I'm worried about Wayland but there's not much I can do about it

May 17, 2018

In a comment on my entry about how I have a boring desktop, Opk asked a very good question:

Does it concern you at all that Wayland may force change on you? It may be a good few years away yet and perhaps fvwm will be ported.

Oh my yes, I'm definitely worried about this (and it turns out that I have been for quite some time, which also goes to show how long Wayland has been slowly moving forward). The FVWM people have said that they're not going to try to write a version of Wayland, which means that when Wayland inevitably takes over I'm going to need a new 'window manager' (in Wayland this is a lot more than just what it is in X) and possibly an entirely new desktop environment to go with it.

The good news is that apparently XWayland provides a reasonably good way to let X programs still display on a Wayland server, so I won't be forced to abandon as many X things as I expected. I may even be able to continue to run remote X programs via SSH and XWayland, which is important for my work desktop. This X to Wayland bridge will mean that I can keep not just programs with no Wayland equivalent but also old favorites like xterm, where I simply don't want to use what will be the Wayland equivalent (I don't like gnome-terminal or konsole very much).

The bad news for me is two-fold. First, I'm not attracted to tiling window managers at all, and since tiling window managers are the in thing, they're the most common alternate window managers for Wayland (based on various things, such as the Arch list). There seems to be a paucity of traditional stacking Wayland WMs that are as configurable as fvwm is, although perhaps there will be alternate methods in Wayland to do things like have keyboard and mouse bindings. It's possible that this will change when Wayland starts becoming more dominant, but I'm not holding my breath; heavily customized Linux desktop environments have been feeling more and more like extreme outliers over the years.

Second, it seems at least reasonably likely that a lot of current tray applets and notification systems will stop being general and start becoming tightly bound to mainstream desktop environments like Gnome 3, KDE, and Cinnamon. We've already seen this with Gnome 3 and Cinnamon, which have 'applets' that are now JavaScript extensions that run in the context of the Gnome and Cinnamon shells and simply can't be used outside them. In a Wayland world that focuses attention more than ever on a few mainstream desktop environments, will there be any equivalent of stalonetray and things for it like pnmixer?

(The people writing tiling Wayland window managers like Sway will probably certainly want there to be, because it will be hard to have a viable alternate environment without them. The question is whether major projects like NetworkManager will oblige or whether NM will use its limited development resources elsewhere.)

So yes, I worry about all of this. But in practice it's a very abstracted worry. To start with, Wayland is still not really here yet. Fedora is using it more, but it's by no means universal even for Gnome (where it's the default), and I believe that KDE (and other supported desktop environments) don't even really try to use it. At this rate it will be years and years before anyone is seriously talking about abandoning X (since Gnome programs will still face pressure to be usable in KDE, Cinnamon, and other desktop environments that haven't yet switched to Wayland).

(I believe that Fedora is out ahead of other other Linux distributions, too. People like Debian will probably be trying to support X and pressure people to support X for years to come.)

More significantly, there's nothing I can do about all of this. How Wayland in general and Wayland environments develop is far beyond my ability to influence; in practice I'm a far outlier in window manager and desktop land, and so I'll have to make do with whatever is available. If I'm lucky it will be something generally comparable to my current environment; if I'm not, well, I can use Cinnamon and it will probably survive in a Wayland-only world. I might even learn enough Cinnamon shell and JavaScript to customize it a bit.

(If I had a lot of energy and enthusiasm, perhaps I would be trying to write the stacking, construction kit style Wayland window manager and compositor of my dreams. I don't have anything like that energy. I do hope other people do, and while I'm hoping I hope that they like textual icon managers as much as I do.)

Comments on this page:

From at 2018-05-17 02:12:26:

Hmm, I don't think I've seen many JS-based GNOME-only tray applets, except when people tried to get really fancy (like a dropdown with a full-featured BitTorrent download list, etc.)

The main alternative to tray applets would be AppIndicator (kinda like in Unity), where instead of embedding a whole X11 mini-window the applet just registers what icon/menu it wants to show. It's reasonably cross-desktop (as soon as gnome-shell starts supporting it natively, anyway).

How do you feel about KDE and Enligtenment as WMs/DEs? Both of them do support Wayland already.

(The latter is also an odd case technically because it supports the opposite of XWayland: that is, you can use Enlightenment as an X11 window manager and run Wayland programs in it.)

By Vincent Bernat at 2018-05-17 02:34:07:

Tiling window managers are usually able to use non-tiling layouts. This is the case for i3 and awesome. You can therefore just use a floating layout as your default layout and call it a day.

By skeeto at 2018-05-17 07:43:40:

I used a tiling window manager (xmonad) for a year around 2010 or so and ultimately concluded it wasn't quite what I wanted. Since 2012 I've been using Openbox with a rich, personal configuration that gives me some of the best parts of a tiling window manager while still being stacking. I've had no reason to consider switching to anything else since.

For a time I was also pretty worried about Wayland and some day abandoning Openbox. But, just like you, it wasn't too long before I realized Wayland is still a long, long ways off. A lot is going to change between now and the day I can no longer use Openbox, so there's no reason to make decisions about it right now. The practical course of action is to only worry about the best tools available today.

By cks at 2018-05-18 16:51:07:

My understanding is that all or almost all applets in Cinnamon (and Gnome) are now JS based. Possibly this is wrong and the two environments still support and have applets that use the freedesktop system tray specification, but all of the Cinnamon applets I've installed on my own have been JS-based and I had the impression that the same was true for Gnome Shell these days.

I haven't tried to use KDE or Enlightenment for years, but my suspicion is that I wouldn't find them any better than Cinnamon. Generally I've not been fond of many KDE UI decisions and as a result I mostly avoid KDE apps; to the extent that a KDE desktop would want me to use KDE apps, it's unattractive.

That i3 and some other tiling window managers can also use a floating/stacking layout is welcome news and makes them more attractive. Perhaps it'll get me to poke at them some day, or at least give me more options in a Wayland world (via Sway, if it too supports floating layouts).

Written on 17 May 2018.
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