobile computing. But in a sense, the company has already achieved some remarkably revolutionary feats with Mir, the display server it started developing several months ago. This may sound like something only geeks can appreciate, but it could actually become a huge deal across the channel.
In the Linux world, the display server is the part of the software stack that handles graphics processing. In other words, it's the thing that draws pretty pictures on the screen. And for decades, there has been only one show in town when it came to display servers for virtually all open source operating systems: The X Window System, which was written in an era when the computing landscape was very different than it is now. Venerable as it is, X is not particularly well-suited to many of the devices or usage scenarios that predominate today.
So by implementing Mir, an entirely new display server that Canonical is building from the ground up, Ubuntu developers are doing something radically different. They're bringing a crucial part of the open source ecosystem into the modern age, creating a display system tailored to work well on the types of hardware—especially phones and tablets—that will define the future.
And Canonical now has compelling proof that Mir is not only a good and necessary project in theory, but that it also works in practice. Earlier this week, Ubuntu developers released a video showing Mir in action:
The video proves that Ubuntu developers are sticking to the development schedule they laid out previously, when they promised protoypes of Mir by May 2013. It also demonstrates the integration of Mir with Unity Next, the next-generation version of Canonical's Unity interface for Ubuntu.
To non-geeks, the video of a programmer showing some images moving around the screen on a half-baked interface may not appear very impressive. But with an understanding of what's going on behind the scenes, it's easier to appreciate why this could be so important not only for Ubuntu and Canonical, but for open source developers and vendors across the channel who stand to benefit from the new doors that will be opened by a modern display server. Say what you will about Canonical (and to be sure, what many in the Linux community say is not always nice), but it is driving some significant innovation.